I probably would have been the first person singing major praises for a middle-grade edition of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries. In fact, when I first found out about this edition, that’s precisely what I did! So…why am I now not singing its praises? Well, after reading and extensively comparing this new version to the original, I’m left feeling as though all they did with this book was slap a new cover on it and pull out some incredibly minor details that weren’t exactly appropriate for a young audience. But other than that? There’s almost nothing that’s actually different about the writing of the book.
Cover Change ≠ YA → MG
But honestly? Not much was changed. As an educator and someone who works with middle-schoolers quite often, I was thoroughly disappointed in the lack of significant changes. It’s as though the person in charge of making The Princess Bride for a middle-grade audience was just like, “well, if I add a pretty cover to the front and take out some stuff that’s less appropriate today than it was when this was originally published, that should be enough.”
This is SO irritating to me.
If you’re repurposing a novel for a middlegrade audience, you should also take a look at changing some aspects of it that don’t match a middlegrade level. For example, the book still contains words like misogynistic, repressed, and bohemian. While this is not inherently wrong, what average 8-12-year-old is going to know what those words mean? Now, I typically work with struggling readers, but I have to say that I don’t really see your average middlegrade reader really doing so well reading words like misogynistic or bohemian correctly, either. And what, exactly, does the book gain from having these words without explaining them, anyway?
And I’m all for educating children within the confines of fictional books they enjoy. I’m all for expanding their understanding of the world. That said, I really don’t think it’s necessary that a book meant for children ages 8-12 read a book that uses phrases like “establishing close interpersonal relationships with women” and the word “testicle.” And I’m not saying censor the heck out of your book when you market it to a younger audience, but at least be a little more reserved. Someone 8-12 years old doesn’t really need the context of cancer requiring a “testicle” to be cut off to understand that Mia’s father’s cancer made it so he could no longer have more children.
The Princess Diaries currently has an AR book level of 5.7.
Its middle-grade counterpart basically has the same AR level on account of not much really having been changed to make it accessible to younger readers. By this logic, average children at the end of 5th grade and younger readers with more advanced skills should be able to access this book in terms of being able to accurately read it. I would expect something closer to 4.5 for this to be more geared toward younger readers. And I genuinely do think the fact that this is called a middle-grade book and the book level hardly decreased at all is going to mislead parents and teachers alike looking to buy it for a young reader.
This is without even getting into the comprehension piece in which phrases and words like those I mentioned above are going to go right over their heads. And this isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not really a great look for a book parading itself as the “middle-grade edition.” You may as well just buy this book for the cover and cover alone because the interior really hasn’t been repurposed much for a middle-grade audience. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.