The Brave Princess and Me

  • Review
By – July 22, 2019

The title and open­ing sen­tence of Kathy Kac­er and Juliana Kolesova’s The Brave Princess and Me invite com­par­i­son to a fairy tale: There once was a princess who lived in Greece.” In fact, the book is inspired by a true sto­ry,” that of Princess Andrew of Greece and Den­mark (born Princess Alice of Bat­ten­berg). Dur­ing the Nazi occu­pa­tion of her adopt­ed coun­try, Princess Alice made the coura­geous choice to shel­ter the wid­ow and daugh­ter of Haima­ki Cohen, a promi­nent Greek Jew who had served in the nation’s par­lia­ment. Yad Vashem des­ig­nat­ed her as one of the Right­eous Among the Nations.

Princess Alice had been a trou­bling fig­ure to her fam­i­ly. Deaf from birth, she was also diag­nosed with men­tal ill­ness and hos­pi­tal­ized, although the accu­ra­cy of that diag­no­sis might be ques­tioned today. Kac­er sug­gests that the princess’s sense of dif­fer­ence due to her dis­abil­i­ties made her sym­pa­thet­ic to the plight of Greece’s per­se­cut­ed Jews. The book nar­rates the inspir­ing res­cue from the per­spec­tive of the young Tilde Cohen.

Kacer’s book sim­pli­fies the sto­ry of Princess Alice for young read­ers. She avoids any direct men­tion of Alice’s insta­bil­i­ty, but she does allude to the sad real­i­ty that deaf­ness was stig­ma­tized and some­times asso­ci­at­ed with cog­ni­tive defects. In a con­ver­sa­tion with Tilde, Alice reveals that she often con­ceals her inabil­i­ty to hear, as she has con­front­ed the assump­tion that Peo­ple often think if you’re deaf you’re not very smart.” In the book’s cli­mac­tic scene, which is part­ly based on his­tor­i­cal evi­dence, the princess pre­vents the gestapo from search­ing her home by exag­ger­at­ing her inabil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate and by act­ing delu­sion­al. In real­i­ty, Alice was pro­fi­cient at read­ing lips.

Alice’s expe­ri­ence with dis­abil­i­ty gives her a deep sense of empa­thy, which large­ly explains why she risks her life in order to save the Cohens. How­ev­er, the text is not sub­tle, and at times, strains to con­vince read­ers of its valu­able lesson.

Kolesova’s illus­tra­tions are pho­to­re­al­ist in style. While some read­ers will appre­ci­ate their doc­u­men­tary qual­i­ty, oth­ers may note a lack of sub­tle­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly in her character’s dra­mat­ic, if not exag­ger­at­ed, facial expres­sions. I found the ren­der­ing of shad­owy inte­ri­ors and ordi­nary house­hold objects to be more evoca­tive of the era and bet­ter at con­nect­ing the read­er more inti­mate­ly with the past.

Kacer’s words and Kolesova’s pic­tures are cer­tain­ly well-paired, offer­ing a clear set­ting and acces­si­ble nar­ra­tive about a princess who uses her pow­er, and her osten­si­ble weak­ness, to pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble sub­jects in her kingdom.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions