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Sleeping ugly

The girl who gets the prince has a big nose and ratty hair. The beautiful princess is mean and spiteful. And the royal boy has no money.

No, wait. The girl who gets the pauper prince is ugly? Has the traditional fairy tale gone politically correct.

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Not quite.

"Sleeping Ugly" - a slim little volume written more than two decades ago by Jane Yolen - playfully turns the tables on that old "beauty begets wealth, success, and handsome husband" story. It's Cyrano de Bergerac for small people - with a good fairy, some dark woods, and a gender shift thrown in.

Yolen even resists the temptation to cave to that familiar Cosmo bait that Plain Jane simply needs a makeover. "Her hair was short and turned down. Her nose was long and turned up. And even if they had been the other way 'round, she would not have been a great beauty," she writes. There's no fudging ugly here.

But this is not feminist literature for the large-nosed and homely among us. It's just refreshingly contrarian. Pretty must be good is deftly flipped for kind is good. There's no hammering home a dry point.

A touch of humor and some creative twists break the mold of pretty princesses and handsome princes, and they still all live happily ever after.

In today's special section on children's books, Yolen has another gem out called, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?" It's a bedtime story about dinos - who behave surprisingly like small children when it comes to going to sleep - with a few humans thrown in for scale.

*Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor. Comments or questions? Send e-mail to ideas@csps.com

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