Children's Books,  Picture Books

The Paper Bag Princess

Being that I named my blog after this book, there is no more appropriate book to start with than The Paper Bag Princess. This is a story of a princess named, Elizabeth, who as far as one knows, has everything a girl could ever want, including the life of a beautiful princess in a high castle, expensive dresses at her disposal, and being betrothed to the handsome prince, Ronald. That is— until the fire-breathing dragon burns down her castle and everything in it, taking Prince Ronald captive and essentially everything else she has ever known about her way of life.

This is a book that holds special meaning for me to my childhood as my mom read it to my brothers and I as children and I still have my copy from 1990. It is a timeless classic for both girls and boys, stressing the importance of neutral gender roles and strong females throughout society. The gender studies that have come from this small nap-time story from a childcare center in Canada over 40 years ago are astounding. Many people do not realize that Munsch is the same author that also wrote the very much beloved and tear jerker of a book, I’ll Love You Forever, about the mother who sings to her son nightly about how she will love him forever until she becomes old and too frail to sing anymore and he then sings to her, eventually carrying on the tradition to his own daughter at night.

No young child’s library would be complete without The Paper Bag Princess as it is one of the first children’s books that introduced feminism into the mainstream, where a seemingly traditional princess fairytale ends with a very feminist ending. In this book, there is very much a focus on the “little c” of culture, where, according to Jamie Campbell Naidoo, in Diversity in Youth Literature, the “social, economic, and political systems of a society— [and] people’s values and beliefs providing a framework for all other aspects” (8) is at work here. The gender roles are immediately reversed as she sets off to rescue her “prince” in nothing but a paper bag, using her wits and the fierce dragon’s ego against him. In the end, she discovers that Prince Ronald was not worth saving at all, when he belittles her paper bag clothing and offers little gratitude for her revolutionary feat upon seeing her “unprincess-like” appearance.

This is a story that empowered me in the form of an extra spring in my step as a young girl, whether I knew it was “feminism” at the time or not, it did not matter. I loved the end as she ran into the sunset as a new person, as she told him, “your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum” (Munsch). Early on, I read this to my new niece and it gave me great pride and joy to know that even though she was but little, I would be contributing to her understanding of gender early on.

And I wouldn’t be the boy mom that I am if I left out how important it is to also read this to little boys so they understand how outdated the “knight in shining armor” cliche is and that people are equal. More so, by raising him with literature depicting strong women and girls he will grow up with this as the “norm” and not question it later. Or at least, that is the hope. Society certainly has a real magnetic pull!

The Paper Bag Princess. Written by Robert N. Munsch and Illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Annick Press, Ltd, 1980. $4.95.

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