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Posted by Kate, June 6, 2012

Right Royal Reading Recommendations for Children

Well, we know that we’re running this blog post a bit late, but it’s been a hectic few days at the Hay Festival, and we haven’t got round to it. Nevertheless, we’ve been putting our minds to the theme of Royal Reads for children and have come up with a regal list.

As a publisher, our own royal preference so far has been for princesses rather than queens.

First, we published our multi-award-winning Cinderella app.

Then, earlier this year we launched our new series The Rescue Princesses, an irresistible combination of brave princesses, friendship, ninja skills, magic jewels and animals in peril by Paula Harrison.

We’ve just published the first of a new series that’s a cross between a novel and an activity book, Magical Mix-ups, by Marnie Edwards and Leigh Hodgkinson, which features Princess Sapphire, who’s princess tendencies are kept in check by her friend Emerald, a witch.

Later this year, we’ll publish The Princess and The Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton, a story for fussy eaters whether they turn out to be royal or not.

But, generally, royalty is a big theme in children’s books. In fairy tales we meet powerful but often misjudged or misled kings; wicked stepmother queens who are the epitome of evil; and a variety of princesses. We meet princesses who are spoiled girls who have to unlearn their arrogance, girls in peril who need to be rescued, or beautiful (and sometimes talented) young women plucked from obscurity. But all of them get to marry their prince… and the prince is generally, sadly, the least interesting character of all of them – either a rescuer or someone to whom marriage represents rightful elevation and recognition.

The Arthurian legends have also generated many children’s books from Roger Lanceyln Green’s King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table through Rosemary Sutcliff’s Tristan and Iseult and T H White’s The Once and Future King to contemporary takes like Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur.

Being made royal as a kind of apogee of self-realisation is part of the Narnia tradition.

Some takes on royalty, though, particularly more recent ones, are less reverential: poems by A A Milne, such as The King’s Breakfast and King John’s Christmas rejoice in the incongruity of royalty and childish foibles like the desire for “a little bit of butter” or “a big, red, India-rubber ball”. The same is true for the conjunction of royalty and underwear in Nicholas Allan’s The Queen’s Knickers and in modern fairy tales like Carol Ann Duffy’s Queen Munch and Queen Nibble, a sort of love-story between some mismatched queens which finishes with some regal gluttony and bouncing. Of course, Terry Deary’s non-fictional Horrible Histories draw out the grotesque and the ridiculous to make royalty memorable.

I don’t have a TV at Hay, but as I see the images of the Royal Family from the Diamond Jubilee, I am reminded that the current British Royal Family (or the idea of them) and Buckingham Palace play a part in numerous books and poems:

The BFG by Roald Dahl
They’re Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace by A A Milne
Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman
The Witches Children and the Queen by Ursula Jones and Russell Ayto

Thanks to Twitter followers who suggested books:

@Louiestowell suggested The Chronicles of Narnia.
@CethanLeahy recommended The Queen’s Nose.
@JodieMarsh31 suggested Me, The Queen & Christopher and Billie Templar’s War

And thanks to @GrahamBancroft for the picture of The Baby.

This post just covers Western story-telling traditions: I am sure that there are many kings, queens, princesses and princes in other traditions, and I am sorry for leaving them out.

But even within the Western story-telling tradition, what right royal reads have we missed out in this blog post that you’d like to see included?