The princess who kicked ass and took names
February 6, 2013 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Good picture books that feature princesses/fairies who are conventionally feminine but also have agency and are valued for things other than selflessness?

I babysit regularly for a five year-old girl, and we often read picture books together. She's very into both princesses and fairies now, and I'd like to expand on that and introduce some new princess/fairy books.

What I don't want is to seem like I'm telling her that conventional femininity is bad or inferior. Princesses who like dresses and pink things are a-okay! What I have noticed in some princess books though, is that princesses are often praised primarily for putting others ahead of themselves. Are there stories out there about princesses or fairies who embrace domesticity and femininity, but also aren't shy about putting themselves first sometimes, and are praised for being smart or brave or resourceful? I'm specifically looking for princesses or fairies here, not strong female role models in general.

I have a good public library system at my disposal. The Paper Bag Princess seems like a good starting point, but surely there are others!

(Before this turns into a derail about my boundaries as a babysitter; both parents and daughter love it when I bring new books or toys over. Parents are trying to encourage daughter to read more, and I think they'd be grateful for some new princess books too.)
posted by ActionPopulated to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
The Ordinary Princess!!
posted by Erasmouse at 6:15 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check out the Disney Fairies series -- the ones written by Gail Carson Levine feature Tink's tinker skills
posted by spunweb at 6:36 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

She's probably a year too young for it, when she's a little older you should read her The Princess and the Goblin. This was written in 1872 and it takes on the Princess myth and related class issues in a very positive way.
posted by alms at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Pirate Princess
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:42 AM on February 6, 2013

Oh my god, after the beloved little girl for whom I used to nanny went to preschool and suddenly became obsessed with princesses, I have given her a veritable canon of this genre.

The Apple Pip Princess
Oliva and the Fairy Princess (she's not a princess in this book but it's still really funny)
Don't Kiss the Frog!
The Princess Knight
The Secret Lives of Princesses
Princess Hyacinth (meh, sort of)
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
Princess Smartypants
Princesses are NOT Quitters
posted by zoomorphic at 6:47 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can find it (probably more likely in a library than a store), The Practical Princess by Jay Williams. I still remember most of this book from my childhood.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:52 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cinder Edna
posted by valeries at 6:53 AM on February 6, 2013

Arthur's Tractor ("A Fairy Tale with Tractors and Princesses").
posted by rory at 6:55 AM on February 6, 2013

Oh, and Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (author and illustrator of The Gruffalo, huge in the UK picture book scene).
posted by rory at 6:59 AM on February 6, 2013

I also am a fan of Cinder Edna.
posted by mermily at 7:11 AM on February 6, 2013

The Princess Who Stood On Her Own Two Feet - maybe a little much for a five-year-old? It's in Stories For Free Children which is out of print but still pretty well available.
posted by mskyle at 7:16 AM on February 6, 2013

At five I had my daughter listening to the excellent audiobook of the Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine). It is a great excercise to listen to it and draw or lay quietly.
posted by saucysault at 7:18 AM on February 6, 2013

Definitely read the Tinkerbell series stuff with her and talk about how each of the fairies and sparrow men have a talent that they love and live for. Ask her to notice how many different talents there are and point out that Tinkerbell is crafty and lives to fix things and how that makes her special and valuable and loved.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:22 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

My cousin and her daughter love the Very Fairy Princess books by Julie Andrews and her daughter.
posted by General Malaise at 7:25 AM on February 6, 2013

The Worst Princess works at our house...
posted by thossum at 7:42 AM on February 6, 2013

My kids both liked "Alice the Fairy".

They didn't particularly care for "Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots", but that fits your bill.
posted by plinth at 7:47 AM on February 6, 2013

Tatterhood and Other Tales is a book FULL of these that me and my best friend were mad about as 5 year olds. Lighter on the pictures but excellent for reading aloud.
posted by kelseyq at 8:01 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one if the Barbie princess movies has the princess save the day using her love if geology and metallurgy, which everyone had made fun of her for. Very 'to thine own self be true.' She basically saves the kingdom's economy by loving its rocks.
posted by spunweb at 8:15 AM on February 6, 2013

This might be too far the other direction but The Princess and The Dragon. I know a five year old girl who loves it.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:34 AM on February 6, 2013

And that'll teach me to jump right in without completely reading the question.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 8:40 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Princess Picky! The Paper Bag Princess is a great book, but I think my daughter found it hard to grasp. The book is a rejection of typical gender roles in fairy tales, but she hadn't been exposed to too much of that, so I think we might come back to it when she's older.
posted by stinker at 9:20 AM on February 6, 2013

I have heard good things about Princeless.
posted by ckape at 9:31 AM on February 6, 2013

Seconding the Paper Bag Princess!
posted by mamabear at 10:30 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

OH and the prequel books to the Rise of the Guardians shows Toothuana the Tooth Fairy as a Warrior princess
posted by spunweb at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2013

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
posted by marginaliana at 12:44 PM on February 6, 2013

I want to second the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, though they're short novels, not picture books. they're super fun and I remember how cool and unique Princess Cimorene was even sometimes now that I'm grown up, she was a pretty cool princess role model. I read well above my level in school and probably read them when I was about 7? but they might be a bit more advanced than that age. but if you could maybe read one to her, I bet it would be awesome.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:03 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You want A Mighty Girl's list of independent princess books. You probably also want to like A Mighty Girl on Facebook, just because they are so awesome.
posted by instamatic at 3:05 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing Dealing with Dragons/the Enchanted Forest Chronicles!!! (lovelovelove), but I do think they're really too high a reading level for 5. For down the pipeline if you keep sitting for her :)
posted by Calicatt at 7:51 AM on February 7, 2013

I second the above rec for The Princess and the Goblin when she is a little older. Additionally, maybe "A Little Princess" (disclaimer: Sara is not really a princess) but again, she is probably a bit young for it yet. (That was my favorite book when I was seven or eight, if I remember right.)

As a supplement to all the awesome books, if the little girl ever watches cartoons, it sounds like she might really enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It has some princesses (princesses who are also FLYING UNICORNS!) but it also does a nice job of portraying female characters who engage in a variety of activities (traditionally feminine and less so) and succeed through hard work, natural talent, and cooperation. One of the main characters loves reading and learning, and lives in a library; one of them loves fashion and owns her own boutique where she sells her original creations; one enjoys running her family's apple orchard business... and they are all adorable, candy-colored pastel ponies.

Bonus for you/her parents in that the show is well-made and clever enough for adults to enjoy watching with her.

I'm pretty sure there are book spinoffs of this series but I don't know the quality- you could probably leaf through and see if the qualities of the show are reflected in the tie-ins.
posted by oblique red at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2013

Thanks for all of your suggestions everyone! I had no idea that "quirky feminist princess stories" was such a huge picture book genre.

I stopped by the library on my way to sitting today and picked up The Paper Bag Princess. I don't know how much she got out of the story overall, but she liked my dragon voice when we read it, and her mom was thrilled that I'd taken the time to pick it out. I'll dive into the new-to-me suggestions when I have more library browsing time.

And to the poster who suggested My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic--she's already got that covered.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:27 PM on February 7, 2013

Try "The Princesses have a Ball" by Teresa Bateman. Princesses who play basketball! Fun pictures, and pretty age appropriate for a 5-year old.
posted by msbubbaclees at 7:30 PM on February 11, 2013

We like The Princess Who Had No Kingdom. As well as being a nice story it is a beautiful book.
posted by Jim H at 8:21 AM on February 12, 2013

This book is about a woman who becomes Queen, and might be better suited for someone slightly older (like 8+), because some of the illustrations are kinda scary, but: A Weave of Words. I just ran across this book and loved it, and was reminded of this (pretty old, now) question, so thought I'd add it to the list.
posted by sa3z at 11:18 AM on March 1, 2013

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