Heavy Medal Finalist – THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER by Jen Wang
In what feels like a quick read, Jen Wang is able to give us a fully realized story with characters that are both complex and likable in THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER. During moments of tension and conflict, the reader is still cheering for circumstances to work out for all the characters involved. Even minor characters, like Lady Sophia Rohan from the beginning of the story, invite curiosity. (On a personal note, I would absolutely read a book entirely about Lady Sophia.)
One of the great strengths of this graphic novel is the overall feeling of hope that runs through the entire story. Every character deals with issues of self-expression and identity, but the sense of hope is never lost. Seeing as this is a graphic novel, a lot of those feelings are presented through the illustrations that accompany the text. This book, especially, will be hardest to separate text from pictures, though the language itself is hopeful on its own.
From pp. 44-47, we can see both Sebastian and Frances realizing that their dreams could be coming true. They are exposing their truth to each other and are both met with nothing but support and understanding.
On that same note, the strength of our two protagonists cannot be understated. Frances is determined in her goals of becoming a respected designer and does not let anyone stand in her way. Even in moments where she loses her confidence, she is quick to come back and remain steadfast in her vision of what her garments should look like. She remains loyal to her friendship with Sebastian until it is harmful enough to her that she walks away, which is an incredibly beneficial message. Loyalty and support are important, but not at the expense of our own well-being. Sebastian is arguably going through a harder time in his life, but he also remains true to himself as much as he can. In the main moment of tension, when Sebastian tells Frances she cannot go with to the fashion show for fear of exposing him, we see both of their deepest fears realized.
The emotion and strength of that moment can be felt throughout the spread of pp. 172 and 173:
“Wow, we’re so excited the new king looks so good in a dress. Let’s celebrate.”
“I don’t know, Sebastian, but I can’t help you anymore. I’d rather take my chances starting over than languish in your closet forever.”
When Sebastian comes back to support Frances in her fashion show, they are both able to become their true selves again. Sebastian is able to become Lady Crystallia (with the wonderful support of the King) and Frances is able to debut her fashion line that she always dreamed about.
This story feels appropriate for all ages. It is a story of conflict and hope, self-expression and following your dreams. There may be bumps along the way, but remaining true to yourself and those closest to you is the most important thing.
I look forward to hearing comments and criticisms about THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER from the Heavy Medal committee. I am curious about how we will be able to separate the illustrations and the text from this graphic novel that is so full of heart.
Introduction by Maura
Please chime in with opinions and insights about THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER below. We’ll begin by focusing on the strengths of this books as a potential Newbery contender. After 12:00 noon (EST) the discussion will open up to all opinions, including possible weaknesses.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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