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.
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.
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.”
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?