The Apple-Pip Princess
by Jane Ray
You know how the fairytale goes. There are three sons or three daughters and the aging father or wizard or king will leave all he has to the wisest one, as determined by some task or other they must complete that will prove which one deserves to rule.
The oldest is usually ambitious, the second is vain and competitive, the third has a good heart. They each set about scheming or building or vying for the king's attention, but the third prevails through some simple act of kindness or previously unsuspected wisdom.
Think King Lear but without all those messy deaths.
Ray offers her colorful take of the old tale in a naive style, which emphasizes its folkloric origins. She uses a warm palette, perhaps drawing from a Mediterranean or North African palette (judging by the dark-skinned family, though of course that's beside the point). A handful of mixed media collages are skillfully placed for maximum comic effect when the bad siblings wreak their havoc.
Three princesses each possess something of their late mother's--two choose material things, the third picks a simple box, which she fills with such charming keepsakes as a burst of nightingale song or a splash of sunlight. And, of course, an apple pip.
When the old king's challenge comes, Ray sets the stakes high: the land's been barren since the queen's death and devoid of birdsong or laughter. Each daughter has only a week to impress their still-grieving father. You're rooting for the youngest, Serenity, especially as the wicked older sisters only find ways to make folks more miserable.
Serenity doesn't fail in her mission, or in her ability to please readers too. She's a delight to watch in action, thoughtful and kind, and her smallest, simplest act of selflessness sprouts into something much larger than expected, as all good deeds in all good folk tales do. All her enchanted items get used in the process, but each has its payoff too. At no point does Ray belabor the message, and even the mean older sisters get a pleasant reprieve.