I’ve always loved picture books with smart, strong heroines, so when I discovered Cornelia Funke’s A Princess, A Pirate and One Wild Brother at our local bookshop, I had to add it to our personal library. My daughter adored Funke’s lively collection of stories as much as I did, and it was a staple for us to read together when she was younger.
There’s no shortage of gorgeous picture books to share with your kids, but this one in particular, brings together the prose and illustrations to perfection. Funke whisks readers immediately into a world of adventure filled with funny, lovable, and spirited characters. Meanwhile, Kerstin Meyer’s exquisite illustrations draw your eyes to the page, and her details are as much fun to savour as the stories.
The collection opens with The Princess Knight. Little Princess Violetta has three older brothers, and the king decides to bring his daughter up the same way as the boys have been raised. She learns to ride, joust, and fight with swords. Unfortunately, being the youngest and the smallest in the family, Princess Vi struggles to keep up with her brothers. You can’t help but cheer on this determined little girl as she tries to master the same skills as the boys. When the time comes for her to get married, and she’s promised to the winner of a jousting competition, she outwits everyone. Go, Princess Vi!
Equally as inspiring is Molly, the main character in Pirate Girl. One day, as she’s sailing alone to visit her grandmother, she’s kidnapped by a band of pirates. Captain Firebeard thinks he can get a handsome ransom for Molly, but she refuses to tell him who her parents are. He sentences her to work on his ship, scrubbing and cleaning and polishing, but not to worry: she has a plan. There’s a surprise twist as to who her mother is—and she’s more fierce than Firebeard and his pirates. This is a family of women to be reckoned with.
In the last story, The Wildest Brother is a young boy named Ben. Thanks to his vivid imagination, he spends his days taking care of slime-burping monsters, green ghosts, and the other dangerous creatures lurking about his house. The lovely part of this story is his relationship with his big sister, Anna. Here’s where the illustrations truly enhance the story: the prose tells us Ben is bravely protecting Anna, but the drawings show that she's barely batting an eyelash and is humouring her little brother. At the end of the story, as darkness settles on the house, it’s Anna that lovingly protects this brave boy. As a mother, I loved the sense of family that shines through.
Funke's stories unfold with humour and warmth. This collection is perfect for reading with your child anytime, but especially at bedtime, when it will ensure your little one goes to bed with a smile. When Kate grew older, and we had to make room on her shelves for other books, A Princess, A Pirate, and One Wild Brother was a treasured book that we couldn't part with.
Princess Knight, Pirate Girl, and The Wildest Brother are also available individually as stand-alone books.
When my son, Dylan, was in second grade, every book he was reading seemed to involve impertinent, mischievous boys, and potty humour. A LOT of potty humour. I was glad that he loved to read, and his giggles told me that he was greatly entertained, but I began to think that broadening his horizons wouldn't be a bad thing.
When I popped by my local children’s bookstore in search of inspiration, I explained what I was looking for. The sales clerk knew instantly.
“Something with characters who are smart, and not smart-alecky?” she asked. Yes, that was it. She pulled Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius, by Frank Asch, from the shelf. It’s the first of a three-part series.
It was perfect.
The Cardboard Genius is a young boy named Alex, who considers himself the smartest human being on Earth. He builds amazing gadgets from ordinary household items. His preferred material of choice, cardboard, is “the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented."
Alex decides to construct a spaceship so he can blast off to another planet. He has to get away from his annoying brother, Jonathan. What child can’t relate to this scenario?
It’s no easy feat to journey through space, however, and Alex needs all kinds of equipment to make the trip a success. The book includes sketches of his designs. He builds an oxygen generator with a shoebox, forks and rubber bands. His innovative spacesuit design uses a snowsuit, helmet, and tubing from a vacuum. He also needs a micro blaster to protect himself from danger, and a duplicator, because “I’d still want a dozen or so me’s around”.
Readers will delight in the fact that these creations are actually put to use, thanks to Alex's incredible imagination. What I loved most is how Alex’s ingenuity inspired the same from Dylan. After reading Star Jumper, Dylan gathered aluminum foil, straws, wire, and an old toy clock, and built his own radar dish. He deviated a little bit from Alex’s blueprint, but that’s what creativity is about, isn’t it?
Star Jumper was written in 2006 but it is very relevant today. Educators are emphasizing the importance of encouraging kids to freely design, innovate and create. Dylan's school recently hosted a Cardboard Challenge. Makerspaces are growing in popularity, and there's never been a greater focus on the need for the next generation to develop STEM skills.
The Journal of a Cardboard Genius series is an excellent way to inspire kids to look at ordinary items from a new perspective, and to develop creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Plus, it's simply fun to read.
Books in series: 3
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #1: Star Jumper
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #2: Gravity Buster
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #3: Time Twister
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.