The Princess’ Blankets by Carol Ann Duffy

Illustrations by Catherine Hyde

This is a take on a traditional fairy story by the poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.  In the story the princess is always cold, and nothing her parents, the king and queen, do, can make her warm.

They are worried about their daughter and offer their daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can make her warm.  People come from across the kingdom and further to try and warm the princess up, but to no avail.

One day, a mysterious stranger who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone, including the princess, arrives.  She is determined that he will not win her. When he asks her how cold she is, she answers, as cold as an ocean.  He creates a magical blanket from all the oceans and places it over her. She gets even colder.  The process continues until the earth is an arid husk and the princess is nearly frozen.  The magician is furious and turns away from her in rage.

Eventually a musician finds his way to the palace, in the midst of the barren plains the magician has created.  He manages to warm and restore the princess to life through the power of his music and his clear and apparent love for her.  As he warms the princess the magical blankets slip from her and the world is restored to order with the seas and the mountains and the land back in its rightful place.

The princess and the musician marry in the most traditional of fairy tale endings.

The story has all the elements of a traditional tale, but is quite modern in the telling and language.  The illustrations, by Catherine Hyde are beautiful but largely abstract.

The language is quite sophisticated and I would not recommend this as a story for a new  reader to read alone. It is difficult to pin down the age group, because the story in essence works well for younger readers, and might well be overlooked by older readers because of the picture book format.  I would recommend it as a read aloud book by parents or teachers for younger children, say aged six to eight. If older children can be convinced to read it, I think it would work well for eight to ten year olds.

The story would be good to use as an addendum to a discussion or themed work on fairy tales and how we use them today, and also to get them to discover and discuss what elements are necessary to make a fairy story a fairy story and which are the modern additions.  It would also be interesting to do group work on in art and craft projects, by getting the children to create their own versions of the magical blankets.

This is a book I think would work well for girls, because it is very old fashioned and romantic. On the other hand, if you wanted to hook boys into the story it would work if you focussed on the character of the magician and his magic.