2018 Pura Belpre Illustrator Award: La Princesa and the Pea

La Princesa and the Pea

Written by Susan Middleton Elya and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

ISBN 978-0-399-25156-6

Grades PK – 4

Book Review

This retelling of the classic tale “The Princess and the Pea” has South American flair and a unique style. Rhyming couplets incorporating both Spanish and English are accompanied by sweet and humorous illustrations featuring an overprotective made, an eager prince, a cheerful princess, a very fat cat, and a multitude of guinea pigs. Following the plotline of Hans Christian Andersen, this version offers one surprise twist – fearful that his mother’s pea test is too challenging, the lonely prince takes matters into his own hands to ensure an uncomfortable sleep for the visiting princess. In an illustrator’s note, Juana Martinez-Neal describes how the textiles of her native Peru have influenced her warm, expressive illustrations, rendered in acrylics, colored pencils, and graphite on handmade paper. Whether the tale is familiar or new, young readers will enjoy this rhyme-filled romp and will benefit from the opportunity to discuss traditional tales and cultural re-mix.   

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

Grades PK – 2

Mattresses Math. Invite your students to visualize twenty mattresses stacked one on top of the other (revisiting the cover page of La Princesa and the Pea may help). Ask each student in your class to create a mattress out of a cereal box covered in paper, decorating it as they choose. Next, invite students to tell and solve math story problems using the mattresses. Be sure to encourage students to use both Spanish and English (or any other language) as they narrate their story and count the mattresses.

Peruvian Textiles. In her illustrators note, Juana Martinez-Neal, a native Peruvian describes the weaving process and textiles that influenced her illustrations in La Princesa and the Pea. Use the online resources below to offer visual images and information about how Peruvian textiles are created. Revist the text and study the illustrations to find evidence of the weaving process throughout the book. Next, invite students to design their own textile patterns, using cray pas, markers, or paints to create their patterns on paper. If possible, invite local weavers into the classroom to provide a live weaving demonstration.

Grades 1 – 4

Exploring Rhyme / Writing Rhyming Tales. After reading La Princesa and the Pea aloud, revisit the text and record on chart paper the rhyming words – note which are English pairs, which are Spanish pairs, and which rhymes are comprised of one English and one Spanish word. Next, invite students to play with the challenge of taking a folktale familiar to them and retelling it in rhyme (depending on the age of your students, this could be done as a whole class, in small groups, or individually). Facilitate this process by asking students to begin by listing vocabulary that they associate with the story. Next to each word on their list, students should then try to identify several words that rhyme with that word. Finally, use these lists to create rhyming couplets that convey the story. If you have emerging bilingual learners or bilingual learners in your class, encourage them to use the language with which they are most comfortable or to mix languages.

Bilingual Text. Author Susan Middleton Elya, a former Spanish teacher, has written many books for children that mix Spanish and English. Gather a collection of her books and other bilingual texts, such as works by Monica Brown, Pat Mora, Susan Stockdale, Lulu Delacre, and poet Francisco X. Alarcon and invite your class to study how two languages come together to create a reading experience. What different structures are used by the authors? How do the illustrations reflect the cultural contexts of the two languages? See our Classroom Bookshelf entries on and .

Pura Belpre Illustrator Award Text Set. The American Library Association’s is “presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.” Gather a collection of Pura Belpre illustrator award winning books and invite your students to study the illustrations closely. Guide them to discuss both the elements of design and the overall impact of the illustrations. Lead children in conversation on why these are award winning books, guiding them to back their opinions with evidence. Extend the activity by discussing any themes or patterns that emerge from the books. What questions do they have for further inquiry? Please see our Classroom Bookshelf entries for these Belpre illustrator award winning titles:  , , , , ,

Versions and Variants of “The Princess and the Pea.” Gather a collection of picture book versions of The Princess and the Pea and read Hans Christian Andersen tale on the website. As you read the titles aloud (or have students read different titles in small groups) create a large chart recording observations about literary elements (plot, theme, character, setting) and illustration. Next, invite students to craft their own version or variant of the tale.

Critical Literacy

Grades 1 – 4

Agency in Traditional Tales. Read Hans Christian Anderson’s telling of Ask students to compare the actions of the mother, son, and the princess in the two versions, considering who has power and who has agency in each of these versions. Next read The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch. Who has power and agency in this version? If you have time, extend the study by reading pairings of traditional tales and modern retellings with a feminist slant, such as (Charles Perrault) and Sleeping Bobby (Will Osborne). Consult with your local or public librarian for suggested titles and/or use the suggestions .  

Grades 2 – 4

Whose Tales are Told? In La Princesa and the Pea, author Susan Middleton Elya offers readers a traditional European Fairy tale that incorporates Spanish vocabulary in a rhyming text. Read the author’s biographical information on her website to understand her connection with the Spanish language. This book received the . Read the website of illustrator and the note on the book jacket to understand the illustrator’s connection with Latino culture as it is represented in the illustrations. Invite your students to consider what it means to have a European tale re-presented to readers using bilingual text and with illustrations that place the tale in a Peruvian setting. Does this make the tale more interesting or accessible to diverse young readers? Is this necessary or important? Listen to with the illustrator and the author. What do these comments lend to this discussion? Offer students the opportunity to read picture book versions of traditional Latino tales (see the website for examples). Are these tales written by an author who is Latino? Illustrated by a Latino illustrator? Invite your students to consider the cultural origin of the traditional tales that are suggested or required by your district and state language arts curriculum. Whose tales are included? Whose are not? (As an additional resource for this activity see our Class Bookshelf entry on the nursery rhyme collection )

Further Explorations

Online Resources


Auch, M.J. (2002). The princess and the pizza. Ill. by H. Auch. New York: Holiday House.

Child, L. (2006). The Princess and the Pea. New York: Hyperion.

French, V. (2015). The most wonderful thing in the world. Ill. by A. Barrett. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Grey, M. (2003). The very smart pea and the princess-to-be. Dragonfly Books.

Isadora, R. (2007). The princess and the pea. New York: Puffin.

Osborne, W. (2005). Sleeping Bobby. Ill. G. Potter. New York: Atheneum.

Vaes, A. (2001). The princess and the pea. New York: Little Brown.