Ten Princess Books For Kids Who Could Use a Break from Disney Princesses (Whether They Realize it or Not) by Elizabeth Dillow
The magical reach of the Disney princess extends far and wide: sleeping bags, clocks, toothpaste, Campbell’s soup, tennis shoes… but nowhere more than the bookshelf. It’s possible to browse over 100 pages of princess books on Amazon.com—even Belle’s palace library would be hard-pressed to hold them all.
Despite the many voices warning of princess-induced cultural collapse, we don’t shun the Disney princess in our house; in fact, I have a hardcore princess devotee of my own who has amassed a healthy collection of Disney titles over the years. What we do shun, however, is single-minded fanaticism, especially when it comes to books. Luckily, there are many princesses in picture book literature that explore a variety of themes beyond the glittery “happily ever after” ending that will keep listeners thinking, questioning, and entertained. If you’ve ever felt the desperation of reading about Ariel, Merida, or Elsa for the 500th time but still want to honor a love for princesses, this list is for you!
Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated
by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith
Princess Hyacinth wants nothing more than to be like the other kids in her kingdom, but her “disability” prevents her from living the normal life she yearns for. After enduring years of effective but unpleasant solutions, an adoring commoner named Boy discovers a way to navigate Hyacinth’s unique situation, relegating her disability to a mere circumstance instead of a defining characteristic. Their ensuing friendship is a partnership to admire.
Dangerously Ever After
by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Valeria Docampo
Dangerously Ever After begins with a stereotype-challenging line sure to catch attention: “Princess Amanita loved things that were dangerous.” Her daredevil spirit is never more at home than in her garden, which is filled with sharp, stinky, and stinging plants. When a neighboring prince wanders along, he doesn’t know what to make of Princess Amanita and her peculiar garden, nor does she know what to make of him and his useless, sweet-smelling roses. The book is filled with comical misunderstandings and flowing language that will bring giggles and keep readers guessing until the end.
by James Thurber, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
Many Moons is a classic princess tale—winner of the 1944 Caldecott Medal—that explores the theme of perspective. It is a long book, and one that doesn’t dilute language (i.e. “philters, unguents, and potions,” “horns of a dilemma,” and “golden cascades” all make an appearance) but it’s anything but dry. Adults and older children will love the misguided attempts by the king’s advisers to solve the problem, while everyone will appreciate the simplicity with which the princess and jester actually do.
Princess Pigtoria and the Pea
by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole
Princess Pigtoria and the Pea is an alliterative tale about princes and pigs, and how to tell the difference. It’s never too early to learn how to tell the difference!
The Princess Who Had No Kingdom
by Ursula Jones, illustrated by Sarah Gibb
Words are just a bonus when it comes to Sarah Gibb-illustrated books, but happily, the words never disappoint. The Princess Who Had No Kingdom is a story about dignity and perseverance, and how to behave even if others don’t extend respect. The princess knows herself, even when she fights back doubt—which makes the happy ending that much happier.
The Barefoot Book of Princesses
retold by Caitlín Matthews, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Our copy of this anthology of princess stories is beloved and battered; it’s a great first introduction to folktales from other countries, and definitely an antidote to glossy princesses everywhere. Only two of the stories included are familiar to most American children (The Princess and the Pea and The Sleeping Beauty) while the rest present a diverse collection from storytelling traditions in China, the Iroquois Nation, and more. Bonus: it comes with a great audio CD of the stories.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
Written for younger readers, Not All Princesses Dress in Pink presents a world where princesses are not hemmed in by traditional stereotypes of prissy behavior and pink fashion. These princesses are athletic, resourceful, imaginative, and best of all—free to choose clothes of all colors that encourage movement. While the message might seem painfully obvious to adults, it just might be a revelation to small princess-o-philes everywhere.
Princess in Training
by Tammie Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger
Princess Viola is fun, but struggles with the knowledge that she is somehow not enough, which is reinforced when even her parents are unable to mask their disappointment in their markedly unprincess-like daughter. Viola valiantly tries to be what she’s not, but fails miserably—until a dangerous turn of events allows her to save the day when no one else can. It’s a great moment when the rest of the kingdom realizes what we already know: Princess Viola might not conform to expectations, but she’s perfect the way she is.
The Apple-Pip Princess
by Jane Ray
Tasked with proving their worthiness as heir to the throne, three princesses create their interpretation of what’s most important in The Apple-Pip Princess. Serenity, the youngest (as well as shy, small, and ordinary) makes the most of a treasured gift and wins the kingdom. This stunningly illustrated story turns traditional themes of royal wealth and power upside down.
The Secret Lives of Princesses
by Phillippe Lechermeier, illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer
Everyone knows Snow White, Belle, Cinderella… but how about Princess Molly Coddle, Princess Tangra-la, or Princess Hot-Head? This is the perfect book to put into the hands of a princess-lover ready to branch out from the Disney catalog. Part encyclopedia and part coffee table art book, it paints a detailed alternative world of royalty where princesses aren’t always perfect, prim, or dainty.
Elizabeth Dillow is a photographer, writer, and designer who discovered a love for children’s literature quite by accident before her three daughters were born. She currently lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her family (and and about two tons of books, which make her very unpopular with the movers when it’s time to pack up for another military move). She blogs at A Swoop and a Dart.