The Princess and the Pit Stop

There is, quite literally, no time to catch a breath with this story that zooms in on the very last lap of a 500-round car race when the princess main character kicks into high gear to leave everyone behind.

  • Title: The Princess and the Pit Stop
  • Author: Tom Angleberger
  • Illustrator: Dan Santat
  • Reading level: 5-7 years
  • Date published: July 10, 2018
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
  • Country: USA
  • Country printed in: USA
  • Eco-friendly Printing: None specified
  • This book bought at Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore

There’s so much to love about this book. First, it has an A-list cast: author Tom Angleberger pits a line-up of fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters–from Humpty Dumpty to Rumpelstiltskin to Snow White to Little Bo Peep–against each other in a car race. Then, illustrator Dan Santat draws up a gorgeous whirlwind of a race (I repeat – gorgeous), involving all these recognisable characters, in which the princess rockets ahead leaving the pack behind in a streak of rainbow.

There’s so much visual stimulation it’s overwhelming, which would make reading with a young child great fun. The A-list cast that has stood the test of time does, however, leave the adult reading to the child in a bit of a bind as they’d probably have to answer all the questions about who’s who. Unless the child’s been previously exposed to all the fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, they wouldn’t catch the references, some of which are not as easy to place as they’re not main characters, for example the “four and twenty blackbirds” from “Sing a Song of Sixpence”.

Further, all references are from the Western, and largely English-language canon, so that’s another point to note for anyone intending to read this with a child who may not be immersed in this tradition.

All these aside, the narrative that zooms through the story is of the princess that never gave up and went on to out-drive everyone and everything. She goes on to use her victory to her own (presumably) financial benefit when she makes a commercial, and then throws a big party for everyone. In the end, her competitive streak shows up again when a dance contest is mentioned.

At the end of the day, what’s striking is that the only character who isn’t uniquely identified is actually the main character herself, the Princess, who has a title but no name. (There is one mention right at the end of a Prince as well.) There is the obvious message that girls, too, can win (and in an epic car race!) if they put their mind and mettle to it, but it’s ironic that in this case, the girl champion remains un-named throughout.

Note: Remove the attractive book jacket and you’ll find a nice little quote on the back cover from “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott. It’s a clever choice that ties in with the illustrator Dan Santat’s dedication, at the top of the book, to “all the strong little women”.