August 06, 2013

Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff

by Robert Paul Weston
Illustrations by Victor Rivas Villa
207 pp.
Ages 8-12

What to wear? It’s a lament for many of us on a daily basis. If you lived in the kingdom of Spud, you would choose to wear bold, garish colours and patterns that might appear wildly excessive to the stylishly-inclined and, as far as the Kingdom of Spud is concerned, that’s every other kingdom around you: Spiff, Smug, Hip, Sleek, Swish and Chic.  Fashion and trendiness are the mandates of all the other kingdoms, particularly the Kingdom of Spiff, led by King Dandy von Fop. But there's always someone who doesn't quite fit in somewhere. So begins our tale.

In Spiff, it's King Dandy's daughter, Princess Frannie, who chooses to wear pajamas daily, reading perched high upon a mountain of cushions in Frolicsome Hall at the castle. Her father pleads and cajoles her to try to wear a dress or follow the trendy advice of Miss Ruby La Rue of Ruby Boutique, especially now that the ballroom is needed for the Kingdom's Centenary Ball.  

In Spud, it's their ruler, King Walter, who has a hard time with the Spudlian fashion and its muddy landscape, choosing to abandon his kingdom for trendier environs in which his regal nature might shine.  Without a monarch to lead the people, a new ruler is sought, one who would epitomize the style and pride of Spud.  Puggly O'Bungleton, a poor Spudlian who lives in a tumbledown shack with his memoir-recording great-granny is selected and his coronation is set.  Neighbouring kingdoms are, of course, invited to attend as protocol would require, although the disdain of the other monarchs except for King Dandy stops them from attending.

With the upcoming Spiffian Centenary Ball, King Dandy must reciprocate an invitation to Prince Puggly who is thrilled to be invited to a party.  But the dejection that Frannie and Prince Puggly both experience due to the rude comments of Prince Hep of the Kingdom of Hip and Miss Ruby LaRue respectively have the two royals returning to Spud together and conspiring to ridicule those whose fashion snobbery led to their humiliation.

Robert Paul Weston has done it again.  Just as he did with his first venture into novel in verse, his award-winning Zorgamazoo (Razorbill, 2008), the author has delivered a narrative in fluent verse à la Dr. Seuss that BEGS to be read aloud. (I myself read the melodious text to whatever cat would stay to listen.)  But the auditory experience is matched by the visual in Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff as selected text is emphasized with different fonts, styles and form, as seen in a portion of page 46 here.

Beyond the fun language and fluid rhyming, Robert Paul Weston could be channelling Shakespeare for a younger, more contemporary readership. He has all the elements of any great comedy:  discord between generations; the high spirits of youth; the accepted ways of their elders; plotting for revenge or restitution; recognition of one's mistakes; and a happily ever after.  Within his fantastic world of cultures enslaved to dress, of quirky characters, and of kingdoms stunning in their grandeur or mud, Robert Paul Weston shares a cautionary tale of judging by appearance in a most ear- and eye-catching fashion. 

If you're a parent or teacher, put this one on your list of best bedtime or classroom read-alouds.  If you're not, just go and buy for the pleasure of reading. It is sure not to go out of style, ever!

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