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The Duchess of Whimsy

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The great New Yorker artist Peter de Seve teams up with the author of bestselling Toy Boat in a slightly outrageous fairy tale. The Duchess of Whimsy is fancy and fussy—and definitely not ordinary—surrounding herself with wild friends, fabulous foods, and fancy dress. The Earl of Norm (ho hum) is completely ordinary, but he adores the Duchess. She ignores him, until the chef gets sick, and her friends have to make a super supper—which includes tracking down truffles, spinning sugar stars, and looking for quail eggs. But the Earl is hungry! He sneaks off to an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich—and suddenly takes the Duchess’s eye. Maybe there’s something to simplicity after all. Maybe there’s something to the Earl after all . . . This deliciously told and illustrated love story by the remarkable de Sèves shows how utterly charming and extraordinary a picture book can be.

32 pages, Hardcover

First published October 29, 2009

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Randall de Sève

9 books16 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 145 reviews
Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,008 followers
August 9, 2011
The de Sèves use a princess (although they are referred to as Duke and Duchess, their fathers are kings, so they are really a prince and princess) to sugarcoat a fairly standard, if worthwhile, message for children: get to know people before you judge them.

The vibrant Duchess has a court of quirky characters who party non-stop. Nothing is too wild, crazy, or original for them, they can never have too much fun and excitement. Poor Norm has a mad pash for the Duchess, but she thinks he's a bore and only tolerates him because her father insists (for reasons of international diplomacy). But when her cook falls ill, she discovers that Norm can grill a mean cheese sandwich and decides that maybe ordinary isn't always bad.

I kind of wish the story had continued a few more pages. Does Norm change Whimsy's party-girl ways? The narration is pretty neutral, but I was kind of disgusted by her extravagant lifestyle. It reminded me of the Pre-Revolution French Court, immense waste of money and food on a few spoiled individuals. And at the taxpayers expense! When Norm was introduced as caring about road maintenance and rescuing abused dogs, I thought there might be a political dimension to the story, but I was disappointed.

Also, and I realize this isn't the point of the book, I was bothered by the treatment/use of animals in Whimsy's palace. They wear silly costumes, they get manhandled, the sea creatures are in horribly tiny containers.

Probably neither of these issues would occur to children, but I'm not sure that makes it better. Neither "partying and spending money is how you have fun and get friends" nor "animals are like toys" are attitudes I'd really want kids to internalize, even subliminally.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,764 reviews1,219 followers
February 20, 2010
Well, through the first half of this I was laughing so much I wondered how I could ever read it aloud to children.

This is actually one of the best love stories I’ve ever read. It’s about how two very different people (the “whimsical” and the “normal”) find common ground, and also find that they’re not as different from each other as they’d thought. It’s an entertaining story and it’s not overly message heavy It’s funny and sweet, but not overly sweet. Also, aside from the obvious message, one could also say that this story says the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. Ha!

The illustrations are glorious: colorful and intricate, with so much to view on each page. They reminded me so much of the illustrations in King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, that while I was reading I thought they were created by the same illustrator, but they’re different artists.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
4,250 reviews
February 25, 2010
4.5 STARS. I've waited eagerly for our library to acquire a copy of this, having been won over by the lovely cover art and cute title. I must say, it was worth the wait!!! It's a wonderful and deeply honest take on the typical castle-based love story. The Earl of Norm is constantly invited to the Duchess of Whimsy's parties because, as her father says, their kingdoms "must get along." But she finds the Earl so very BORING! Meanwhile, he finds her dazzlingly fascinating and exciting and completely wonderful and is totally in love. He tries some pretty sweet and crazy stunts to win her affection (like bringing a giraffe to a party!) but it isn't until the Duchess is alone with him, away from all her usual pomp and glitter, and he is being his complete and utter self, that she really begins to NOTICE him. Suddenly, they find that, while they can admire one another's differences, they really have quite a lot in common at heart. YAY! I think this is one of the most "realistic" love stories I've come across in picture books, and I love it for that. The illustrations are sweet and exciting and WHIMSICAL and wholly captivating. I docked half a star because I didn't like the mention of "stealing" the eggs from a bird for the royal feast, but otherwise this is a gem of a story :-) It also features lots of culinary treats so folks who love food and cooking should be pleased.

Thanks, Chandra, for bringing it to my attention in the first place and to Abigail and Lisa for the glowing reviews that only heightened my anticipation!
Profile Image for Ann.
510 reviews
March 15, 2010
I loved, loved, LOVED this book!

First of all, let me say that the illustrations are *perfect* and I wanted to peruse each page slowly and intently to catch every little detail!

As for the story - what a gem!! The Duchess of Whimsy is just what her name suggests. She abhors anything normal... so, of course, the Earl of Norm is, unfortunately, just too boring. He, however, is madly in love with the Duchess.

What I loved about this book was that it really was such a wonderful example of how people are made up of multiple layers. I don't want to say too much because part of the joy of this book is the surprises, but I cannot recommend it highly enough! A true joy!!!
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,753 followers
September 8, 2009
I don’t think that every single picture book out there needs to have a moral, but it’s not a terrible idea if they happen to contain stories that instruct just a tad on the side. Children's stories offer every possible morality tale you can imagine too. Don’t steal. Be polite to your baby sister. Don’t eat food you find on the street (unless, apparently, it has fallen from the sky). The thing about The Duchess of Whimsy is that for all its overwhelming beauty and fun, its moral is based in practicality. The gist: fun people and sensible people need one another. Put another way, there is room in this world for glam and glitter and room in this world for sense and sensibility. So behold the picture book that tells small children that as fun as the quirky folks out there can be, everyone needs a little bit of normalcy to keep the world going round. Cause while whimsy’s all well and good, it won’t get you a grilled cheese sandwich in the end.

The Duchess of Whimsy was, to be frank, the life of the party. The Earl of Norm was not. While the Duchess reveled in the spectacular, the Earl was down-to-earth and downright ordinary. The problem with this? He was also positively smitten with the Duchess and keen to impress her in any way. This meant doing things out of his nature, like bringing in hungry giraffes, composing painful odes, and wearing flamboyant, gaudy costumes. The Duchess was, to say the least, not impressed until the day the cook took sick. While all her friends attempted to cook ridiculous complicated recipes, the Earl went for a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a cold glass of milk. Amazed that something so uncomplicated could be so good, the two got to talking and found they had quite a lot to say. From that time on they enjoyed one another’s company, for when it came to personality these two found each other to be “simply extraordinary”.

Author Randall de Seve tried her hand at picture books first with a small unobtrusive little number called Toy Boat, illustrated by Loren Long. It was sweet and it was simple. So The Duchess of Whimsy marks her departure from quiet intimate tales to something a little more raucous, ribald, and robust. I found that I loved the writing in this book. The pacing appears to be perfect and the characters crystal clear. Though she eschews the company of the Earl of Norm right from the start, you don’t ever get the feeling that the Duchess is a bad sort. She just happens to have a lot on her plate and the Earl’s overenthusiasm is, admittedly, a bit grating. And can I give enough thanks that this story wasn’t written in rhyme? It reads beautifully with its own interior cadence and style. You won’t have any problem holding a child’s attention with this text. If there was any excess to it, it was excised in the editing long ago.

Ms. de Seve shares this book with her husband, its illustrator. If Peter de Seve’s art looks familiar to you, it may be because he’s done his fair share of New Yorker magazine covers, with the occasional musical comedy poster on the side. In this, his first picture book, he packs the pages full of colorful, but never gaudy, images and colors. He also makes particular use of his white backgrounds. It's funny, but when you think back on his images, you may forget that they were presented in this way. Generally, de Seve indulges in ruffles, truffles, furbelows, and feathers. The sheer exhausting enormity of his images (and the million and one tiny details hidden within) would undoubtedly be too much if his backgrounds were anything more that pure unadulterated white. So even if a scene has a background (as when the party guests take over the unfortunate cook’s kitchen), there’s white on the opposite page, allowing for a little spillover from the madness across the way.

As for those aforementioned details, de Seve isn’t afraid to pack his pages full of them. If you watch some of the guests early on you’ll note that their outfits match the foods they try to make later on. The giraffe mentioned as an unfortunate attempt on the Earl’s part to get the Duchess’s attention early on, reappears at the final banquet taking a nibble on her hair’s fancy fashions. Heck, the banquet for that matter is chock full of remarkable insights, like the fact that the knight we’ve seen in the background all this time is actually a girl, the king is a fan of a good curly straw, and the bird on the crest of his crown appears to change its expressions as the situation demands.

I don’t know de Seves personally. Never met them a day of my life. Don’t know where they live or what they look like or any of that. I do know, however, that when illustrators put people that they know into their books, those people have a very distinctive look to them. Marla Frazee did it with her husband in Roller Coaster and darned if I don’t think that the two little fairies in this book don’t look like they might be the de Seves daughters. I know that the Earl’s dog in the book has to be their dog. It’s a little pit bull with a splotch over one eye that can’t be anything but a family dog, but the little fairies who look to be five years apart in age... yeah. Those are their kids. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts on that one. Take a look for yourself and see. It’s glaringly obvious from the title page. Plus what kid wouldn’t want to become a fairy in a book?

The fellow tale I was reminded of directly after finishing this book was King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub. Both are whimsical over-the-top confections of silliness and delight. Both show royalty at its most raucous, placing fancy folk in their fancier wear in positions of extreme silliness and ineptitude. And though their stories differ, the feel of these books is remarkably the same. Both are a ton of fun and kids who love poring over tiny details will have a hard time not gaping and gawking over Whimsy as often as they do Bidgood.

If you find that you’ve a Fancy Nancy follower in your life and you wish in inject into their brain something just as fancy, but a little more . . . I dunno . . . filling, The Duchess of Whimsy is made to order. Kids will find themselves turning back to read and reread the story over and over again (if they can wrench the book from the hands of their parents, trying to do the very same thing). It’s nice to find a good original fairy tale, and this one certainly fits the bill. The ordinary and the extraordinary combine in a book that is certain to be beloved by every ordinary and extraordinary child out there today. Magical.

Ages 4-8.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,116 reviews186 followers
February 29, 2020
Known for "her elaborate attire, her uncommon conversation, and her most peculiar pets," the Duchess of Whimsy was always the life of the party. What chance did the Earl of Norm - whose clothing, dog, and conversation were as ordinary as could be - have at winning her heart? Unfortunately, the Earl was desperately in love, and left no stone unturned in his efforts to catch her attention. When his outlandish gestures - bringing a giraffe to one of the Duchess' soirées, composing "sugary poetry" that made him an object of ridicule - all failed, it seemed that the Earl's love would remain unrequited. And then...

An engaging original fairy-tale, The Duchess of Whimsy manages to teach an important lesson - that the ordinary and simple can have great appeal - without descending into the annoying didacticism that ruins many "issues-driven" picture-books. The illustrations by Peter de Sève are simply delightful - humorous, and full of an exuberant sense of fun. Fairy-tale fans will not want to miss this modern take on the genre!
Profile Image for Judith.
1,354 reviews30 followers
April 20, 2010
If your child liked Fancy Nancy or Eloise then they will love The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Séve. This delight fairytale is a love story, but there is a sweet moral behind it. The Duchess of Whimsy is known throughout the land as the greatest hostess there ever was! Her extravagant soirées are equally matched by the outlandish and stunning costumes that the Duchess of Whimsy adorns. The Duchess of Whimsy is loved by all, especially the Earl of Norm, who is hopelessly in love with her. He presents her with extraordinary gifts and goes to extreme lengths to impress the Duchess of Whimsy, but she was never impressed.
On the eve of one of her grand galas, the Duchess’ cook became sick. All the guests tried to make elaborate dishes for the delightful dinner, but all they made is a mess! It was the Earl of Norm’s simple grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk that won the Duchess over. How could something so simple as grilled cheese be so delightfully delicious? Not only did the Duchess see grilled cheese sandwiches in a new light, but she also saw the Earl differently as well. De Séve reminds the reader that sometimes the most extravagant of people need a little simplicity in their life and a dash of over-the-top never hurt anyone. The Duchess of Whimsy is simple extraordinary!
The illustrations, which are done by de Séve’s husband, reminded me of King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood. The character’s costumes, especially those of the Duchess, are what initially drew me to this precocious picture book. They are elaborate, ostentatious, flamboyant, and beautifully drawn. The Duchess of Whimsy has the glitz and glamour or Fancy Nancy, but with more heart and definitely more style.
Profile Image for Rachel.
152 reviews
March 17, 2010
I think this would be fun to read aloud as a one-one with a child. The illustrations are rich and beautiful, but I don't know how well they would show up from the distance, for a read-aloud to a group of children. I was surprised by the "grown-up" vocabulary used in this book ... words like: soirees, joie de vivre, brocaded, flamboyant, truffle canapes, watercress, quail, glistening, delectable, sumptuous .... the writing has a wonderful candence, and it's wonderful for kids to be exposed to sophisticated words in a natural and easy setting like this .... a read-aloud picture book.

I enjoyed the story about the "odd couple" composed of one very solid, down-to-earth person and one more whimsical, flamboyant person. Don't we all know a lot of couples like that? Also, the Earl won my heart when I found out he bravely rescued his dog from a traveling circus! Way to go!
Profile Image for Esmoi.
45 reviews7 followers
February 18, 2010
Every time I flip through this book, I can't help but to think of Myers-Briggs personality types. As I see it, this book is about an ISTJ (the Earl of Norm) who falls in love with an ENFP (the Duchess of Whimsy). Hilarity ensues but ultimately the duo come to realize they have a few things in common and, more importantly, they appreciate and value each other's differences. I think the story is awesome and the illustrations are gorgeous and fitting. My four year old didn't quite "get it" but I think grade-schoolers would really dig this tale.

I was not familiar with de Seve's work before picking this book up at the library, but he has definitely earned my admiration. I can't rave enough about how beautiful I find each and every page of this book. I've got half a mind to buy it for myself.
Profile Image for Paula.
Author 2 books215 followers
December 8, 2009
Oh, I like this. I like the lavishly insouciant colored pencil and watercolor illustrations. I like the fun, fancy Duchess, with her penchant for "elaborate attire" and "uncommon conversation." I like the Earl of Norm, who, although he is an intrinsically rather quiet guy, really enjoys the Duchess's spirit, and tries to spice himself up with fancy clothes and a giraffe. And I like that, in the end, he wins her over with a grilled cheese sandwich, and they find that they have more in common than they knew. Sigh. Love!

More like this on Pink Me: http://pinkme.typepad.com
Profile Image for Josselin D.
7 reviews2 followers
October 5, 2011
I love this traditonal literatul book. This book is about a man that created a sandwich with yellow melted cheese and a lady wanted to take a bite so the man offered her to take a bite... (she fell in love with the sandwich thats how she fell in love with the man.) The book was written from a point of view of a man named, "The Earl Of Norm" My schema with this book is that I've tasted a sandwich with yellow melted cheese in the middle. I want to remember that Soirees means a party. I recomend this book to Mrs.Yegge because its really interesting and funny too.
5 reviews
October 20, 2011
Ami me encanto este libro literatura tradicional.Por que la Duchess de Whimsy no era lo que paresia y el Earl de Norm tambien no era lo que paresia este librotrata de un hombre que quiere la atencion de Duchess de Whimsy y la agaro la atencion de ella porhaser un sanwich de queso muy rico.Mi esquema es que la Duchess de Whimsy le encantan los animales como yo.Mi pregunta es por que mintio el Earl de Norm y la Duchess de Whimsy.Yo le recomiendo este libro a las ninas de mi clase por que le gustan las prinsesas.
Profile Image for Daissy.
10 reviews
October 21, 2011
Este libro me encanta porque me recuerda de mama y mi papa conociando.Este libro es Literatura Tradicional.Este libro se trata de una mujer y un senor y el senor le quiere a la mujer pero la mujer no la mujer se ama al el senor porque el le cocino un sandwich de queso.Yoquiero a recomedar este libro a Aimee porque ella es una buen nina y yo quiero que le gusta este libro.Porque la mujer se vestio chistoso.
Profile Image for Yesli S.
7 reviews
October 23, 2011
A mi me gusta este libro.Este estrata de whimsy que se anamoro duchess porque podia aser los saguches bin rico .yo me recuerdo cuando yo cuando mi mama y papa se conocieron .YO tego una prenguta sobre el libro porque whimsty se quiere anamorase con duchess. yo quiero recordarme la parte cuando duchess se anamoro co whimsy.yo quiero recomendar este libro a MS. Yegge porque a eya le guta mucho leer lo libro.
Profile Image for Carolinaa.
5 reviews
October 14, 2011
I love this book of ficcion and fairytale because its funny. This book is a baute Whimsy and Earl. Earl is a sorvent and Whimsy is a kuein.My eshema is that my cousen loves to be a kuein and her brother is her sorvent. Wy do they love ichoder. I recomend this book to my cousen because she think that she is the kuein.
6 reviews
October 17, 2011
My opinion of the book is i like the .This book is Traditional Literature.This book is about A dutchess and an earl who wernt in love but when the earl was eating hes sandwich the dutchess loved the sandwuch and they fell in love .My eschema of the book is i always want to be a princes.My question is why does the king have a long roble.I recommend this book to my frends.
12 reviews
October 17, 2011
I like the book of duchess of whimsy.This book is traditional literature.Is about two people who found in love couse earl tail joke and duchess love his joke.My scema is that i want to be like the authour couse he did the book prity.Why does the king has a long roob.I recommend the book to stephani becauseit is about faritails.
6 reviews1 follower
October 28, 2011
I reali like this book because I thot that it was cool and funny.Itsabaut a woman falling in love with a man by eating one sandwich thatthe man cooked.I have a schema for this book.It reminds me of the time when my 3rd grade teacher read a book of chrismas.I recomend this bookto my freand,Jose becouse he likes books.
11 reviews
October 28, 2011
My opinion of this book is that it was amazing.Its genre is traditinal litature.A quick retelling is that the dad was the king and she wanted to merry the eral by eating one chesse sandwich.My schema of this book is that my aunt merry cause her husband now wanted to merry.My question why did Whymsy merry?I will recomend this book to my friend Ana.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,131 reviews
November 3, 2012
Great story of how opposites attract. Fun story and beautiful pictures made my niece like this book, and I did too. Nice story to give to a married couple, especially if one spouse is more whimsical than the other. This one made me think of my husband and me.
Profile Image for Set.
1,560 reviews
September 23, 2019
I really love this book, not only are the illustrations gorgeous but the story is very clever. Whimsy is frivolous, whismical and impulsive but she learns about practicality and normalcy.
Profile Image for Heather Bullard.
7 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2022
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants luscious words and whimsical pictures for your children (and yourself) to enjoy. What a great way to introduce new words to children.
Profile Image for Shaynning - Libraire Jeunesse.
666 reviews7 followers
January 14, 2023
Un album jeunesse qui nous livre l'histoire d'amour entre une femme extravagante et un homme humble. le message est limpide: Ne jamais sous-estimer la "normalité". Parce qu'au fond, les gens ont tous un côté extraordinaire, n'est-ce pas? Et puis, on peut être étonné par la simplicité de certaines choses, comme un bon croque-monsieur, par exemple! Et j'ajoute que les plus beaux couples sont souvent ceux qui se complète.

On a un dessin déjanté, très texturé, contre-naturelles et souple. Les couleurs sont fabuleuses. de Seve nous amène des minois humains variés, mignons et personnalisés, avec un sens du détail hors-norme et un peu fou-brac. Vraiment, les images valent le détour.

Une histoire simple, des décors complexes, un bon moment de lecture.

Catégorisation: Album fiction , littérature jeunesse débutant, premier cycle primaire, 6-7 ans ( Lecture requise par un parent, sinon il conviendra au second cycle, 8-9 ans)
Note: 7/10
May 21, 2018
Known for her extravagant ways the Duchess didn’t find the ordinary Earl the least bit amusing. The Earl would do anything to please the Duchess, change his style, bring gifts , and strange guess to the parties. In an emergency all the suitable men, was busy cooking for the Duchess. The Earl was too ordinary for a complex meal. Love would be found over a grill cheese sandwich and a glass of milk .
Another story with the theme don’t judge a book by its cover. The illustration is soft and whimsical, like the Dutchess her true self. I would use this book to discuss how opposites attract, and as a way to discuss the England court. This book is great for ages K-2.
26 reviews
November 17, 2020
Fab story about two royals who meet because of a sandwich! This story explains that people can often times be different than they appear. This story is a classic "dont judge a book by its cover" tale. The earl of norm loved the duchess, but the duchess didnt look twice at him. The duchess discovers her and the earl of norm have a lot more in common than she thought they did. They lived happily ever after. This book has very vibrant and colorful language! I would use this story for teaching about adjectives or synonyms for older students. I didnt think this book was going to be as good as it was!! Much luv to the duchess and the earl.
Profile Image for Karen.
Author 9 books27 followers
June 27, 2018
I originally picked up this book because of Peter de Seve's artwork, and that would be enough of a reason. Randall de Seve, Peter's wife, however has a talent all of her own. Hers is quieter, maybe less known talent. In fact, I think you could invert the roles in this book, making Peter the Earl of Whimsy, and Randall the Duchess of Norm, and you would know exactly why this book works so very well.
Profile Image for Loree Harrell.
Author 1 book1 follower
April 3, 2019
The art in this book was gorgeous, but the story was... not sure... over simple / held no surprises or delight beyond the art? It would not have been one of the stories my heart held forever as a child.

I suggest this one is primarily for the young 'uns who want the sound of your voice and pretty pictures over story.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 145 reviews

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