The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool

The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool

5.0 6
by Margaret Gray, Randy Cecil

Can a seafaring fairy godmother, a wise fool, and an enchanted hairstyle keep Princess Rose out of trouble?

"A very long time ago, when all the countries you’ve ever heard of were in different places on the map, a princess was born who was not beautiful. She wasn’t even remotely pretty, and the whole kingdom was in deep shock about


Can a seafaring fairy godmother, a wise fool, and an enchanted hairstyle keep Princess Rose out of trouble?

"A very long time ago, when all the countries you’ve ever heard of were in different places on the map, a princess was born who was not beautiful. She wasn’t even remotely pretty, and the whole kingdom was in deep shock about it."

Princess Rose doesn’t get any prettier as she grows up, but the kingdom does get over its shock. Everyone adores the skinny, buck-toothed princess, and she doesn’t mind her appearance—until the handsomest prince in the world comes looking for a bride. Despite warnings from her seafaring fairy godmother and a wise fool named Jasper, reckless Rose wishes for beauty. She gets her wish, and the prince, but finds neither is as nice as she had expected.


The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool is a 2003 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This determinedly perky first novel satirizes fairy tale conventions, sometimes wittily but often thinly. "A very long time ago, when all the countries you've ever heard of were in different places on the map," Gray begins invitingly, "a princess was born who was not beautiful.... The whole kingdom was in deep shock about it." Buck-toothed and skinny, freckled, with cropped hair, Rose also has a "wonderful character" and a "quick mind." Readers will know right away they are in for a lesson about beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, and when the author introduces a second story line-wherein the king has banned wise men and one of the wisest of them, Jasper, finds employment as a fool at court-readers will also know who that beholder is going to be. The author jazzes up the inevitable with a mild diversion or two. When a particularly handsome prince comes a-courting, Rose's fairy godmother grants Rose's ill-considered wish to be "more beautiful than anyone has ever been." Then, when Rose (predictably) repents, she and Jasper implore the fairy godmother to reverse the spell. Unlike such tweaked fairy tales as Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted or Francesca Lia Block's The Rose and the Beast, this story is played chiefly for laughs, not deeper meanings. Cecil's (Daisy Locks and the Three Bears) b&w art similarly concentrates on obvious humor. Ages 9-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-In all of those tales that begin with "Once upon a time," the princesses are always beautiful, and handsome princes always love them. Here, those fairy-tale conventions are turned on end. Princess Rose-to the utter dismay and shock of her parents, sisters, and the entire kingdom of Couscous-is not beautiful at all. However, she turns out to be friendly and full of good humor. Couscous, as readers will discover, has another problem. The king has banned all wisdom because "he had an extremely simple mind." No one reads or writes or thinks deep thoughts. Jasper, a very clever young man, hatches a plot to become the king's fool until he can convince the monarch of the need for real wisdom. Jasper and Rose, kindred spirits, become fast friends. Enter handsome, but empty-headed Prince Parsley. Rose instantly falls for him and pleads with her fairy godmother to make her beautiful so that Parsley will notice her. Of course, beauty turns out not to be what Rose imagined and she and Jasper set out on a quest to return her to her former self. You can guess the rest. Gray strikes just the right balance between silliness and moral high-mindedness, and Cecil's illustrations convey the ridiculous state of affairs in Couscous. It's light fare, but good fun, and children will understand exactly what they're meant to learn without feeling that they've been hit over the head.-Sharon Grover, Arlington County Department of Libraries, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.72(d)
870L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


A very long time ago, when all the countries you've ever heard of were in different places on the map, and the world was still full of the dark, wide forests where fairies tend to live, a princess was born who was not beautiful.

She wasn't even remotely pretty, and the whole kingdom was in deep shock about it, because in those days just about everybody was beautiful. All the written records from the era (they're easy to pick out, because they begin "Once upon a time") are filled with accounts of beautiful people. Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella . . . the list goes on and on.

Nobody really knows how to explain it. Some people assume it must have been breeding: radiant princesses had been marrying noble princes for so long that the beauty genes had completely taken over. But that notion doesn't account for the millers' and tailors' daughters who regularly grew up beautiful under their soot and rags. Others suggest that the lifestyle was purer: nobody had invented cheeseburgers or smog, and everybody really enjoyed outdoor exercise, so they were hearty and muscular, with big square white teeth. Or maybe there were just so many fairies around that wishes for beauty were likelier to come true.

In any case, it was a world obsessed with beauty. The kingdom where the princess was born was called Couscous. It was closely surrounded by about twenty other kingdoms, and they had all been competing for centuries over which could produce the most beautiful princesses. The annual beauty contest had started out as a casual, good-humored affair, but every year it had seemed more and more important.

The contestants wore their fairy godmothers out with wishes, and then they tried tricks of their own. They glued on false eyelashes to magnify the starry brilliance of their eyes and dyed their hair to look like raspberry sorbet or Turkish carpets. Every child who didn't grow up as a prince or princess wanted to be a beauty-contest judge, because although the judges were supposed to work for free, they collected a handsome income of tips and bribes from kings and queens who expected their daughters to win.


So you can imagine how eagerly, on the night this princess was born, the populace of Couscous waited by the palace gates to hear tell of her tremendous beauty.


And you can imagine the panic that broke out when the rumor spread that the baby, who had been named Rose, wasn't beautiful at all. Couscous's reputation fell sharply among the other kingdoms, and its own citizens' enthusiasm for paying taxes began to wane. Everybody was sure King Irwin and Queen Julia must be to blame, but nobody could figure out exactly what they'd done wrong. They were bewildered themselves.

What made everything worse was that Rose was the third princess. King Irwin and Queen Julia knew as well as anybody that they were expected to have three daughters, the first as lovely as the stars, the second as lovely as the moon, and the third more lovely than the stars, the moon, and the sun put together.

This was just the way things had always worked. Queen Julia herself had been a third princess, and King Irwin had competed with a thousand other princes for her hand. The two of them were traditional rulers who hadn't ever wanted to shake things up and were truly horrified to find they'd done so.

Of course, they were aware that the system wasn't perfect. It was rough on the first and second princesses, who were only born to build excitement for the third princesses and generally turned into wicked witches and flew away on broomsticks. (Life was even harder for stepsisters, who were expected to be disagreeable and stout as well.) Resigned to these probabilities, the king and queen had given their first two daughters the ugliest conceivable names-Asphalt and Concrete-and tried not to become too fond of them.

As planned, Asphalt and Concrete had grown as lovely as the stars and the moon, respectively. King Irwin and Queen Julia had rubbed their hands together, imagining how very beautiful their third daughter would have to be to outshine the first two. They'd actually jumped up and down at the prospect of unveiling her at the annual beauty contest. Couscous would flourish, and tourists would come by the thousands!

After Rose was born, King Irwin and Queen Julia supported each other through the hard times by remembering the story of the ugly duckling. Then they sat back and waited.

But by the time Rose was thirteen, the maximum possible age for developing beauty in those days, there was still no trace of beauty about her. She had a wonderful character and a quick mind, and everybody liked her. She was buck-toothed and skinny, though, with freckles and hair cut too short for the glamorous styles that beautiful princesses were required to wear. Rose was always running, climbing, and riding bareback, and she knew that if she had to spend as much time on her hair as Asphalt and Concrete did, she'd have no time left for anything fun.

Poor Asphalt and Concrete had such beautiful hair that they'd been forbidden to play lest they damage it and lose their edge in the beauty contests. Asphalt's black hair, described by the court poets as Clouds of Ebony Night, was a whole mile long. She had to lie flat in the courtyard for several hours each day and have it brushed by a team of experts. Concrete's hair, known as Wild Fiery Sunset, wasn't quite as long, but it was curly and got snarled easily, so it took even more time to manage.

Asphalt and Concrete didn't mind. They were so relieved that Rose wasn't a beauty who would force them to turn wicked and fly away on broomsticks that they remained sweet and docile. They had little to say for themselves because their heads were so heavy with hair. They looked forward to being married, when they would be able to switch to short, practical permanent waves, as all the local queens did.

"This is ridiculous," said King Irwin gloomily, watching Rose from the palace window one day. "The sun himself is supposed to marvel when he shines on her face! And just look at her! Those teeth! Those skinned knees! Those . . ."

Queen Julia soothed him. "But everybody loves little Rose. She's so nice to her sisters and to you and me, too, dear. In a way, it's worked out very nicely. Asphalt and Concrete can have the beauty circuit to themselves and marry all the princes they like, and Rose can stay and be a comfort to us in our antiquity."

"Some comfort," said King Irwin in a grouchy voice, but the thought did cheer him, and he summoned his fool to come and do handstands.


King Irwin was kindhearted, but he had an extremely simple mind, and his greatest fear was that wise men were making fun of him behind his back. When he inherited the Kingdom of Couscous, the first thing he did was publish an edict forbidding wise men to show their faces on the streets. Then, for good measure, and to prevent the wise men from figuring out a loophole, he also banished wisdom itself from the kingdom.

At that time all wise men wore long white beards, small round spectacles, and black robes, and they always carried leather satchels filled with important papers. They were easy to spot in a crowd. The other people in the kingdom didn't like the wise men because they used ten words where one would do but weren't of any use in a crisis, so nobody felt sorry when King Irwin made them stay indoors.

There, the wise men moped and sneered just as unpleasantly as they had done outside. It didn't occur to most of them that if they just changed their clothes and cut off their long white beards they would be able to go out in the streets again without being recognized. Or possibly they were so proud of being wise men that they would never have dreamed of giving up the image. The Wise Man's Academy had been badly managed over the years, and many of its graduates weren't really very wise anymore.

Except for one. His name was Jasper, and he was so smart that he'd graduated from the Academy when he was still in his teens, so his beard hadn't come in well and wasn't even white yet. He'd never gotten along with the students in his class, who had read hundreds of heavy, dry books and looked down on anybody who hadn't read exactly as many. Jasper had read all these books, of course, but he'd also read entertaining and juicy books that weren't on the approved wise man reading list, and he was curious about everything.

Jasper knew that King Irwin had every right to be suspicious of most so-called wise men: they really had been making fun of him. "That oaf Irwin," they called him, sniggering into their beards.

But although Jasper was as happy as anybody to see the backs of those particular wise men, he wasn't at all pleased that the king had banished wisdom along with them. He wasn't worried for his own sake, because he could get work in another field. What upset him was that the king was confusing the pretend wisdom of these men with real wisdom.

In Jasper's opinion, real wisdom was a rare and wonderful thing. A really wise person would never laugh at somebody for being different, or call a question stupid just because he already knew the answer. Couscous was sorely in need of some real wisdom, but the king had driven any hope of it indoors with the pretend.

Then King Irwin's fool retired, and the king started searching for a replacement. The main requirement was the ability to perform handstands. Jasper gave himself a crash course in handstands, cut off his straggly beard, and bought a cap and bells.

Copyright © 2002 Margaret Gray

Meet the Author

Margaret Gray started writing this story when she was a buck-toothed girl who read a lot of fairy tales. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter. This is her first book.

Randy Cecil has illustrated a number of children’s books about spunky little girls, including Dusty Locks and the Three Bears and Little Red Cowboy Hat. He lives in Houston, Texas.

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Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i loved this book it was good and i could not get my eyes off it
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is an outstanding comedy book. Rose shows others that it doesn't matter from the outside, but what counts is the inside. This book shows th real meaning of friendship,love, happiness, and respect. the author inspired me to stay tough and doesn't matter what others say because whats in the inside is all what matters. she inspired me to read more books and i love to go to barnes and nobles to buy them. she makes it come alive and experience it. she shows that someone that you may never notice does like you for who you are. i believe sh is trying to say is that be yourself and stand strong because you can do what others may not have a possibility. the book really makes me give it two thumbs way up!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this book!It is the best book I have ever read, and is my favorite!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This has been my all time favorite read aloud chapter book in the last decade. It has brought the bedtime book back as a family tradition. Thank you Margaret Gray for this deeply inspirational book that appeals to us on so many levels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a funny book! I am a aspiring young writer and I admire how, through the years, Margaret Gray has perfected her book until it became published. I like how they got married in the end.If Margaret Gray reads this, you are a great writer and I hope to see your work again soon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an unexpected and welcome surprise it was to come across this wonderful book! "The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool" is a delightfully clever and witty re-interpretation of a classic fairy tale. The whimsical and exciting story of Pricess Rose and her madcap adventures will delight younger readers. Older readers will get a kick out of that too -- and they'll also appreciate the perceptive and insightful moral that lies at the heart of the story. In fact, I bet that the adults who buy this book for their children will, after reading it themselves, end up buying additional copies to give to other adults! I think this book is destined to become a modern classic -- it's that good!