The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch

The Paper Bag Princess- Amelie's Bookshelf

When I was a freshman in college, taking Women’s Studies courses for the first time and opening my eyes to all the little ways our lives as women have been shaped by the princess paradigm, my mother sent me a care package. In it was this book, The Paper Bag Princess, and it turned that princess story on its head. No more was the princess waiting idly for her prince to rescue her with nothing but a strong jaw and a full head of hair defining his charm. This was the book that began the wave of “tough princesses.” I wish I would have read it as a child, but at least my daughter does. And in true 2-year-old fashion, that means every nap time, every bedtime, for months on end until her next obsession comes along.

The Paper Bag Princess- Amelie's Bookshelf

Princess Elizabeth is beautiful and gracious and intends to marry handsome Prince Ronald. But when a dragon comes to the castle and drags him off in a most uncivilized manner, burning everything around them including the princess’s elegant clothes, she does what she has to do- she finds the only thing that’s not burned, a paper bag, and fashions herself a dress out of it and takes off to rescue her prince. Using only her wits, she outsmarts the dragon, playing on his ego and wearing him out. Once he’s thoroughly exhausted, she simply steps right over him and walks into the castle to find her prince.

The Paper Bag Princess- Amelie's Bookshelf

However, once inside, she finds that rather than thanking his lucky stars that his fiance is so valiant, Prince Ronald is horrified at Princess Elizabeth’s shabby attire.
The Paper Bag Princess, Amelie's Bookshelf

And thus we are brought to possibly the best last page of any children’s book, anywhere, ever.

There was Prince Ronald. He looked at her and said, “Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.”

“Ronald,” said Elizabeth, “your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.”

They didn’t get married after all.The Paper Bag Princess- Amelie's Bookshelf

One thing I particularly appreciate about this book is that it’s told very matter-of-factly. Elizabeth doesn’t fret when the dragon hauls Ronald off, nor does she puff herself up and put on her brave face. No mention is even made of her being brave. It’s just the way it is. She moves on.

I think my next list of Ten Favorites should be Tough Princesses. What books are you reading your children that have girls in power?

20 thoughts on “The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch

  1. My absolute favourite children’s book. It is such an empowering story, but it isn’t preachy either. My daughter (almost 7!?) is now intrigued by Nancy Drew stories. They are old-fashioned in some ways, but Nancy is a really strong female character.


  2. It is a fine, fine story. I recently arranged for a house-fleshling’s niece to receive this in board book format for a first birthday. I love how the board book format makes feminist principles available to the youngest of ladies (and gents)!


  3. I’ve looked for collection of traditional fairy tales with strong women for years. I read a copy of “Tatterhood and Other Tales” by Ethel Johnston Phelps to tatters as a child, and more recently, found “Not One Damsel in Distress” by Jane Yolen (with its companion “MIghtier than the Sword” for boys) and “The Serpent Slayer” by Katrin Tchana. For younger readers, Cornelia Funke has some great picture books, including “Princess Knight” and “Pirate Girl”.


  4. Robert Munsch handled this story better than anyone could have! i really liked Olivia and the Fairy Princesses- It has a nice tough girl message that still applies to the princess lovers. I also enjoyed the Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson. It takes one of my least favorite princess stories and makes it awesome and tom-boy friendly.


    • Oh, we LOVE the Ladybug Girl books! I’m glad Sophia likes this one, and I love that it’s one of these girls’ introductions to princesses rather than being “a different take” long after they’ve been beaten over the head by Disney.


  5. Wow. I want to run out and buy this book for every girl I know. Thank you, thank you, thank. Regarding books with girls in power, I put forward this one from the antipodes: Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey. It is about an extrovert chick and an introvert bloke who are friends, really great friends. It is my husband’s favourite. Fortunately, my two year old daughter loves it too?!


  6. Pingback: Ten Favorite Alternative Princess Picture Books | Amélie's Bookshelf

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