Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer: My preschool daughter is obsessed with sparkly princess stories! Is it time to worry?

Q&A: Children's Librarians answer questions all day, every day, from children, parents, caregivers, and teachers. Princess picture books for preschool-age children are in demand at every branch - but what do parents really want to know?

Q:  My daughter wants even more books about princesses wearing beautiful, sparkly dresses. I would like her to read books about confident girls whose sense of self is built on their capabilities, dreams, and interests. Do Photo of princess dollsyou have any like that – or any in which the princess doesn’t marry the prince? 

A: Yes, there are princess stories that feminists can embrace! The trick is to find the ones that will please your daughter as much as they will feed your long-term character goals for her.  I would point you to the article by Naomi Wolf in the New York Times on December 2, 2011:  

She wrote, "If you look closely, the princess archetype is not about passivity and decorativeness: It is about power and the recognition of the true self...” cover image of To Be A Princess

 

The view from the Children's Reference Desk is that every child is the center of their parents' universe. Every child is like a prince or princess, and each of them is discovering their own power, potential, and relevance. No matter the gender or economic class; princess means person who can do anything, with grace and ease.                              

You can use these princess books to tackle the tricky conflict between your values and the valid desires of your children. Here's how to do that:

  1. Read a variety. Read multiple versions of the same story. This teaches your children that stories are written or told differently by different people. It reminds them that they can write their own story to suit themselves. This is liberating! Ask us for the Cinderella versions by Climo, McClintock, Sanderson, and Marshall, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses versions by Ray, Mayer, & Isadora. See also various princess stories, such as The Dragon Prince by Yep, Kongi & Potgi by Han,or Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by Steptoe. There are also collections of international princess stories.
    Cover of The Dragon Prince by Yep  cover image of Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters

     Cover image of Barefoot Book of Princesses  Cover image of Don't Kiss the Frog

  2. Respect your child's choices. If she says she wants the sparkly one, don't try to talk her out of it, just read it. Expect her to also respect your choices, and so read her the books that make more sense to you as well. For a preschooler, a parent's voice and close physical contact are fundamentally important. For sparkly, see: K.Y. Craft, Ruth Sanderson, Marianna Mayer, & Jane Ray. For anti-sparkly, see The Paper Bag Princess, Bigfoot Cinderella, and Cinder Edna.

    Cover image of The Paper Bag Princess by MunschCover image of Bigfoot Cinderellacover image of Cinder Edna

  3. Discuss the stories and the illustrations. Being opinionated, even disagreeing with the author or illustrator models good reading habits. Children are amazingly able to believe in a dream world, even when they are told it's not real. Ask questions, like; Would you rather be the kind of princess who has adventures, fights battles, befriends dragons, or has tea parties? See Pirate Princess, by Bardhan-Quallen, Princess Knight by Funke, and The Princess and the Pea by Vaes for girls who embrace traits and activities traditionally associated with masculinity.

    Cover image of Pirate Princess by Bardhan Cover image of Princess Knight by Funke cover image of Vaes' version of Princess & thePea

  4. Edit the text if you find it offensive. You won't get to do this for very long – she's going to learn how to read soon! Take advantage of this window of opportunity to make cultural adjustments and updates to anything you feel is important. (Writing this post, I discovered that my 15-year-old daughter believed that one of the sisters in Jane Ray's version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses was the shoemaker pictured on the final page, because I thought they should take responsibility for mending all their dancing shoes, so I changed the story. I remember that she and her sister argued with me about this point at the time, but I didn't realize until now that I had won.)

  5. Tell your own story. Make sure to supplement the fantasy stories in fairy tales with the real-life stories of your family's struggles and those of your personal heroes. Try one book from the biography section.

    cover image of Pocahontas Princess of the New World cover image of Hatshepsut biography cover image of biography of Savitri

Children ages two to seven repeat actions to master tasks – stacking blocks, tying shoelaces, etc. Repeated reading, or remaining focused on a single topic, is similarly how they build understanding.

Your daughter may revise her sense of self many times, or settle on it early. She is exploring, and you are one of her most important guides. Your support of and attention to her interests is crucial. Right now, it's princesses. It will shift over the years, and will be influenced by all the other people in her life, and the activities you share. She probably won't be sparkly forever.

cover image of Princess Boy

By the way, all of my suggestions would remain the same if the gender pronoun were changed. Your son is not the only one with a favorite princess & a collection of sparkly dresses.

 

 

Comments

Solid advice. The Princess

Solid advice. The Princess Tales books by Gail Carson Levine are also good alternative fairy tale books.

Thanks for this excellent

Thanks for this excellent response to a question which confuses me every time I hear it. I do not understand the fearful the knee-jerk reaction to little children enjoying sparkly princess books. How many of us had our world view set by age 6? I don't get the lack of understanding that the examples set by the people in a child's life are a much stronger influence than anything he or she reads. I know so many girls (and boys) who enjoyed princessy things as young children who then grew up to be confident, capable, independent adults. Kudos for asking parents to respect their children's choices. This is a time of exploration, so better to take the path you recommend and expand choices while providing context, rather than send the message that there's something wrong and dangerous about the pink stuff. Thank you Erica!

Hi Carla, Thanks for taking

Hi Carla,

Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

Working with children means we librarians get to see many examples of different parenting approaches (through brief interactions) and if we stay in the same library for some years in a row, we get another perspective watching various families grow up.

Parents of preschool-age children often only have a chance to observe children of the same age, and a handful of family members. Even if they read parenting advice books, it is sometimes difficult to imagine how current behavior unfolds & evolves over time.

I think all parents try to imagine the future for their children, and they don't always have enough examples to extrapolate with confidence. If they want to be conscientious parents, it is very natural that they would want to double-check that what they are doing is the best way to guide their children toward the world-view and self-perceptions that they value most.

I think it helps first-time parents of younger kids to talk to experienced parents of older kids! Some people have access to that dialogue in their day-to-day lives. I'm hoping these Q&A blog posts are a supplement to that idea. We all benefit from hearing what kinds of questions come up for other people -- I've put my own & sometimes other librarians' responses, but it makes me very happy when other people add their personal stories and more ideas.

Thanks very much for contributing your thoughts!

Hi Jordan, Yes, Gail Carson

Hi Jordan,

Yes, Gail Carson Levine has many strong female princess characters. Ella Enchanted is one of my favorite books and movies for readers/viewers about ages 6 to 12 (give or take some years, depending on the person). The inclusion of a fight with a troll makes it of interest to a wider audience, too - so I like to give the recorded book to families where not everyone in the car knew ahead of time how much they were going to enjoy it!

I wonder if she ever considered writing picture books?

I've seen readers ages 7 to 10 checking out the whole Princess Tales series one by one, and I bet younger kids would like to hear them read aloud. Thanks for taking the time to make people aware of them!

You have one copy of "Dead

You have one copy of "Dead Stars" by Bruce Wagner at Main. I've have had it on hold for a month to be sent to Chavez branch. Would you send me it please?

Hi Joe, I was just reading

Hi Joe,

I was just reading this terrific blog post (thanks Erica!)and noticed your request. Dead Stars is on its way.

--Christy, Librarian, Main Branch

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