Vivian Vande Velde,
Once Upon a Test:
Three Light Tales of Love

(Whitman & Co., 1984)

Vivian Vande Velde's short stories are often quite good, and the three in Once Upon a Test: Three Light Tales of Love are no exception. The only problem is that there are only three of them, and all of them are short -- totaling about 30 pages and requiring no more than 15 minutes to read.

They're all bound up in what looks like a hardback picturebook with mediocre black-and-white, full-panel drawings by Diane Dawson Hearn.

The three stories -- "For Love of Sunny," "Not for Love nor Money" and "Love is Blind" -- are written in a style that may be familiar to anyone who has read Vande Velde's other short stories, as seen in Curses Inc., Tales from the Brothers Grimm & Sisters Weird and, most particularly, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem.

The stories all feature the popular fairy-tale theme of accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks in order to win the princess -- or the prince, in the case of the first story, which is a fun twist on the genders traditionally assigned to rescuer and rescued. The second story proposes the question of whether the hardships imposed by these tasks are even worth the rewards, and the third is a sweeter, less cynical story in which kindness and honesty, not bravado, win the day.

These stories are clever, amusing and exactly as they are described -- light tales of love -- but they are not as singularly brilliant as some of Vande Velde's other short stories are, like "Lost Soul" and "Straw into Gold." It's a good book to check out from the library (and especially recommended to fans of Gail Carson Levine's Princess Tales series), but Vande Velde's novels and longer short-story collections are better examples of her witty prose and unique characterizations.

by Jennifer Mo
29 July 2006

Buy it from