The Plain Princess by Phyllis McGinley, 1945.
I would dearly love to see this book in print again! It’s a charming modern fairy tale about a young princess who learns what beauty and happiness really mean.
Esmeralda is the only child of the king and queen, and she has just about everything that a girl could want. The author paints a pretty picture of Esmeralda’s life at the castle and all of the beautiful things she has. However, Esmeralda has one serious problem: she is plain. In her kingdom, in order for a girl to be considered beautiful, her nose must turn down, her mouth must turn up, and her eyes must have a twinkle in them. Esmeralda’s appearance is exactly the opposite. It is a serious problem because her plainness causes people to lose respect for her, and the prince that she is betrothed to refuses to take much of an interest in her.
Although her parents consult the finest physicians and wizards available, none of them can provide any solutions for Esmeralda’s condition. It is only after the king places an advertisement in the newspaper that a widow with five daughters of her own comes to the castle and offers a solution. However, she insists that Esmeralda must come and live with her family for nine months. At first, Esmeralda is distressed at leaving her home and living in much simpler circumstances that she is accustomed to, but the reasons soon become as plain as the princess herself.
In spite of the fairy tale atmosphere, there isn’t really any magic in the story, as the widow herself points out. The real magic of the story is in the lessons that Esmeralda learns: that beauty and change come from within and that the way we see ourselves and those around us is important. For those who might be concerned at the emphasis on “beauty” and “plainness”, it soon becomes apparent that the outward signs of beauty really stand for positive character traits: humility, pride in one’s own talents and accomplishments, and unselfish caring for other people. The book also has some very pretty illustrations, some of which are wide scenes taking up two pages. It’s a beautiful book and a beautiful story for any young girl.