I was thrilled to talk with Margie Markarian about her new book, the allure of fairy tales, her amazing interactive storytimes, and so much more!
What inspired you to write The Princess and the Café on the Moat?
I wanted to spread a message about being kind, sharing talents, and building a sense of community. I was inspired, in part, by the idea that kids need and welcome a sense of responsibility, purpose, and belonging just as much as adults. I was also inspired by the idea that children innately have ways of contributing and making a difference. The young princess in the Princess and the Café on the Moat knows this and finds a way to make a difference that ends up bringing the whole kingdom together.
Was there a certain reason you chose the classic fairy tale setting?
Well, I love fairy tales. Children love fairy tales. I felt the traditional fairy tale format would work but that I could modernize it with a café. Also, in a fairy tale, there’s usually a message being played out. I thought my message would play out more subtly and more sweetly as a fairy tale than as a story that takes place in the present day. When I introduce the book to an audience, I call it “a tale for our time from once upon a time.”
I love the can-do attitude and the kindness of the princess. Was there also a reason you chose this character?
I thought a young princess in a very busy castle would create an element of wonder for readers. After all, why would a princess who lives in a castle full of such colorful characters want to dash across a drawbridge to the other side of the moat? Kids often ask me why I called her the “young princess” versus a specific name. It’s because I want all children to be able to see themselves in her, for her to be relatable.
None of the grown-up characters have specific names either. The king and queen represent supportive, loving parents, who are proud of their daughter, even though they are “busy” at the beginning of the story. That’s just how life is sometimes. And it’s the queen who takes the king’s idea of a one-time celebration to the next level of opening a café on the moat with daily hours. It’s a hat’s off to strong women and wise mothers.
What was one of your favorite books when you were a child?
The Tall Book of Nursery Tales. It was a book I took out time and time again from the library. It stood out on the shelf because it was taller than all the other books and it had vibrant illustrations. I had a huge fascination with that fairy tale book in particular, as well as myths, fables, and folk tales from around the world.
What is the best part about being a children’s author or working in the children’s book field?
The best part is when I get to read to children. They so quickly relate to the story and offer examples or ideas on good deeds they can perform like the princess: “Oh I can read this to the kids I babysit!” or “I always read birthday cards to my grandfather.” In the classroom, I present the story Reader’s Theater style. I ask the teacher to pick seven kids to take on the parts of the characters the princess encounters. Each child has one or two lines at most. They really get into it. I distribute hats and props and they have fun getting into character—the jester juggling the balls, the minstrel plucking the mandolin, the wizard waving the magic wand, the royal baker shaking her head no. Seeing their faces light up, their enthusiasm, and their reactions is wonderful.
Kids in the audience participate, too. I tell them that fairy tales are famous for events that take place in a series of three and invite them to be on the lookout for the ones I included in the story. They’re very responsive to that. Some kids quickly connect my book to a fairy tale they already know. All of the activity and conversation makes them curious about reading, about characters, about the story. And that’s the magic and joy of being an author—sharing the book and getting kids excited and involved.
Could you talk a little about the writing workshops you held for children to produce the Boston Globe Fun Pages? What a great opportunity that was, especially for kids who are interested in a writing career!
When my daughter was in 2nd grade, her teacher welcomed parental involvement in the classroom. At that time the Boston Globe newspaper published a weekly supplement called the Fun Pages. Children in classrooms at different schools wrote each edition. My daughter’s teacher tapped me to help a group of her students write an issue. There were about five articles in an issue, usually revolving around a theme. We picked our town’s annual 4th of July Festival as a theme and we worked on it for eight weeks.
I did another edition of the Fun Pages with my son’s 4th grade class. We had a chocolate factory in town then so our theme revolved around chocolate. We toured the factory, interviewed the owners, and researched stories about chocolate. I guided the writing and reporting, while also sharing tips on what it takes to be an editor and writer. Any time you can excite kids about the process of writing, it’s a great thing. There’s nothing better than hands-on experiential learning. When it came time to distribute one of the issues, I even dressed up as a news carrier and delivered the papers to the kids in their classroom.
Do you have an anecdote from any event at a bookstore or school that you’d like to share?
As I was signing books at a recent event, a little boy noticed me writing my name, and he asked, “How do you write so fast?” For a moment I thought he was talking about the writing of the book itself, but then I realized he was talking about when I signed my name. He was five and just learning to write. Learning to physically write your name is a big deal when you’re five! It was so sweet, and funny, and naturally inquisitive.
If you were going to bake something for the Café on the Moat, what would it be?
Probably gingerbread boys and girls! I bake them at the holidays! Or, gingerbread people shaped like the characters in my book. They could live in the castle cake (with a moat of blue-sugar-sprinkles and jellybeans!) that my brother-in-law baked for the launch of The Princess and the Café on the Moat.
Do you have a favorite place where you like to write? Could you describe it a little?
Even though I have a home office, I enjoy working in cafés because there’s a buzz. I like being a part of the bustle as much as the princess does! I find the sense of community invigorating. Cafés are where people come together now. A lot of The Princess and the Café on the Moat was written at the bagel café in my hometown. I’ll probably write my next book at the muffin café in the next town over. I spend a lot of time there now.
What is your favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving. It’s special because it’s a holiday that brings people together. No presents required. I like that it’s simply a time to reconnect with family and friends over a meal and give thanks.
You can find The Princess and the Café on the Moat at these booksellers:
Amazon | An Unlikely Story | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press
You can connect with Margie Markarian on
Her Website | FaceBook | Twitter
Good Samaritan Day Review
About the Holiday
A Good Samaritan is someone who sees someone in need of help or kindness and generously offers assistance or a smile. Today, people are encouraged to spend a little extra time to look around and notice those moments when someone could use an extra hand and go to their aid. You never know when a small gesture can have far-reaching effects. Children are particularly good at noticing those who need help or cheering up. You can foster their natural kindness by supporting their ideas and actions for helping their community—just like the little girl’s in today’s book!
The Princess and the Café on the Moat
Written by Margie Markarian | Illustrated by Chloe Douglass
There once was a little princess who lived in a very busy castle. Every morning knights brought news of “enemies defeated, dragons seized, and citizens rescued.” Upstairs, ladies-in-waiting were given their duties for “silks to sew, invitations to ink, and chandeliers to shine.” The princess wanted a special job too, but her voice was never heard above the din, so she went in search of something to occupy her time.
When she met the court jester, he told her he was too busy learning a routine for the evening’s guests to teach her how to juggle. The wandering minstrel who was playing his mandolin told her, “‘Your fingers are too delicate to pluck these wiry strings.’” And the wise wizard banished her from the tower because his potions were too dangerous. Even the royal baker thought her kitchen was no place for a princess. “The princess’s kind heart and eager spirit were not easily discouraged.” As she wandered past the front gate, she wondered if there were people beyond it who could use her help. Just then the drawbridge descended, and when the guard turned away for a moment, the princess crept by him and ran outside.
Right outside the castle, she met a “sad old man holding a scrolled parchment.” She approached him and asked why he was so sad. He told her that he had a letter from his far-away son, but because of his weak eyesight, he couldn’t read it. “‘I have time to read your letter and sit awhile,’ said the princess, happy to have found a task so quickly.” Next, she met a worried widow with five children coming down the path. The princess asked why they looked so tired.
The woman told her that she had no one to watch her children as she traveled the long way to the village market. The princess happily offered to watch the woman’s children. Soon, “a brave squire limped by the palace where the princess, the old man, and the widow’s children were telling stories and playing games.” When the princess asked the squire what pained him, he told her “‘I gashed by knee in a skirmish many miles ago but have not stopped to tend to it.’” The princess quickly cleaned and bandaged the squire’s knee so he could continue on to the castle.
Back at the castle, though, everything was in an uproar as the king and queen and staff hunted everywhere for the princess. Through a window the king suddenly heard laughter and singing. When the king looked out, he saw that the sound was coming from the princess. Everyone in the castle paraded out through the drawbridge to join the princess and her friends.
The princess ran to her mother and father and told them about all the things she had done for the old man, the widow, and the squire. The king and queen “were proud to have such a kindhearted daughter.” The king suggested that they “all celebrate together with treats and refreshments.” From that day on in the afternoon, the drawbridge was dropped and tables and chairs set up. Then the “princess welcomed townspeople and travelers from far and wide to her café on the moat.”
Here, the court jester practiced his juggling, the minstrel shared his music, the wizard made drinks, and the baker created delicious treats. The old man and the widow with her children often came by to meet new friends and relax. And the brave squire enjoyed refreshments while he guarded the castle. The café on the moat welcomed everyone, and “indeed, they all lived happily and busily ever after.”
An Afterword about fairy tales and a kindness activity for children follow the story.
Margie Markarian’s sweet story is an enchanting fairy tale for today’s socially conscious and active kids. Instead of needing rescue, this princess looks for opportunities to help others. When she’s turned away inside the castle, she leaves the comfort of home and reaches out to her community, an idea that children will embrace. Through her cheerful storytelling, Markarian also shows readers that in their talents and kind hearts they already have what it takes to make a difference to others. As the princess opens her café on the moat, children will see that the adults also find ways to support her efforts. Markarian’s language is charmingly “medieval,” making the story fun to read aloud while inspiring listeners.
Chloe Douglass’s adorable princess is a terrific role model for young readers. Her eagerness to help and positive spirit are evident in her smiles and persistent requests for a job to do. When she ventures out of the castle, she displays obvious empathy for the people she meets, and children will recognize her joy at being able to brighten the townspeople’s day. Despite their busy days, the king and queen are happy and supportive of their daughter. Children will love the bright and detailed images of the castle and town, where the crest of love rules.
The Princess and the Café on the Moat is a charming flip on the traditional fairy tale—one that children will want to hear again and again. It would make a great spring gift and an enriching addition to home and classroom bookshelves.
Ages 5 – 8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363971
To discover more about Margie Markarian and her picture book and find fun activities, visit her website.
Learn more about Chloe Douglass, her books, and her art on her website.
Good Samaritan Day Activity
The Princess and the Café on the Moat Activities
It’s fun spending the day with the Princess in the castle and out in the community helping people! Here are four activity pages to take you there!
The Princess and the Café Coloring Page |Castle Matching Page | Story Sequencing Page | Write a Fairy Tale Page
Picture Book Review