Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole

By Maureen Tai, 5 October 2018

IMG_8571Princess Smartypants is beautiful, rich, fearless, clever, strong willed and living la vida loca.*  She’s a Smug Unmarried, and wishes to remain so.  But her Mother has other ideas. “Stop messing about with those animals and find yourself a husband,” commands Mother.

Will our fun-loving royal bend to the wishes of her parents? Find out in this quirky and fun picture book by the late English author and illustrator, Babette Cole.

Princess Smartypants likes nothing better than lounging around, watching tv with her motley crew of animal friends.  Her less exotic pets include a dappled pony who takes up the entire sofa, fern green ridge-backed lizards and a pair of brown and white dogs (or is that one a cat?).  There are however, infinitely more unusual and interesting creatures in her menagerie. A gigantic snail. Sharp-toothed dragons with prickly whiskers and thorny backs. A menacing whale-like monster in the goldfish pond. Attired in her dark blue dungarees and wellies, Smartypants enjoys looking after her pets as much as she enjoys hanging out with them, cleaning their backs with a large sweeping brush.

Alas, her parents insist that she settle down. Every day, there are masses of princely suitors outside her castle, lining up for Smartypants’ hand in marriage.  So, in the time and tested tradition of challenge-based matrimony, Smartypants decides to set some tasks to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Whoever succeeds in completing her tasks, Smartypants shall marry.

The jobs themselves seem fairly straightforward. Stop slugs from eating her garden. Feed her pets. Keep up with Smartypants in a roller-disco marathon. Go for a ride with her on her motorbike. Get some firewood from the royal forest. Go shopping with the Queen. Nothing to it.

Oh really? The comical illustrations tell a very different story.  The slug, for example, has yellow eyeballs, sharp teeth and is as big as a school bus.  The royal forest is guarded by ferocious tree monsters who would sooner chase you away than let you chop off their limbs and branches. One by one, the princes falter and fail, and depart with their tails between their legs.  Smartypants is safe … until the arrival of Prince Swashbuckle.  He pulls up one day in his shiny red convertible and presents our princess with a bouquet of flowers. Horrors! Has Smartypants met her match? Will she have to give up her life of feckless abandon and get married?

Of course not. Smartypants will emerge true to herself and to her longings. This is a children’s book after all, and a Babette Cole book to boot (you may wish to check out her hilarious Hair in Funny Places and Prince Cinders).  Like Elizabeth in The Paper Bag Princess, Smartypants is very much a heroine for our times.  When confronted with stifling rules, restrictive social norms and arrogant, unkind individuals, even princesses will get very cross, take matters into their own hands and DO SOMETHING about it. Isn’t it about time we all did the same?

For ages 5 and above.

* The “crazy life.”

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