Kickin’ Princesses

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 7th, 2013

(Before anyone thinks I’m advocating violence, I’m using “kickin'” as an adjective here, not a verb.)

A friend of mine came to the store at the beginning of summer. Lena, a lifelong tomboy and athlete and now mother of two sons, found herself in charge of a Princess Ballerina summer camp for little girls. After I got done laughing (mostly), we set about finding some books about princesses that wouldn’t make her want to strangle herself with pink tulle.

A Babette Cole fan from childhood, Lena already knew and loved Princess Smartypants. We pulled out Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess. Kate Duke’s Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One (the plucky mouse heroine isn’t a princess, but she rescues and befriends a prince whose parents initially thought her too scruffy to be a suitable playmate for their son), Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson and Kevin O’Malley, and The Emperor and the Kite, by Jane Yolen and Ed Young. I wanted to give her Katrin Tchana and Trina Schart Hyman’s gorgeous The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women, which was a staple at the store for years, but it’s gone out of stock indefinitely. (A true shame.) We were able to recommend the glorious Sense Pass King: A Story from Cameroon by those two (still in print!). Lena picked a bunch of books and reported that the week-long camp and its read-alouds went well.

It’s been several weeks since the princess ballerinas disbanded for other summer activities, but I got a text from Lena this afternoon. “How about this?” she said. “One of my little princess ballerinas came in today to say hello and had this to say: ‘The best part of summer was ballerina camp because there was dancing and books about girls without husbands.’ I think she was talking about Princess Smartypants.” That cracked me up! I loved that a little girl — one who had signed up for princess ballerina camp, by the way, so a self-selecting fan of all things princess — liked the strong girl characters in the books she read.

In writing this post, I looked for some other books that might fit the bill for my friend’s next Princess Ballerina summer camp, and came across these titles, which I haven’t yet seen but sound promising: Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, Don’t Kiss the Frog! Princess Stories with Attitude compiled by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Ella Burfoot (whose name belongs in a Cinderella retelling of her own), Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Anne-Sophie Lanquetin, and Princesses Are Not Quitters! and Princesses Are Not Perfect by Kate Lum and Sue Hellard. 

I’m not trying to spoil the joys of princessdom here. I loved pink as a little girl (shell pink and shocking HOT pink only, though; not toy pink or the other sickly shades) and always secretly wanted a tiara;. I adored beautiful dresses and fluffy tutus. Heck, I even tried to trade in on my first name and its link to British royalty to get out of chores. (“Queens don’t work!” I announced to my grandparents one morning when I was six, had just learned about Elizabeth I, and had been asked to make my bed before coming to breakfast. Sadly, my regal status was not acknowledged and I was forced to smooth and fold and fluff the bedding as usual.)

So while I don’t want to suck the joy out of the fancy dresses and parties that little princess fans love so well, isn’t it great to expand their definition of what a princess is? After all, real princesses do real work and seek fulfilling lives beyond the wedding veil. So I’m all eyes, folks: What other great strong-girl princess stories can you recommend?