Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew traces the unsatisfying path taken by an anxious, eager-to-please girl as she spins a web of tiny white lies in her efforts to fit in at her new school. Author-illustrator Maryann Cocca-Leffler (born 1958) expertly illustrates her enchanting tale with colorfully charming drawings, outlined painstakingly and quirkily in purple.
As Kim Worthington’s father sends her off on her first day at a new school in a new town, she expresses nervousness at being liked. Her father offers the comforting advice to his little princess that her “charming self” will be winsome at Greenville Elementary School. Nevertheless, Kim’s insecurities are aroused during the ritual of being presented to classmates by her teacher, Mrs. Della. Standing self-consciously at the front of the room, Kim is embarrassed to learn that another girl shares the same first name. Anxious to please and eager to be liked, Kim blurts out what she hastily perceives to be a necessary, tiny white lie to distinguish herself from her namesake: her name, she affirms, is an acronym for Katherine Isabella Marguerite.
When Mrs. Della compliments her on the prettiness and queenliness of her name, Kim expands her tiny white lie by fabricating a regal family background. As the impressed teacher makes a long, low bow, Kim’s classmates accept the excitement of this new student with her royal connections. The presence of royalty transforms their small, unassuming town into a fairytale, for elementary students are especially enamored of princes and princesses. Kim confides the further fabrication that she is a princess with a queen for a grandmother.
Everything about Kim is interpreted by her peers within a royal context. On Tuesday, a rainy day, her father accompanies her to school holding an umbrella over her and carrying her lunch bag. He is heard to call her “princess” as he transfers lunch to her. Double-ponytailed Abby is convinced that Kim’s escort is her butler.
Kim is enjoying the special attention and her popularity so much that she feels comfortable in taking the bus to school on Thursday and Friday. Beginning on Thursday she adds credibility to her new identity by donning trademark accessories, a golden tiara from her dance recital and a fancy ring from an arcade. She declares that the ring was gifted by the queen and that her tiara sparkles with “real diamonds”.
Only one student refuses to be caught up with princess fever. Curly-headed Jason, wearing his ever-present scarlet baseball cap emblazoned with a white B, dismisses the rousing fanfare with the simple premise that Greenville is not a place where princesses choose to live.
And yet the first week of school which hummed so gloriously with the popularity contrived by the fanciful girl’s seemingly successful self-inventions gives hints on Friday of catastrophe. An unexpected invitation to Abby’s weekend birthday party catches Kim off guard. Without thinking, Kim excuses herself because of a visit from her grandmother. Nevertheless, grandmother has different connotations in this instance. While Kim is referencing her Grandma Betty, her new-found friends are thinking of the queen. Excitement rises to a high pitch as Kim’s classmates vie for invitations to meet the queen.
The flow of words which had spilled so easily and so falsely from Kim’s imagination is now staunched as the speechless girl perceives the enormity of her problem. Little lies spun each day have created a big web of deceit. Kim looks forward to escaping to her home.
Grandma Betty’s arrival on Saturday ushers in two days of happy forgetfulness as the two enjoy Kim’s ballet class, ice cream, and the zoo. Unfortunately, Grandma Betty’s cheerful reminder at bedtime Sunday evening of tomorrow’s school day summons Kim’s predicament from the shadows of forgetfulness. Distraught, Kim confides in her grandmother, who assures her not to worry.
Nevertheless, the doubts which assail Kim find expression as she reluctantly heads for school. On the bus she is plagued by her classmates, who hurtle accusations of fakeness and falsehood at her. Kim’s crown weighs heavily on her gingery strawberry blonde head. As the bus pulls alongside Greenville Elementary, Kim cringes at the sight of a large crowd of students, pointing at her and awaiting her.
But as Kim slowly exits from the bus, she is greeted by the unexpected sight of her father standing next to a grand car. He unrolls a red carpet and opens the door for a gracious lady bedecked in silver shoes, emerald green dress, and flowing purple cape and capped with a golden crown. Perfecting her role as a grande dame, Grandma Betty proffers the lunch which had been forgotten by Kim in her distress, announces her intention of escorting Kim into school, and addresses her beloved granddaughter as “princess.”
As the duo proceeds elegantly up the carpet, Kim is overwhelmed by the tenuous, mendacious situation in which she has placed herself and her family. No longer wanting to play her make-believe game, Kim blurts out the truth, removes the tiara from her head, and hands it over to Grandma Betty.
Despite shunning by her classmates throughout the morning, Kim is relieved and happy to be herself rather than an imaginary princess. At recess, alone on the grass with a book, Kim is befriended by Jason, who invites her to play catch with him. When she expresses surprise that he would want to play with her after her downfall from interesting princess to “just plain Kim”, Jason confides his secret that he had pretended the previous year that his father was the owner of the Boston Red Sox.
Published in 2009 by the Illinois publishing firm of Albert Whitman & Company, Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew comes straight from the heart of its author-illustrator, Maryann Cocca-Leffler. The story was inspired by an experience in her childhood, in which Maryann claimed to her classmates that her father was the owner of the Coca-Cola Company. Through wonderful prose and endearing illustrations, Maryann offers enduring insights into children’s flights of fancy as a coping mechanism and the challenges which confront elementary school children as they learn to be true to themselves vis-à-vis their interactions with the world outside the comfort of their hopefully cozy homes.
Of additional interest is Maryann’s fulfillment of her dream to transfer Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew and its sequel, Princess Kim and Too Much Truth, from printed format into a musical on stage. Princess K.I.M. the Musical premiered at Caryl Crane Youth Theatre in Huron, Ohio, in April 2013. The musical’s New England premiere is slated for October 3-6, at the Amato Center for the Performing Arts in Milford, New Hampshire. A native of Massachusetts, Maryann is thrilled to realize her dream in her adopted state of New Hampshire.
Cocca-Leffler, Maryann. Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew. Morton Grove, Illinois: Albert Whitman & Company, 2009.