Now Disney has done it! They’ve done it for real! They took a perfectly good role model princess, round-faced, curly-haired, arrow-shooting Merida, and turned her into “Disney Princess.” I’m sure you saw the pictures. First there was the young girl Merida with her quiver of arrows out for an adventure, and now she has been waist-whittled, hair-straightened, and relieved of her weapons. From the look of the new image, she may also have been relieved of her self-esteem and personal strength.
So, what to do as your daughter sees yet another image of a shiny-dressed “model” model replacing the real-ish girl that was Merida? I propose you turn to books for the anti-princess heroines that eschew tulle and lace for mud and guts. Here are some suggestions for real girls’ books:
This was, perhaps, the first picture book to present a princess with common sense and grit. Princess Elizabeth is about to marry her prince when a dragon sets the marriage and her clothes closet on fire. Clothed in only a paper bag, Elizabeth sets out to rescue her fiancé, only to find that he is less grateful than expected.
The perfect antidote to “pink” books. Yolen’s “princesses” wear glittering tiaras but pair them with mismatched clothes. These girls roll in the mud and do pretty much what pleases them despite their royal rank. Lacy dresses? Never heard of them! Girls are meant to wear sturdier stuff.
This is part of a series for younger readers that urge girls to understand that what’s on the outside doesn’t make a princess. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Princess Paulina’s dad is out of a job and the royal family is living a peasant life. Paulina hears that there may be an opening for a princess and sets out to win the hand of the prince who is looking for a wife. However, when the stereotyped princesses prove to be obnoxious competition, Paulina discovers that she has other options in life.
And for slightly older readers or for sharing:
Yes, I know it’s dated and your mother probably read it to you in the seventies. However, there is nothing better than the version of the story of Atalanta in this book, about a princess who learns to run her own race and rejects her father’s order to marry a young man when she wants to travel the world. Also, Shel Silverstein’s Ladies First, about a frilly little girl who gets her comeuppance when she ends up as a tiger’s blue plate special still makes me laugh.
It seems that Jane Yolen has made a career of redefining stories for girls. In this terrific collection, you will find traditional folktales, but told with a strong female voice. Stories are drawn from European, Native American, and African traditions.
Just in case you think strong women are all fictional, here is a collection biography of all the ways that women inventors have contributed to the world. You’ll be fascinated to find that women have invented everything from white out to windshield wipers.
You may not be able to get your daughter to hang up her Belle and Aurora costumes, but at least offer them an alternative through books. Yes, they can even wear a tiara while they’re reading these better choices.
– Lois Gross, Children’s Librarian and Head of the Children’s Department