Monday, August 27, 2012

The Paperbag Princess

One type of story I really truly love are fractured fairytales. Well, actually I love fairytales full stop, both in their original, darker incarnations as well as the Disney-fied versions from my childhood. Obviously when we are dealing with traditional fairytales the girls tend to be a little more of the 'damsel-in-distress' mold, so this is where the fractured fairytale comes in. I suppose strictly speaking, The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch isn't exactly a fractured fairytale since the story doesn't retell any particular fairytale, rather it looks at a Prince and a Princess who are destined to be wed. 

Princess Elizabeth is set on marrying the perfect Prince Roald. Prince Roald dresses very nicely, is suitably posh for a Prince, and seems to be quite the tennis player. Unfortunately, before the wedding can take place a dragon attacks the castle and carries off Roald. Elizabeth's royal garments are all burned up and she can only find a paperbag to wear. Tracking the dragon to his cave, she challenges him to various feats of flying and burning stuff until he is so exhausted he collapses leaving Elizabeth free to rescue Prince Roald. This is where Roald shows his true colours, telling Elizabeth that she isn't dressed at all appropriately for a Princess and to come back when she looks nicer (and cleaner). Elizabeth realises she is much too good for Roald and heads off into the sunset to live her life as an independent lady. (Woo hoo!) 

I've had mixed responses when reading this one to young kids. Some just listen to the story without comment, I've had a couple of "Roald is like a toad!" comments and one comment from a little girl who wanted to know why they weren't getting married at the end. When I said it was because Roald was a toad, she still wanted to know why the Prince & the Princess weren't getting married. We obviously didn't get to her early enough. 
This Paperbag Princess and other picture books of it's ilk (Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole to name another great) are fantastic to read to kids from a young age, combining them with a healthy dose of other fairytales as well, for a varied look at the world. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Anne vs George

I had a recent (brief) conversation on Twitter with my friend Lauren (@thereadingbrow) about whether or not you'd rather be Anne or George from the Famous Five. Leaving aside the fact that I would love to be anyone from the Famous Five because they get to eat ham sandwiches and ginger cake while sleeping in old lighthouses and things like that; it didn't take me long to come up with Anne as my answer. Now the series has gotten a lot of slack over the years for its portrayal of Anne who always sets up the camp, cooks lunch and is generally frightened whenever they come across burglars/escaped prisoners/evil scientists. All this says to me is that Anne is a well rounded individual (likes cooking AND capturing escaped convicts!) who is very sensible to be frightened when faced with a notorious criminal. If I came across a gold thief in my tent/cave/caravan stealing my ginger beer you can bet that I'm going to be scared. Surely it says more about Anne's courage that in spite of her fear she was able to keep up adventuring with the (foolishly?) fearless Julian, Dick & George. How brave is your adventuring really if you're not scared of the kidnappers you're spying on?

Instead of analysing Anne to death, lets have a look at the others. We have Julian & Dick (who are really a product of their time) who expect Anne to keep up with them all day long traipsing around the country side and then set up camp at night as well - I think that Sarah Jessica Parker movie 'I Don't Know How She Does It' about being a working mum was probably based on Anne from the Famous Five. And then we have George who dresses like a boy, walks like a boy, has 'boyish' hobbies who is so desperate NOT to be a girl that you'd think there was nothing about the gender to recommend itself. What does it say about George that she has to act like a boy to be brave, while Anne recognises that it's possible to be a girly hero and still like dolls. Finally we have Timmy the dog - I have no problems with him.

Obviously it is actually Enid Blyton who we should be worrying about here seeing as she gave voice to Anne, George, Julian & Dick but seeing as in a majority of all her other books we have female protagonists being cool, whether it is at boarding school or up a tree, it is hard for me to believe that Enid would have just been writing Anne into a generic 'weak girl'.
What about you? Are you George or Anne? Think I'm reading stuff that isn't there just because I want to like Anne because we have the same hair? Do you agree with me?  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why Heroines?

At a children's book conference I attended recently, quite a well known fantasy author made a few comments about the Twilight Saga's Bella. She said that Stephanie Meyer had come under attack for writing such an insipid female lead who wasn't a good role model. She wanted to know why authors had this responsibility thrust upon them of writing 'good role models' when they should be allowed to write whatever they liked. Even if what they like to write is girls with no personality & no plans for the future beyond their man. While this is, in theory, true: authors can write whatever characters they like. In turn readers can choose to read about whatever they like and since my youth my favourite books have always been those with fabulous heroines in them. Heroines who saved the world from evil wizards; heroines who outwitted dragons. Heroines who read lots of books and heroines who stood up for what they believed in. From the age of twelve to around the age of fourteen (fifteen?) I wanted to be a knight. Despite being a bookish, indoorsy girl with animal allergies and being about as far from athletic as you can get; I thought it would be amazing to be a knight. The books of Tamora Pierce obviously had quite a profound effect on me. I now work as a children's bookseller and I get so excited when I sell the very first Tamora Pierce book to a young girl. Invariably the girls come back for the following books in the series and I know they have books and books of heroine action ahead of them.

Luckily for me (and everyone else in the world) it is obviosuly not just YA fiction which has some great heroines - I'll be talking picture books and primary aged fiction as well as YA books. Here's hoping that I point some of you in the direction of some awesome ladies who couldn't help being great role models if they tried.