Princess Academy of Art

Anticipating the August release of Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2012), I recently read the first Princess Academy, a 2006 Newbery Honor book. I wonder why I hadn't read it before, because it's just the sort of book I like, and probably would have loved as a ten-year-old girl: it has a classic feel and an ordinary-girl heroine in Miri Larendaughter, it's set in a village on a snowy mountaintop--beautifully evoked throughout the book as well as on the original cover, shown here--and there's a boarding school. Where you have to study to be a princess. After learning to read (no one in Mount Eskel knew how before the princess academy), the girls study Danlander History, Commerce, Geography, and Kings and Queens. And then there are the "princess-forming" subjects: Diplomacy (which proves useful on more than occasion), Conversation, and Poise. I want to go to princess academy!

I also want to add Princess Academy to the Middle Grade Gallery (where I think about how paintings work in fiction), even though Art isn't one of the subjects the girls have to study. But one winter morning, their tutor Olana shows the girls a painting; like the silver princess dress they've already seen, it's meant to make them work harder at their studies, to remind them of their goal:

Olana removed the cloth and held up a colorful painting much more detailed than the chapel's carved doors. It illustrated a house with a carved wooden door, six glass windows facing front, and a garden of tall trees and bushes bursting with red and yellow flowers.
"This house stands in Asland, the capital, not a long carriage ride from the palace...It will be given to the family of the girl chosen as princess." [87]

And the painting does its job: Miri, for one, spends hours imagining her family inside the house and garden, so different from their mountain home.

At the end of the book, Olana reveals the truth about the painting, and gives it to Miri. Spoiler alert (after seven years, I don't think I'm spoiling anything, but just in case): the house never existed. And Miri doesn't marry the prince (although she is academy princess). It's not until Palace of Stone that she goes to the capital at all. I wonder if she will remember the painting when she gets there?