During our teenage years, my best friends and I swore that we would not introduce our children to princesses and fairy tales. We did not want them to grow up jaded and in love with the idea of a “knight in shining armor” sweeping them off their feet into Neverland.
We wanted strong girls who are independent and happy. Here we are, twenty years after, and half of us are raising little girls who have already caught the princess bug. Major face palm moment!
My daughter is turning four in a few months and she has her party all planned – the theme, where it will be held, and who her guest (yes, just one!) will be. She is totally into princesses these days, wearing her crown everywhere we go. She refuses to wear pants and sleeveless dresses. She wears nightdresses or party dresses to sleep because “Mom, princesses don’t wear pajamas!” She wears shoes at home because… you guessed it. Princesses don’t wear slippers! It was no surprise for me when she told me that she wanted a princess party.
That said, I am deep into “researching” for a different kind of princess party. I am also now in a mad hunt for un-princess princess books for the Energizer Bunny because, really, princess-y things are cute until it becomes a major source of meltdowns. Her hair is “frou-frou”, her tutu has not been washed, all her dresses are sleeveless. You get the idea.
So, here are the children’s books that we have so far enjoyed. I call this the un-princess princess list because these books feature modern-day princesses – strong, witty, determined, and independent. The kind of princess that I hope my daughter grows up to be.
1. The Paper Bag Princess
This book by Robert Munsch of Love You Forever fame has been in my radar for a while but I did not specifically look for it until I saw it in Kathleen Odean’s Great Book for Girls.
The look and general feel of the story is un-princess as un-princess can get. The illustrations are generally not pleasing to the eyes which I thought would turn off my three-year-old. It took a while, but she eventually warmed up to it and it stayed in our nightstand for a good few days.
What makes this a winner in my books is the plot itself. The story is about Elizabeth, a beautiful princess who owned the prettiest gowns and was set to marry Prince Ronald until a dragon destroyed her castle and burned all her clothes. She searched for something to wear but ended up finding a paper bag. She wore this and set off to find and rescue the prince.
When she finally found him, the first thing Prince Ronald noticed was how messy and dirty the princess was. In the end, she opted to leave the prince. Talk about a strong woman!
2. Helga’s Dowry
Tomie dePaola never ceases to surprise me! This book has been in our shop inventory for a while. I finally took the time to read the book a few months ago and shrieked for joy when it ended. Being the most beautiful troll in the three parishes, Helga was almost sure to marry Handsome Lars.
There was just one problem: she was an orphan and so had no dowry to give. Lars went to Rich Sven for advice but instead gave him a tempting offer: marry his daughter Plain Inge and he would be the richest troll next to the king. Lars agreed and Helga was heart-broken when the news reached her.
She did not take this sitting down, though. She went out and got her own dowry, which turned out to be more than what Plain Inge could offer. Lars came coming back to her and Helga immediately ditched him. “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last Troll on earth… I want to be loved for who I am, not for what I’ve got!”.
Hooray for this woman who has self-worth! Helga eventually married the King, who has secretly been following Helga on her quest for her dowry.
While Helga is not really a princess, she is a wonderful example of what a woman ought to be – clever, strong-willed and independent. The King loved her for these qualities and by marrying her, made her not just a princess, but a queen.
This book is a staple in our bookshelf and is constantly found in the hands of the Energizer Bunny. Reading Tomie dePaola books aloud is always such a delight!
3. Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
This book came at just the right time in our home library! While its message still has not resonated to my little girl, we did have lots of laughs reading this. She especially liked the repetitive nature of the book, and loved “reading” the line “and a sparkly crown.”
I love, love, love how this book gives images of princesses who get play in the mud, love sports, and enjoy themselves versus the traditional prim, proper, and helpless princesses that we see in storybooks.
It shows pictures of princesses in jumpers and jerseys, cleats and power tools, muddy sleeveless shirts and baseball mitts, with only “a sparkly crown” to remind everyone that they are princesses. Such a fun book! This is another winner by Jane Yolen.
4. Princess Prudence
This book by Ferelith Eccles Williams is one of the less popular books about princesses but I really enjoyed how unconventional everything is in it.
Princess Prudence was different from most princesses – she was plump, plain, and most definitely not charming. And unlike most princesses, she knew what she wanted. She got tired of trying to look pretty. If she was not set to marry a prince, she states, then she shall find something else worthwhile to do.
As she set off to find what that was, she met her witch godmother and ended up saving a prince from a fierce dragon, refusing his marriage proposal (“maybe in the future”) and pursuing a career in acting, much to the tut-tutting disapproval of her aunts.
While it was a bit of a struggle reading this story aloud, it was refreshing to find a princess who goes against the dictates of society to find her happiness, a prince who saw beauty in the “plain” princess and royal parents who dreamed of bigger things for the princess.
5. Guardian Princesses
I am so excited about this project of my cousin-in-law! I stumbled upon this while I was writing this post and I was amazed at how perfect the timing was! The Guardian Princesses are the newest heroines in an upcoming book series. The stories aim to redefine what a princess is, focusing on talent, skill, and wisdom rather than external beauty. I can’t wait to read the books to the Energizer Bunny! Do visit their site and find out how you can help make this wonderful endeavor a reality.
The Energizer Bunny still wears her crown everywhere these days but I am hoping to channel the interest into a positive princess outlook. I am also always on the lookout for ideas on raising a “Mighty Girl” and found this wonderful website to be very helpful. It has lists of pretend play, books, and games for your little ladies.
If you have other un-princess books that you enjoy with your own girls, do please share them with us! If you have daughters who have caught the princess bug also, how do you handle the meltdowns?! Would love to know! Let us raise modern-day princesses together!