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July 22, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

GenderWarriorFilter: Help me find a gift for a five year old girl that in NO WAY involves princesses. Oh yeah, I should mention that I'd prefer that she also not hate said gift.

So, I'm a nanny to two girls, the oldest of whom is turning five next Thursday. Needless to say, I need to find a gift. Fast. I haven't done so yet because I am having a moral problem.

The girl in question is very smart and funny... and ONLY likes Princesses.

I, for one, would like to destroy the Barbie Princess Overlords and find it really ridiculous that this obsession has gone so far as to include Disney Princess SHOES. And these are her favorite shoes. Just like her favorite movies are all things like "Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper" and "Barbie Island Princess" with a few classics like "Sleeping Beauty" thrown in for good measure.

I want to give her something that she will actually LIKE, but I also do not want it in any way to conform to the traditional "waiting in a tower for a handsome prince" stereotypes of princesses. Please, please help me think of some toy or costume or whatever that will oh so subtly expand her gender horizons.
posted by grapefruitmoon to Shopping (47 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Craft supplies?
posted by Abbril at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ohh... or take her on a special "big girl" outing. Movie, lunch, that sort of thing.
posted by Abbril at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2008

What about a toy without a theme? A toy that she'd do something with, like art supplies or a craft kit or rollerskates or a dress-up kit or a hula hoop or tinker toys or a marble maze or a giant bucket of sidewalk chalk?
posted by millipede at 2:20 PM on July 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Legos are pretty kewl and not gender specific.

Also those plastic ramps you build to roll marbles down.
posted by Riemann at 2:23 PM on July 22, 2008

She is gearing up to read. How about a few of those books for early readers?
posted by pearlybob at 2:30 PM on July 22, 2008

Every little girl has that phase. I gave my daughter unicorns and pegasus toys when she was that age. They're very compatible with princesses (the skipper to the princess's gilligan so to speak), but they're not. And they were enjoyed long after as she got into her horse phase.

She may love Klutz kits that are targeted at girls and they let her take a more active role.

Even a gymnastics ribbon wand thing.

or you could hit it head on. Get her books like The Paperbag Princess in which the princess rescues the prince, realizes he's a louse and then goes on her merry way. She'll think it's funny because it flips her stories on their head, but it will reinforce what you're hoping for in a non confrontational way.
posted by Gucky at 2:31 PM on July 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

How about asking her? 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Or, go to a toy store and ask them what's most popular.

Oh and if it turns out she wants dolls, then buy her dolls. Otherwise you'll be the present giving equivalent to the dorky parents who give out fruit on Halloween.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:32 PM on July 22, 2008

Seconding the legos, although a lot of them are franchise-branded these days (i.e. star wars)
posted by dunkadunc at 2:34 PM on July 22, 2008

For the legos they came out with a line called "Creator" a couple years ago which are all very nice kits that don't have a specific brand. EG: Stuff like a lion, dinosaurs, a rocket ship, airplane etc...
posted by Riemann at 2:37 PM on July 22, 2008

As for asking her: I know she'd want a Barbie Princess movie. Problem is, then I'd have to be subjected to it every moment of my working life and I'd rather poke out my eyes with sharp sticks.

She has Legos at home and they do not interest her one bit. Gucky's Unicorn suggestion is perfect as what I'm looking for is something that will go *with* the things she has and likes, but is NOT specifically one of those things.

(And yeah, Foci for Analysis: That annoying parent is exactly who I'm trying NOT to be. Hence my not just buying her a bucket of army men and calling it a day. :P)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:40 PM on July 22, 2008

Honestly I'd say you're more concerned about the Barbie thing than you really need to be. I loved Barbies when I was that age (up to and including having one of those battery powered kid sized cars in a Barbie theme at one point) and I turned out normally.

Other stuff I liked when I was younger that aren't gendered were: Legos, Littlest Pet Shop stuff (the brand has degenerated into really creepy looking stuff though), and dinosaurs. Are you looking for books at all? The Paper Bag Princess might be a good one as it's both about a princess and contains nontraditional gender roles.
posted by version control at 2:41 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

And I see someone beat me to the book recommendation.
posted by version control at 2:43 PM on July 22, 2008

Don't forget The Daring Book for Girls. I have the boy's version and wish these were around when my Little Darlings could have benefitted from them.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:56 PM on July 22, 2008

I got my son a castle that came with a dragon, knight and princess. We have a lot of fun with the princess rescuing the knight from the dragon.

Also, if you're not into princesses, you could take something related and turn it on its head. What about some sort of kit to build a castle? Maybe a little wood craft kit. Or Lego. If she wants to be a princess, okay, whatever, but she doesn't have to be the damsel in distress. Even in real life. You could probably put a princess spin on something to draw her in but have it go somewhere else.
posted by acoutu at 3:01 PM on July 22, 2008

Another subversive princess book.
posted by clavicle at 3:04 PM on July 22, 2008

By very best suggestion: At that age, I read "Dealing with Dragons" out loud to my daughter. It is a long chapter book about a strong princess who runs away to become a dragon's princess to avoid marrying a stupid prince. Dragons aren't used to princess volunteering but one of them take her on. She has exciting and funny adventures, fending off princes and saving the new King of Dragons. And the new King of the Dragons is a female. (There is a title of Queen but nobody wants it.) My daughter loved it. It is a three book series but the first is best for a young girl. A stuffed dragon would be a great companion gift. Stuffed is better than hard plastic because you can cuddle with it - cuddle factor was very important at that age. Horses could be hard plastic because she played with them differently.

Also second horses and unicorns and pegasuses (flying unicorns). Get some larger and some smaller so she can make family groups if she wants (or not).

Also animal vet stuff might work.
posted by metahawk at 3:05 PM on July 22, 2008

My five year old loves princesses too and we have tried to branch out. In the girlie category we have dress-up clothes, my little pony, polly pockets and hello kitty. If those are too socially constructed gender roles for you you might try a simple game like concentration, chutes and ladders or candyland. They also have kids cards games with go fish and old maid.
posted by shothotbot at 3:05 PM on July 22, 2008

Seconding unicorns, pegasuses, dragons, mermaids, fairies, and anything else that belongs in the fantasy novels that she'll probably be reading in a few years. I find fairies less annoying than princesses, even though they share a similar glitter-quotient.
posted by desuetude at 3:08 PM on July 22, 2008

Sleeping Ugly is another fun anti=princess book by Jane Yolen targeted at early readers (age 4-8) although I might get it from the library rather than buying it. In fact, anything your library has in the early reader section by Yolen is worth taking home or Red Sun Ben and Blue Sun Girl by Mazollo.
posted by metahawk at 3:13 PM on July 22, 2008

Get her started on the "Magic Treehouse" adventure books. You can read them to her now, and then when she learns to read she can read them for herself (they are written at about a Grade 2 level). There are literally several dozen of them, and the author is writing more all the time. I have been reading them with my daughter for quite a while now, and it has been a great way for her to learn about history. Stay with the sequence, since things do carry forward from book to book.
posted by briank at 3:16 PM on July 22, 2008

Movies are so passive. Go to goodwill and get a selection of really fancy dresses, or get your friends to donate some bridesmaid dresses. Let her be a fairy princess, which should be more empowering. The Harry Potter books seem to play to the same fantasies.
posted by theora55 at 3:20 PM on July 22, 2008

Chiming in to agree with those who mentioned mermaids, fairies, etc. -- and to agree about the near inevitability of a "princess"/girly phase that will just as inevitably pass... Actually, at this point, as we reach Hannah Montana saturation in my house, I am looking back on those halcyon princess/ballerina days with as much longing now as I endured them with horror then.

I will say, though, that my smart, funny, princess-loving 5-year-old could not be swayed by the likes of The Paperbag Princess, or any of my (probably annoying) running commentary on the awful princess/Barbie storylines. The only way getting around the princess obsession was to get through it. But she WAS also super into My Little Pony, so... you know, pick your poison. I went with the ponies. Those went over well, especially the sparkly and colorful ones; and a little while later, those teeny tiny Littlest Pet Shop pets were a huge hit, which actually both my kids (girl and boy, 9 and 5) totally love to play with even now.

So, to sum up: mermaids, fairies (maybe a project making a fairy hut or making teeny tiny books for the fairies or having a teeny tiny fairy tea party), My Little Ponies, Littlest Pet Shop pets. She may be too young for the movie "Enchanted," but that's a good turning-the-princess-story-on-its-head film. Also, ballet slippers from Payless were always a huge hit when my daughter was that age!

(As the author of The Daring Book for Girls, I appreciate the suggestion up above -- but I think 5 might be too young for it yet!)
posted by mothershock at 3:30 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

another good prrincess-subverting book is The Princess and the Pizza.
posted by rikschell at 3:35 PM on July 22, 2008

Do they still sell European titles of nobility? It might be out of your price range, but just imagine how excited little Madison will be when she becomes little Madison, the duchess of Fishhook-upon-Mersey or whatever.

Along vaguely similar lines, maybe you could sponsor an animal (dolphin? wild horse? big cat?) in her name or something.
posted by box at 3:50 PM on July 22, 2008

When I was little, my fascination with princesses had much more to do with my perception of their autonomy than anything else (like waiting for a prince, or being served and catered to). In my view, princesses were girls approximately my age who got to do what they wanted, when they wanted to do it, had horses, sometimes got to use magic, and frequently associated with talking mice and unicorns. They answered to no one and used their wits to get them out of scrapes and into various adventures. I also loved the outrageous costumes they got to wear (and I was a girl who hated skirts and didn't wear them willingly until I was about 22. Giant tulle and organdy ballgowns, however, with wands--another matter entirely).

The prince part really didn't figure into my concept of a princess at all. First of all, the prince was a boy, and boys were icky. Secondly, the prince's appearance usually meant the end of the story, which meant he was a harbinger of the sad (end of the story) and boring (no more adventures for the princess).

So I second all the suggestions of gifts that would allow her to pretend to be a princess herself--outfits, horseback riding trips, are there any castles or manors nearby you could tour? Maybe she'd like a trip to a museum to see portraits of royalty and the decorative arts that would have been part of their daily lives.
posted by tyrantkitty at 4:09 PM on July 22, 2008 [5 favorites]

Get her some cute hiking boots and find a stream/pond/trail-with-views nearby where you can get dirty and explore together. Tie in the princess theme if you must by letting your imaginations run wild while you're clomping around in the muck (this is where trolls live, maybe that frog is really a prince, I'd build my castle here, etc.). Bonus points if you get a chance to make it a special outing (i.e., without her little sister).
posted by headnsouth at 4:45 PM on July 22, 2008

Along literary lines I LOVED Tatterhood when i was that age. Some princesses, some not, but all definitely fitting into tyrantkitty's explanation of the princess obsession.
posted by kelseyq at 4:51 PM on July 22, 2008

peggy orenstein has a great essay about coming to terms with her daughter's princess obsession in the new york times.

while i agree with peggy and don't believe there's anything wrong with a princess phase, i'll respect your desire not to contribute to it. why not get her some kind of crafty thing? i don't know what's out there, but there's got to be an affordable clay modeling kit, or art kit, or needlepoint, or whatever.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:11 PM on July 22, 2008

Nthing the Paper Bag Princess, which I think I have now bought for 10 different little girls -- including some in their 30's -- over the years.

It's also a good cartoon, available on DVD.
posted by rokusan at 5:53 PM on July 22, 2008

I shared your horror of Barbie for my daughters although they played with them with friends who were blessed to own the shapely little twits. My more girly princess-y daughter, however, never got a moment's joy from anything short on glitter, or long on pieces that snapped together. Her less girly sister, loved playmobil..But EVERYONE loved Ponies. We had a massive stable of the shimmery, bow-laden, heart-stamped little steeds by the time the girls were through that phase and into boys.

Not to worry. If you have a princess-y girl now you'll have a girly girl always, as far as I have seen. However, looking back I think the toys I gave them impacted them less than how their dad and I loved them and communicated as best we could and in every way we knew how, each girl's intrinsic value, as well as OUR personal and relational values. And in the end they grew up to be full of self-respect, and comfortable in being exactly who they are (most of the time!). May not seem like such encouraging news when you're the nanny; on the other hand you can have huge impact in ways other than the toys you give her. Your own sense of self, your values, and loving her for exactly who she is, in the end is the greatest gift. Also, while few princess-y girls get real joy from getting dirty, all little girls love to be just like the big girls who care deeply for them. Love and acceptance of exactly her, finally is the greatest gift.
posted by mumstheword at 6:15 PM on July 22, 2008

Does she have an American Girl doll? If so, you could buy her some of the accessories. If not, well, they're expensive. However, they are cool because they teach kids about history and strong girls who are NOT princesses.

Could you take her out for a big girl outing to the new American Girl movie that's out right now?

If you're looking for something more physical, what about one of those camera's for kids? You guys could dress up and take pictures! Nothing is more fun than that.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 6:17 PM on July 22, 2008

I love so many of these ideas.

How about something that will let her be creative- like, get her a hardbound sketchbook and have her write her own fairytale about princesses? She could dictate it to you, and she could illustrate it with a fresh box of markers or crayons or something- glitter is always a bonus.

I think that at a lot of craft stores (Michael's, Jo-Ann's, etc) you can find "make your own" paper doll kits. They come with templates for designing clothes and such- it is probably something you could help her with, and she could endlessly design her own princess outfits. I am all about encouraging creativity in people.

Oh gosh, now I want to go out and do these.
posted by nataliedanger at 6:25 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the responses!

For the record: I do not in any way believe that there is anything inherently *wrong* with a princess phase. I simply do not want to contribute to it any further and would prefer to offer other influences in the realm of gender as she's *not* getting them from her family. It's their decision to load the house with Barbie Princess movies, and I respect that. And in turn, it's my decision to try and add something a tiny bit different into the mix.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:31 PM on July 22, 2008

Musical instruments are always good. Penny whistle, harmonica, percussion instruments. I like the American Girl dolls idea but they are on the pricey side for a nanny's salary.
posted by knolan at 8:01 PM on July 22, 2008

Perfect time to introduce her to the fantastic world of Breyer Horses. I played with mine for hours, until I was 12 or so. And now MY daughter is playing with my same horses (she's 2 and mine are all from the Traditional product line) and I'll be adding some more for her in future years.

They also have the Special Runs (which are really beautiful) and, okay, fine, if needed, you have the Wind Dancer line as well.

But I'd go with the regular horses and let her add the princess-ness as needed.

(I'll point out that I went from tomboy, to girly-girl who never wore casual clothes, and now I own more power tools than any guy on my block. There is always hope.)
posted by jeanmari at 8:35 PM on July 22, 2008

Cowgirl stuff. I was inseparable from my cowgirl hat when I was in grade school.
posted by kristi at 9:34 PM on July 22, 2008

you could put together a fairy princess garden kit for her. i don't know if her family has yard space available to turn into a little garden, and maybe its a little late in the season, hmmm.

but you could even try growing a few plants in pots indoors: get some pansies, sweet alyssum, zinnias, geraniums things that are pretty and hard to kill. as well, you should get some herbal things like mint, lavendar, chamomile (also has pretty flowers!). you could get things as starts from your nursery or get seed packets, it might be nice to have somethings that are already started, instant gratification for short attention spans you know. the idea being that she could both enjoy picking flowers, and make little magical potions with with them as well. you could weave pretty flower crowns, etc. you could also make an easy cement stepping stone, you can find kits out there, but you could just make a mold with a disposable pie pan, arrange pretty things on the bottom (like glass beads or pebbles, sea shells, etc) and pour cement over the top. this could mark her special fairy garden area. or buy her a pretty windchime, a gazing ball, crystal something or other, little fairy you hang from the window. check out a new age store. tie everything together with a book about fairies or magic.

this website is kind of disgusting, but i loved these flower fairies when i was little. they each are dedicated to a specific plant and it shows in their costumes. the illustrations themselves are actually quite sweet and old fashioned, not garish like the website.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:12 PM on July 22, 2008

I loved The Practical Princess when i was growing up (i'm male), and recently lent my childhood copy to a friend with a young daughter, who apparently much appreciated it.

Re-reading it today, i find myself kinda turned off by the heteronormativity of the book, but it does a pretty good job scrambling the gender roles, and has some amusing characters to boot. The illustrations in the edition i grew up with (different from the one pictured on the Amazon page) are gorgeous silhouettes, which encourage a lot of fun imagination for the reader and child. I dunno if the editions on Amazon have the same illustrations.

It's a shame it seems to be out of print.
posted by dkg at 10:39 PM on July 22, 2008

Oh man, my favorite toys ever when I was a kid were dress up clothes. I didn't have actual clothes, though: my mother went to a fabric store and bought every shiny, lacy, velvety, and generally fancy remnant she could get and gave them to me. I used them for dress up on me (and my long-suffering little brother) when I was small enough, then cut them up (and every other fabric scrap I could get my hands on) and made clothes for my Beanie Babies and American Girl dolls. I also made my own furniture, houses, etc. from what I found around the house/outside. No sewing or pre-made outfits necessary. Good times.
posted by MadamM at 10:42 PM on July 22, 2008

I played with Barbies as a child (still go crazy over 'vettes because of it) but as a radical feminist teen I swore my children wouldn't have any. Then Bratz came out and I relented on my Barbie-hate (the movies are actually pretty good).

My daughter listens to audiobooks a lot, at five her two favourites were the Two Princesses of Bamarr by Gail Carson Levine with strong, complex girls - she has written many modern princess tales with strong girls. Bonus: entralling story captivates them - and you - while the two girls draw, play with figures, etc you can get stuff done and Greek Myths by Geraldine McCaughrean - (hmm, that seems OOP). They are written for older children but children can comprehend books read aloud far about their age level - it is also an awesome pre-literacy boost and increases their vocabulary. She would probably find the Paperbag Princess a little young.

My daughter (and son) also got into the hand-painted figures by Schleich (now they have an awesome fairies line too). Those have been my best investment in terms of money spent and time played (her grade two class loved it when I would drop a bag off on rainy days for indoor recess - just to show their holding power). I also steered her towards witches via Hermione Granger, The Worst Witch and Kiki's Delivery Service (Miyazaki). Witches are way more powerful than princesses - can she make the wind blow by raising her arms? And Princess Witches are a special breed indeed.
posted by saucysault at 12:39 AM on July 23, 2008

You can't give a girl who only likes princesses something else and expect her to embrace it. What you need to do is broaden what being a princess can involve. The best way to broaden her idea of a princess is to demonstrate to her that a princess can be something else. To that effect, I'd suggest a few kids movies that may please her by including a woman in a princesslike role, whilst giving said princess the qualities of an arse-kicking Knight. Here are some examples:

Shrek I, II, & III
Nancy Drew books
The Nightmare Before Christmas (In which the female protagonist is pretty much a classical princess, but in a very different setting and she does get one arse-kicking moment in. It may be a start.)

My arse-kicking wife who isn't particularly fond of princesses suggested the Nancy Drew one.
posted by MaxK at 1:15 AM on July 23, 2008

MaxK: She owns the Shrek movies and Mulan, I actually found Kung-Fu Shrek Princess dolls on Amazon, which I'm considering giving her in lieu of a Barbie. Kung-Fu Sleeping Beauty can totally kick Barbie's ass.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:28 AM on July 23, 2008

Try Zipes' Don't Count On The Prince. The book sort of speaks for itself.
posted by Citrus at 6:25 AM on July 23, 2008

A great book of Greek mythology for kids is D'Aulaires Greek Myths. My mom started reading it to me when I was really little; I loooved the pictures. I read it myself when I was a bit older. I still have my well-worn copy.
posted by desuetude at 9:33 AM on July 23, 2008

Every little girl has that phase.

Another gender stereotype. My niece is five and a half and HATES Princess stuff. And not because of any prompting from anyone either. She's naturally not into it. Thank god. It's a horrible trend in my eyes.
posted by agregoli at 10:10 AM on July 23, 2008

I understand completely -- one of my young relatives is completely princessified, and it's a bit scary.

Seconding "Dealing With Dragons". Even though the main character is a "princess", she definitely does not fall into the category of helpless, passive princess awaiting rescue. The book series is very funny and engaging, for many ages, with believable characters and a non-Disney attitude about princesses and other high-ranking females. Mulan-esque.

All of Miyazaki's work includes strong female characters. My personal favorite is the "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" manga (includes a subtle but strong peace/environmental message). I think that it might not be accessible to most five-year olds.

Every little girl has that phase.
Another gender stereotype.

Thank you (: I have these photos of myself opening gifts of dolls, baby dolls, barbie dolls, paper dolls, collectors' dolls -- and in each one I have a horrible (and rather embarrassing) scowl. Those poor dolls suffered a lot from my dinosaurs and surgical operations.

It's very difficult not to inundate young girls with pink and princesses, as that is the majority of products marketed for them. Also, I know a young mother who felt she had to dress her young daughter in "feminine colors" so that she wouldn't be mistaken for a boy. This is obviously a different topic, but I am repeatedly amazed and scared at the overwhelming cultural forces at play in the lives of young girls.
posted by vaguelyweird at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2008

Late to the party, but I had to peep in - Dealing with Dragons is AWESOME, but it's a quartet rather than one of three. But hey, more awesome reading!

I'd also like to suggest almost anything by Tamora Pierce. Some content may not be suitable at that age, so some research might be necessary - but most would make awesome bedtime/read-aloud material.

Summarizing a bit of them:

Alanna (Quartet name: Lioness) - Girl trades places with twin brother so that she can become a knight instead of learn to be a 'lady', hides her gender to do so.

Diane (Quartet name: Wild Magic) - Can talk to animals.

Kel (Quartet name: Protector of the Small) - First girl to try to openly become a knight.

Add wackiness ensues to the end of all those summaries, because, well, it does.

There's like 2 or 3 other quartets/duets/triads or something that I'm forgetting, but they are all awesome and very 'anything boys can do girls can do better'

If you don't feel they're appropriate now, definitely give them to her sometime in the future. And they're great at any age, I pull one out every couple of months or so and reread them, as well as counting down to Tamora Pierce's next release...
posted by sary at 8:15 PM on July 26, 2008

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