Sleeping Brilliant

22 September 2020

Sleeping Brilliant
Written and illustrated by Jessica Williams
Published by All Write Here Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$16.99 ISBN 978-1-9995397-7-1

Here’s what I know about Saskatchewan writer Jessica Williams: she’s originally from British Columbia; her first book, Mama’s Cloud, thoroughly impressed me with its gentle handling of depression; and she continues to prove herself as a prolific and talented writer of childrens’ books. Her latest offering, Sleeping Brilliant, delivers a delightful spin on a fairytale we all know – but may not all love, with its prince-as-saviour theme – and this time Williams has even illustrated her own clever story.

We learn from page one that Williams is going to have great fun turning this traditional tale on its crown. The “beloved” King and Queen longed for a child, and thus “adopted a charming baby girl from a nearby village”. The baby’s named Niamh – pronounced “Neev” or “Nee-iv,” which is Gaelic for “brilliant” – and the child lives up to her moniker. Upon Niamh’s arrival her parents throw a “great feast” and invite “the entire kingdom,” as one does, but of the thirteen forest fairies, only twelve receive their invitations, thanks to a “fierce wind” that magically lifts one invitation from the purple-caped messenger’s bag. Whoops.

Flying fairies dance above the smiling child’s cradle and gift the girl with unique qualities, ie: “No riddle will be too challenging for your clever thoughts” and “You shall build wonderful inventions”. (This ain’t your grandmother’s fairytale.) But what about that fairy who missed her invitation? Ah, she arrives at the feast “like a thunderstorm,” and curses the royal baby: “‘On your fifteenth birthday,’” she hissed, “‘you shall prick your finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die!’”

Fortunately, the twelfth fairy is able to temper that curse: at fifteen the princess will not die, she’ll just “‘fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years’”.

Without giving too much of this charming, contemporarized story away, I will say that when the prince arrives he’s greeted with a perfectly content young woman sipping hot cocoa with miniature marshmallows. She’s cosy on a window-side chair in her purple bunny slippers, and matter-of-factly asks the feather-bereted prince: “What are you doing here?” As for marriage, well the brilliant princess’s response is utterly uncharacteristic of any princess I’ve ever read about.

Will there be a happily ever after? That’s for you to learn. The surprises in this book are what make it such a joy to read, and the author-illustrator combination works so well. The playful, full-bleed illustrations of cast and castle scenes perfectly complement the upbeat tone of this story.

I hope Williams continues to create these welcome stories on a wide range of subjects. Perhaps she’ll delve into even more classic fairytales and spin them upside down to make them “fit for a generation of princesses and princes who don’t need to be rescued”. This story teaches – in a completely fun way – that one is responsible for his or her own happiness, that fate can indeed be altered, and that you never know what you’ll find at a yard sale. I’ll enjoy sharing this well-produced book.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

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