A heartfelt tweet on Twitter from @childledchaos this morning says, “The Disney Cinderella princess book I read is such a non-book I can’t find it on Goodreads! #mydaughtershavenotaste”.
@Childledchaos’s daughters are five and three, according to her profile, and her tweet took me back eight years, to when I was reading Disney books to my two princess-obsessed daughters. I went for Disney Princesses, rather than Barbie which I managed to ban, on the basis that the films themselves have merit and that they are introducing children to proper stories, but I really don’t know who I was kidding. We had dressing up dresses and dolls and books as well as the films on video. The Disney Princess books (I remember with particular sinking of spirits a big hardback collection of Disney Princess stories that was requested again and again) were not my own favourite read-alouds: it seemed to me that they had none of the wit, or pacing, or narrative verve of many of the other picture books on their shelves.
But my girls loved those princesses. A few months ago, I wrote about gender-skewed packaging and content in children’s books and followed up with a personal take on it. Though I didn’t love that hardback collection of stories, I don’t see anything wrong with princess stories.
Here are a few of Nosy Crow’s alternatives for pincess-obsessed girls:
This picture book is released this month in paperback as one of the first books in our Stories Aloud. Perfectly pink with illustrations by Sarah Warburton, it has a jaunty rhyming text by Caryl Hart in the course of which Lily Rose-May discovers that being a princess is not all it’s cracked up to be.
We released this multi-award-winning app in 2011, and it is viewed as a touchstone of multimedia, interactive children’s storytelling for screens. The text sticks close to traditional versions of the story, but there are additional layers of dialogue to explore that flesh out the characters and bring the story up to date. I wrote here about the decisions we’d made to bring our telling of the story up to date, making Cinderella less passive and reducing the emphasis on appearance and pretty dresses.
While we envisage this mainly as a 7+ read-alone series, I did enough reading of Rainbow Magic to a three year-old to know that these fiction titles would work as read-alouds for younger children. Written by Paula Harrison, who wrote about her own daughters’ interest in princesses here, the books feature princesses rescuing animals. The princesses are brave, loyal and physically active, with some nifty ninja moves as well as magic jewels.
Other princess books we’d suggest to parents like @childledchaos who are hoping to diversity bedtime reading for princess-obsessed children would include these:
The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child
Cinderella: Flip Flap Fairy Tales by Stephen Tucker and Nick Sharratt
Ella’s Big Chance by Shirley Hughes
New stories featuring princesses:
The Princess and the Wizard by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
You Can’t Eat a Princess by Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre
Katie and the Spanish Princess by James Mayhew
(and see my comment below re The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene)
Stories that more explicitly subvert princess stereotypes:
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko
The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman, Cornelius van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Princess books for slightly older readers:
Princess Mirror-Belle stories by Julia Donaldson
Louise and Camilla both advocate The Princess Evie’s Ponies books by Sarah Kilbridge and Sophie Tilley: they’ve seen them in action with children who love them. Kristina suggested Tony Ross’s Little Princess series.
And Kirsty, just generally in the course of this discussion, directed me towards this article about Steve Biddulph’s new book about raising girls. Camilla concurred, saying that she’d asked her seven year-old daughter why girls like playing princesses, “expecting she’d say something about being special and having nice dresses and jewels, but she said that she thought it was entirely due to the fact that girls like being rescued by boys. How depressing is that?!”
The picture at the top of this blog post is of a princess drawn on an iPad by Charlotte, age 4, and we have permission to reproduce it from her dad, @readitdaddy, for which many thanks.
What books would you suggest for Disney Princess-loving children?