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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great Children's Books About Princesses

The Tongginator is obsessed with All Things Princess, as I'm sure are many of your girls. And it's not that I mind the pink frills and fru-frus, the tiaras and tutus... but seriously, y'all, do princesses really need rescuing? The message broadcast by The Disney Princess Machine (as well as other assorted retailers) is often one of helpless females and of beauty trumping character.


That is NOT the message I want to send to the Tongginator. Now I'm okay with a Disney princess here or there, although I prefer Mulan over Cinderella, and Belle over Ariel. But I also want the Tongginator to realize that life is more than waiting around for some guy to come along and sweep her off of her feet. (Although the Husband DID sweep me off of my feet when I first met him. But that's entirely beside the point. Ahem.)


I also want the Tongginator to realize that being a good princess is a difficult JOB, not simply an opportunity to wear beautiful clothes and primp in front of a mirror. I greatly admire those who have used their Princess Power to improve the world, most especially the late Princess Diana and Queen Rania of Jordon. Princess Diana? Publicly touched people diagnosed with AIDS before 1990, at a time when British royals didn't touch anyone, much less someone with a disease everyone feared might be transmitted through casual contact. Sit with that for a minute. And Queen Rania from Jordon? Works tirelessly to see that every child receives an education - EVEN GIRLS - all around the world, including the Middle East. Again, sit with that for a minute.

Those are the princess role models I wish for the Tongginator.

Unfortunately, you don't read about those types of princesses all that often... not when it comes to children's picture books. That's why I love! love! love! the Mommy Tracked Anti-Princess Reading List, but I also wanted to share with y'all a dozen Actual Princess Books that break the mold. These are - in my humble opinion - the best anti-princess princess picture books around.

The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray. The youngest princess in the family - a little shy and quite ordinary - manages to transform her drought-plagued nation in just one week. After the Queen's death, the King challenges his three daughters to "do something to make your mark" as they compete for the title of Queen. The two beautiful elder daughters abuse the land's natural resources to create towers focused solely on themselves, but the timid Serenity, so aptly named, uses a tiny apple seed to create lush beauty. I love this book for its beautiful illustrations, strong environmental message and its brown-skinned princesses.

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle. As a young preschooler, the Tongginator loved this question-and-answer book about princesses. More cutesy than clever, it still managed to make my list since the mother-and-daughter conversation shares that yes, princesses can play in the sand and dirt, wear jeans and a messy shirt, as well as many other girl-power activities. At the conclusion of the story, the little girl asks her mother, "Mommy, do princesses seem at all like me?" to which her mother replies, "Look inside yourself and see."

The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen. A young Chinese princess named Djeow Seow, largely ignored by her family, spends her days playing with a kite made from paper and sticks. But when her father the Emperor is kidnapped and imprisoned in a high tower, and after all of her old siblings run away in terror, only the tiny Princess will save the day, flying her kite high up into the sky to rescue her father. In the end, the entire family learns that - even if you are big and strong - without strength of character, you are useless to others... and yourself. (Ed Young's traditional papercuts make this book a visual feast for the eyes.)

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. Princess Elizabeth proves that a princess doesn't have to wear beautiful clothes to look royal. She also ditches Prince Ronald when he fails to realize said fact. Oh, and she just so happens to also defeat a fiery, fierce dragon after he burns all of her clothes and prince-naps her fiance, which forces her to pluckily don a paper bag. I love Princess Elizabeth's character, but most of all I love that this book teaches that happily-ever-after doesn't always come about the way we expect. And the Husband? The Husband loves that this book teaches the Tongginator a Very Important Lesson: if the guy isn't nice, don't marry him.

The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch. A fairy-tale parody, this book tells the tale of Princess Paulina, who is competing against her peers for the hand of Prince Drupert, the rather unfortunate-looking son of the overbearing Queen Zelda. Princess Paulina breezes through each challenge until the kitchen test manages to strike fear into her competitive heart. Despite her fear and despair, she manages to overcome by whipping up a new concoction of tomatoes, cheese and garlic on some bread dough, which wows the not-so-easily-pleased Queen Zelda. In the end - despite winning the competition - Paulina decides to open a pizza parlor rather than marry the dreary Prince Drupert. (I especially love how Princess Paulina's oft-repeated "for Pete's sake!" foreshadows the etymological beginnings of the word pizza.)

Princesses Are NOT Quitters by Kate Lum. Princesses Allie, Millie and Libby, tired of their lives of pampered luxury, decide to switch lives for the day with three young servant girls. As their experiment day progresses, these three young royals learn that chores? Aren't as fun as they look. Still, these plucky gals refuse to let it be said that princesses are quitters! The next morning, although absolutely exhausted, the formerly spoiled princesses take great pride in their accomplishments and declare New Rules for those who work in their kingdom, including the rule that princesses help with the chores! Charmingly illustrated by Sue Hellard, artistic details such as a chicken making a nest and laying eggs in Princess Libby's voluminous hair are sure to cause many giggles.

Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman. Grace (first introduced in the award-winning Reading Rainbow book Amazing Grace) can't wait to hear whether or not she will be chosen as one of two princesses for the town's upcoming pageant. When she learns that she was picked to play the role, she knows it's the perfect opportunity to dress up in frills and fru-fru, but how - exactly - should a princess look? Grace asks her teacher for help, and soon the entire class is involved. They learn about princesses, both real and fictional, from Africa to Asia, who have done everything from leading an army to being a spy. In the end, Grace decides to dress up as an African princess, like Princess Amina of Nigeria.

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke. When King Wilfred's three sons were born, he knew exactly how to raise them. But then his daughter Violetta was born, and he had no clue as to how to raise her after her mother died in childbirth. Rather than asking others for help, the proud and independent King Wilfred decides to raise his daughter the same way he raised his sons: by teaching her fencing and fighting, good manners and horseplay. Violetta spends her childhood striving to keep up with her three elder brothers, and somehow succeeding, despite her smaller size. When she turns sixteen, however, the King commands her to marry, but Violetta, as spunky as any knight, manages to live life on her own terms, marrying the man of her own dreams, not her father's dreams, and with her father's approval in the end.

Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut by Margaret Atwood. I know y'all are totally gonna hate me for this one, but the Tongginator just LOVES this tongue-twister of a book. Preoccupied with her own prettiness, the Princess passes her time peering in her pocket mirror to see her perfect dimples; planning nuptials with a prince who has piles of pin money; and producing pandemonium for her pained parents, pets and the parlormaids paid to pick up after her. She gets her comeuppance when she provokes a wrinkly-wristed, wise woman, who places on the princess's proboscis a purple peanut that won't go away until she performs three good deeds.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole. Princess Smartypants has an excellent life, happily spending her days with her animals. Her only problem is she is plagued by suitors who want to marry her for her beauty and wealth, but do not appreciate her for who she really is. She gives into parental pressure and agrees to hear out her suitors, but cleverly devises plans to make them all go away, gleefully watching suitor after suitor fail her challenges until Prince Swashbuckle comes along, somehow managing to pass every one of her tests. As a reward, she reluctantly kisses him, which transforms him into a gigantic warty toad. For some strange reason, this fact manages to scare away all of her unwanted suitors, leaving Princess Smartypants to live happily ever after with her favorite animals for company.

Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China by Deborah Noyes. According to Chinese legend, silk cloth has been in existence for more than 5,000 years. With silk sales to the West contributing largely to China's riches, the production of the luxury cloth was a closely guarded Chinese secret, but - inevitably - word got out. The lovely and lyrical Red Butterfly, reminiscent of the poet Li Po, shares how that secret became known worldwide, all because a heart-sick princess fights back the only way she can when forced to leave her much beloved home for an unwanted marriage in the unknown land of Khotan. NOTE: As artistically beautiful as this book is, the story is a bit complex, as well as sad, and best suited for children over age six.

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio. Although this story is not about princesses, it was written by a queen about her childhood, so it totally passes muster with the Tongginator. (Plus, it's not like this storyline is unfamiliar to my little gal.) The day Lily stops eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich to tell Salma that her hummus and pita sandwich looks yucky is the day their friendship ends. Their angry standoff grows to food fight proportions until a visit to the principal's office leads to feelings of shame, then greater understanding, and finally surprise as the girls learn that different doesn't always mean gross.

Do y'all have any favorites with a similar theme?


Kim said...

We are right there with you in princess-loving land. Have 3 of the books on your list - thanks for the others!

There are t-shirts online for sale at Think Geek with "Self-Rescuing Princess" on them =)

I'm a self professed geek who is trying to raise her 5 yr old Princess to handle herself just fine w/o the help of a Prince.

Stay At Home Mom said...

Oh boy, Princess Prunella and the Pruple Peanut! lol! I think I am getting that for my daughter. It's crazy how they are so obsessed with princesses right? Thank you for this list, you make finding books so much easier for me.

Aus said...

We've got the Grace book - but we'll add some of the others! Marie was raised working on the family farm - and we've tried to raise our girls knowing how to do a days work too! Still - they'll all be princesses to me!

hugs - aus and co.

Colin and Jill Canada said...

I bought Lilah this book a while back in Costco. We haven't read it yet, as it's not totally her age group right now - but it was a great price! I really appreciated how there are princesses from all different countries and cultures represented - 14 altogether I think. In fact, if memory serves me right I think it even has an Irish princess in it!! And of course a Chinese princess. The illustrations are amazing and it has a little story for each princess that teaches the child about that particular culture and part of the world.


Check out the review on this link.


PS - I recognize that paperbag princess book you have. You must have thrown that in there for us Canadians! :)

jeanette said...

I'll have to check into these ~cuz with 2 little girls we LOVE princess stuff around here.

I'm actually going to be getting some of the princess books from Generation Virtue~princess books with a Christian theme. My boys like their "warrior" type books. :)

T said...

you mentioned most of my favorites - but I have to tell you about my daughter's OTHER fave - she's been reading it nearly daily for 2 years.

It's called Once Upon A Time and it's available from Discovery Kids -

oh, here: http://whatallthekidsarereading.blogspot.com/2009/01/once-upon-time-nick-sharratt.html
that's my old review one it... the story is whatever your little one wants it to be, and the humor potential is endless :)

Beach Mama said...

I love when you write posts about children's books! Thank you for the titles and comments for each. I, too, have a Princess and want her to think beyond Disney.

Rachel@just another day in paradise said...

wow. we haven't read any of those, so we better get started! We like the Gigi books (and videos) sold in Christian book stores. They are written on the premise that every little girl is a daughter of the King and thus a princess. They're really cute and I don't have to add comments like, "but Kady you don't NEED a prince to make you a princess," etc. Not a book, but of the Disney movies, our very favorite is The Princess and the Frog because she is such a strong character on her own. (Plus, Kady just loves the music. . .) : )

Rebekah said...

Thank you for the list of books. I am going to have to get a few for my daughter.

Saint Louis Family Robinson said...

Oh TM, you know what I'm going to say - right!?!?! Your book reviews are AWESOME! Thanks!

And this list of "Break The Princess Mold" books is right up my alley!

Chasing Dreams Photography said...

Great post!!!!! Love the books you listed and I plan on searching for them...
Hope you are doing well : )

Kiy said...

I am so anti princess, it isn't funny. And honestly, I thought I was the only mama out there like me. It's so nice to hear I really am not alone in this.

Thank you for the link, AND the other "good" princess books. I will add them to the library list (I check out before buying). Thanks again!

Mia_h_n said...

Jeez, Louise! Having no kids (and therefor no girls) I had no idea about the amount of princess litterature out there. I'm impressed! I wonder if we have that many over here...

I love your detailed reviews, nonetheless. Makes ME wanna read :)

Talley Images said...

With my daughter at 3, we havent gotten into too many princess books yet, but you should also check out the movie "Quest for Camelot" - the main girl wants to be a knight like her father, and the other main hero is blind.... love it!

Laurie said...

Although I love princesses and don't have any issues with the content (I grew up on them and am rather well adjusted, as are most of my "grew up in the 70's" buddies), I do absolutely LOVE reading book reviews and opening my mind to what else is out there- so thanks! We'll be checking out several of these! :)

Sharie said...

Amelia asked me last week if princesses are real - I said yes but that they aren't like princesses in her books. I quickly Googled several princesses and showed her photos - she was unimpressed until I came to the Princess of Sweden who looked very fancy - thanks for sharing this list as it will help me introduce new ideas of princesses!
We did go see this production of children's theatre last year and she LOVED it http://hooplanow.com/tag/the-princess-who-wouldnt-wear-pink/
We also love the book Chickerella because it's funny and the prince and princess are crazy.
Amelia also has the book Princess Peeps of course!

Wendy said...

Great list.

I was going to mention The Paper Bag Princess, which is my all time favorite princess themed book. I LOVE the ending. Too funny. Princess Smarty Pants is another favorite of mine. David Shannon's Alice the Fairy isn't a princess book, per se, but it's sort of along the same lines and it's hilarious.

Patricia/NYC said...

oooh, I am soooo WITH YOU on this one!! Thankfully, Miss K is growing out of the Princess phase...

This is a great list of books! I was glad to see Princess Grace on your list...one of Kiara's faves.

My "post-pinkalicious" girl is very much a tomboy these days as she has been giving the boys the ol' "anything you can do, I can do better routine"...I'll take it! It beats the damsel in distress routine! ;)

Kristen Fitzgerald said...

LOVE your list - great suggestions! Going to look for some of these on our next trip to the library (soon!) Thank you!

harding swing said...

Did you see this post on Grown in My Heart ? (You probably did) Adult adoptee mourning her loss of heritage http://www.growninmyheart.com/collateral-losses

Kristi said...

I have this bookmarked! Thank you for a list of princesses beyond Ariel, Aurora and Snow White!
We're headed to the library tomorrow, hopefully I can find at least one!

Misty said...

is that THE margaret atwood? i didn't know she'd written any kid lit if it is her! wow!
love this list... now i want to read some of them for me! i was just lamenting to a friend that one itsy bitsy reason to be sad about all boys is the fact that some of my girlier fave books probably won't be appreciated by them even if they are readers!

Kim said...

One more for you: Papa Gatto by Ruth Sanderson!

The Byrd's Nest said...

I have never read any of these and I too have a problem with some of the Disney princesses...Emma actually believes she IS a princess...and she is:) She loves to stare at herself for long periods of time in the mirror and fling her princess hair around. At least she has high self esteem! That is how I try to look at it, since I have an older daughter with practically zero self esteem:)

The other day I told Emma the story before bedtime of Queen Ester in the bible and she loved it because she was beautiful and very brave!

Buckeroomama said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful list, TM!

Z is now into princesses, too, even though I was kinda hoping that she wouldn't discover them until she's older. There are days when she answers only to "PRINCESS Z"! Gaaah!

Joanna K said...

This is such a great list that I had to blog about it! So many wonderful titles.

Funnily enough, I never went through a princess phase as a child, and neither did my sisters... we all preferred playing with animals instead!

Patty O. said...

I absolutely LOVE "The Paper Bag Princess!" So great!

Another book that I love that is sort of about princesses is called "Cinder Edna." It compares Cinderella (dependent, vain, only cares about looks, falls in love with someone who doesn't know her name, etc) with Cinderedna, who also has many obstacles in life, but she's not a victim. It is awesome! Bil and I laughed out loud at this book. My kids like it too!

The Gang's Momma! said...

We're just tip-toeing into the princess stage, and I have to say (having been thru it once already with LadyBug), I am actually quite looking forward to it. We're not over the top but we do love to see the excitement and sweet innocent joy in all things sparkly and shiny.

It's just a stage, over all too quickly, and I actually happen to think that it can be a really useful and helpful stage in many aspects. I know, I sound so old-school... But handled well, this stage can be such a fun and old-fashioned way of teaching ladylike behavior, genteel manners, and sweet spirited leadership. I'm not big into dissing OR encouraging the "needs a prince" part of it, we just never made it about that stuff and had tons of fun and emphasis on the other stuff.

And after her extended immersion in all things Princess, LadyBug is very well-adjusted and KNOWS beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is Daddy's princess and that no ordinary Prince will do. Li'l E might take a little more focused attention for some of the good parts of this stage, with a big sister moving into other stages of young ladyhood, but we'll still enjoy it while we have it.

Our favorite princess book is I'd Be Your Princess by Kathryn O'Brien. It's "a royal tale of godly character" and in a sweet and lovely tale, leads our little princess to the discovery of just what a really royal little lady of God should seek to become.

Here's the link:http://www.amazon.com/Id-Be-Your-Princess-Character/dp/0784713502

Pragmatic Mom said...

I love some of your choices! I posted on something similar that I wanted to share with you. Top 10: Misunderstood Princess Children's Books -- not all are picture books. These princess books that empower girls are so anti-Disney and more difficult to find that they should be!

Pragmatic Mom
I blog on children's lit, education and parenting.

Mayumi said...

I would also like to add "Princess Briana" (available at www.princessbriana.com). She's a smart girl who loves science and struggles to fit in with the rest of the girls at princess school.

hillary said...

A book I loved as a child (and that my daughter loves now) is The Practical Princess by Jay Williams. She is very smart and uses common sense to save herself and a prince. It is the perfect antidote to the Disney model helpless princess.

Also, The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan has an excellent section on the real princesses alive today and their accomplishments and education.

Anonymous said...

For when the girls get older, you might try Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Really a fantastic book which definitely shows the working side of being a princess.

Mahmee said...

Hear, hear! What a fabulous post. I too have a princes...you may recall 'Red Princess Sparkly Jewel' who is now (thanks to the Tongginator) referred to as 'Red Princess Sparkly Jewel Butterfly'. Anyhoo...I have the same issues with the 'when my prince will come' hoo-ha that you do. This book list is FABULOUS!
-Mahmee (a.k.a. Queen Sparkly Jewel)

edj said...

Hmm...am on a friend's computer and it's not letting me post. Will try again.
Basically what I said last time (more eloquently) is that don't worry, the princess stage will not last. I predict 2 more years tops. (although poss the diva stage will last longer ;) But those books sound fantastic!
And gah, I hate Disney.

jdemanda said...

Thanks for this list! I've taken a similar approach and had found some of these, but not all. My daughter also absolutely adores Princess Cimorene of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. Cimorene tires of the restrictions of being a "proper princess" and makes a whole new life for herself replete with friendship and adventure.

AlisonG said...

What a useful list!

I'll add "The Gypsy Princess" by Phoebe Gilman, about a gypsy girl who is invited to stay at the palace and learns that fancy gowns and balls aren't all they're cracked up to be.

And I wish I had written down the title of a book I read to my daughter at the library -- it was in French, about a princess who farts. Quite amusing :-)

quirkybubba said...

What a great list. Princess Smartypants is such an unknown treasure. Would love to know if anyone knows what AlisonG's farting princess book is called!

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