The Frog Princess by ED Baker is a gentle twist on traditional fairy tales that should put a smile on the face of fans of Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and her Princess Tales, now collected in one volume titled, The Fairy's Return and other Pricness Tales, which I highly recommend for all fairy tale lovers.
Set in the kingdom of Greater Greensward, there are the familiar witches, spells, curses, talking animals and seemingly indifferent royal parents who are on the verge of arranging a marriage for their unwilling daughter. Princess Emeralda, fourteen when the story begins, is a clumsy girl with a unique, guffawing laugh and the feeling that she doesn't fit in anywhere but in the chambers of her Aunt Grassina, the royal witch. Although Emeralda, or Emma as she is often called, tries to learn magic from her aunt she is hopeless. Upset at the prospect of another visit from the self-absorbed Prince Jorge, Emma heads off to the swamp for some peace and quiet, flora and fauna. Once there, she meets a talking frog who insists he is a prince who has had a curse put on him for insulting the appearance of a witch. Emma doubts him and returns home to talk to her Aunt about the possibility that his story could be true.
Although she doesn't get all her questions answered, Emma returns to the swamp and Prince Eadric and gives him his kiss. Instead of the desired effect, Emma herself is turned into a frog. The two spend the rest of the book trying to make their way back to the witch who cast the spell in the hopes that she can explain why the curse has not been broken. As a frog, Emma finds freedom in her abilities to make her own decisions and revels in her newfound swimming skills. However, she also comes to realize that, as a frog, her life in constantly in danger. Her interactions with Eadric are funny and Baker goes for a lot of laughs in this book making it a bit more light hearted and an easier read that Ella Enchanted. Emma and Eadric are captured by Vannabe, the wannabe witch who took over the cottage of Mudine, the witch who turned Eadric into a frog. With her kind and friendly ways, Emma befriends the other creatures caged in the witch's house and one of them, a bat named Li'l (short for Li'l Stinker, which is what her mother called her) helps Emma to perform a spell that opens all of the cages, including her own. As they race to the castle to find Aunt Grassina and enlist her help, Emma, Eadric and the other animals form friendships and overcome fears and prejudices that lead toward a happy ending for everyone. Along the way, Emma learns about her mother's past and why she treats her the way she does.
Emma is fourteen in this book, and, like all fairy tales, young girls grow up quickly. Her mother is already planning her engagement, Eadric, even after the first one fails to work, repeatedly asks Emma for a kiss, there are jokes about Prince Jorge wearing women's shoes in secret. These aspects may seem too mature for some parents, others may realize that they will probably zoom right over reader's heads. There is clearly chemistry between the two, although Baker is very low-key about it, in true fairy tale form. By the time the series gets to book #4, No Place for Magic, Emma and Eadric are about to get married but must first convince his parents that a witch for a daughter-in-law is a good thing. Book #5, The Salamander Spell, is a pre-quel that tells the story of Grassina's childhood. Book #6, The Dragon Princess, jumps ahead many years and finds Emma and Eadric the parents of a princess who turns into a dragon whenever she gets angry, which is often.
Other fairy tale lovers should be sure to read:
The Sister's Grimm series by Michael Buckley.