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Little girls have loved princesses for a long time, and there...

Little girls have loved princesses for a long time, and there we're princess books long before Disney got involved.

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I have compiled a list and brief summary of important American/ European books about princesses. Some of these books are relatively new, while others we're written decades and centuries ago. You may not have heard of some of the older books, but they have definitely influenced the entire princess genre: what princesses "should" look like (usually blond), how they "should" act (usually meek and obedient), how their story "should" end (usually marriage to the prince).

It is important to know what has been written and to recognize and understand the traditions and restrictions that continue to affect us today. And, by reading the old-fashioned princess books, you can better appreciate the modern books that break out of the mold!

Some of these stories are good, some are bad, some are hilarious. You'll notice that most have nothing to do with the Big D.

Princess Briana

In this picture book, we meet Princess Briana of Eseryia, a fictional African country. Princess Briana is beautiful, smart, confident, talented and accomplished. One day, she is invited to attend a summer camp for princesses in Spain. Princess Briana arrives at the camp and learns that she does not look like the top princesses (blond, blue-eyed, size two) and no other African princesses have been invited to attend the camp. Briana takes drugs to lose weight and uses chemicals to lighten her skin and straighten her hair. She learns from an African queen that she is beautiful just as she is, and she should be proud of her looks. Princess Briana fights her own lack of confidence and the prejudice of some of her teachers to win the overall princess competition.

A Little Princess

Originally published in 1888 as Sara Crewe, this book was renamed and reintroduced in 1905. The main character, Sara Crewe, is placed by her devoted father into an English boarding school. Because of her wealth, personality and charitable spirit, Sara is loved and admired by nearly everyone. Only a petty, jealous classmate and the schools head mistress, Miss Minchin, do not care for Sara. Miss Minchin, however, is impressed by Saras money and pretends to like her. When Saras father dies and the money for her lodging dries up, Miss Minchins true feelings are revealed. Now a maid at the school where she was previously it's most celebrated pupil, Sara becomes a virtual slave to Miss Minchin. For two years, Sara suffers every indignity but manages to remain good, kind and trusting. Finally, it is revealed that her father has left her an immense fortune. Sara takes her rightful place at the top of the social ladder and becomes part of the loving family next door to the school.

A Treasury of Princesses: Princess Tales from Around the World

Seven retellings of princess tales from around the world:

  • From China, the Moon Maidens are princess dieties that end up ruling the sun.
  • An Arabian tale based on the biblical story of Moses, Gulanara is a brave princess that reunites her royal family.
  • In Prince Ivan and the Frog Princess from Russia, Princess Vasilisa outsmarts a witch and a villain to assume her rightful place as tsarina.
  • Two Brides for Five Heads is a Xhosa story from South Africa with the familiar story line of two sisters going to the capital in attempt to marry a prince, who they do not know is disguised as a five-headed snake. The first sister is brash, hard-headed, disrespectful and lazy. The second sister, Mpunzanyana, is thoughtful, polite, willing to listen to her elders and hard-working. Naturally, the prince chooses to marry Mpunzanyana while the first sister is sent home to work in the fields.
  • In King Thrushbeard, European Princess Lina is spoiled and beautiful. After scorning a king, she is forced to marry a poor, wandering minstrel. Once Lina works hard, learns to cook and clean, becomes grateful and humble and obeys her husband, she discovers that her husband is not a poor minstrel but the king she had scorned.
  • The Princess and the Music-Maker is a Mayan tale in which Princess Maix runs away to be with the poor musician she loves instead of marrying to please her greedy father, the king. The princess is kidnapped by an ogre, but through love and help from a smart rabbit, the princess and musician are reunited and the ogre vanquished.
  • In the Greek myth, Psyche, is a princess so beautiful that even Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, is jealous of the attention she receives. Aphrodite tries to hurt Psyche, but her schemes backfire. First, Aphrodites son, Eros, prince of love, falls in love with Psyche. Secondly, Zeus makes her immortal. Finally, Eros and Aphrodite we'd and live happily together forever.

Princess Academy

In The Princess Academy, a group of poor, young girls are forced by the government to leave their mountain homes to attend a boarding school. They spend a horrible year learning how to be proper ladies in hopes that one of them will then be chosen by the prince to be his bride. The main character, Miri, is an almost perfect heroine: courageous, generous, likable. She unites her classmates against the evil headmaster and saves the school from murderous bandits. Another girl is chosen to be princess, but Miri is happy. She reconciles with the boy she loves, returns to her mountain home and family, helps the community prosper, and becomes a teacher.

Princess Grace

Grace has always wanted to be a princess, so when her teacher announces that two girls will be picked from their class to be princesses in the community parade, Grace wants more than anything to be chosen. Grace and her friends don't know what princesses do, except wear pink, frilly clothes and stand around looking pretty. Their teacher shares stories about interesting princesses from all over the world that lead armies, play sports, practice medicine and even become undercover spies. Grace and her friends decide to be authentic and realistic princesses and princes. Grace chooses to wear a West African robe made with Kente cloth, ready for an adventure.

The Tall Book of Princesses

There are eleven quick retellings of popular princess fairy tales:

  • Cinderella is horribly mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. A fairy godmother uses magic to make it possible for Cinderella to attend the royal ball, but only until midnight. At the ball, the prince falls madly in love with Cinderella. A glass slipper helps the prince find Cinderella. They marry and she becomes a princess.
  • In The Twelve Dancing Princesses, twelve sisters, despite being locked in the castle each night, manage to sneak out and go dancing. Their father, the King, calls in a soldier to figure out how the princesses are escaping each night.. As a reward for solving the mystery, the soldier picks a princess to marry and becomes heir to the throne.
  • In the Indian tale The Princess Who Would Never Marry, stubborn Princess Nami refuses to marry anyone. Eventually, she meets the right man and they get married.
  • The evil, jealous Queen attempts to destroy Snow White, but only succeeds in putting her into a strange sleep, which she is brought out of by the Prince. They are married and live happily ever after.
  • Tiny Finger is a Japanese tale about a tiny prince who doesn't allow his disability (small stature) to prevent him from fighting bandits, restoring his familys honor, marrying a beautiful princess or becoming king.
  • In Beauty and the Beast, Bellas declaration of love lifts a curse from an ugly ogre. The ogre is a prince, and Bella and the prince live happily ever after.
  • Princess Rose is Sleeping Beauty. Cursed to prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday, Rose remains hidden in a tower until a prince finds her and breaks the spell with a kiss.
  • Rapunzel is banished to a tower by a evil witch. A prince finds her and uses her amazingly long blond hair to climb into the tower. There are more spells and trickery, but Rapunzel manages to escape the tower. She and the prince are eventually married.
  • Amelia from The Princess and the Pea may look like an ordinary girl, but when she is unable to sleep because she can feel a pea under twenty soft mattresses, it is clear that she is a true, delicate princess and worthy to marry the rich, young man who has been unable to find a suitable woman anywhere.
  • The Little Mermaid does not allow her father, a witch, or being a mermaid to stop her from turning human and marrying the prince of her dreams.
  • Taken from Greek mythology, Psyche and Eros is the story of beautiful, brave Psyche. Loved by the god Eros but despised by his mother, goddess Aphrodite, Psyche must suffer trials and tribulations until she is made a goddess by Zeus and joined in eternal marriage with Eros.

The Ordinary Princess

Princess Amy is cursed by a fairy godmother at her baptism to be plain. This is a shock and a burden to her superficial parents, the King and Queen. Despite not being as beautiful as her older sisters, Amy is a happy, athletic and outgoing princess. No prince, however, wants to marry a plain princess, so the King and Queen devise a scheme to get Amy married. Amy runs away, becomes a servant in a castle, meets a decent guy (we later learn he is a prince), gets married and lives happily ever after.

The Island Princess

This is a Junior Novelization of a Barbie movie. Ro is washed up on a deserted island as a baby. She becomes friends and learns to communicate with an assortment of animals. She is happy, but she wonders about her long-lost family. One day, a prince visits the island and convinces Ro to return to his kingdom. Ro, hoping to find her family, agrees. The visit is initially a disappointment: Ro learns that the prince (whom she has fallen in love with) is engaged, the fiancees mother is scheming and cruel, and Ro has no idea how to find her family. After many plots twists and shenanigans, Ro discovers her true, royal parentage, and the princess marries her prince.

The Princess and the Goblin

First published in 1872, this is the fantastic tale of Princess Irene and her adventures with Curdie, a poor miner. Princess Irene is in danger of being kidnapped by the goblins that live underground and forced to marry their hideous prince. Irene is protected by her fairy grandmother and her mostly absent father. It honest, smart, cunning and brave Curdie who truly saves Princess Irene and the town from the diabolical goblins. There is a wealth of direct and indirect advice on every aspect of how princesses and good girls should think, speak, feel, act, behave, keep ones clothes tidy, etc.

The Paper Bag Princess

In a comical twist to the familiar tale of a prince saving a princess from a fiery dragon, this story features cunning Princess Elizabeth saving Prince Ronald. Unfortunately, Ronald is neither impressed nor grateful. He tells her to come back when she looks like a real princess, and Elizabeth calls off the wedding.

Mufaros Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale

In this modern African retelling of a classic folktale, two beautiful sisters, Nyasha and Manyara. Nyasha is kind, sweet, patient and lovable. She tends a garden and is especially friendly to a garden snake. The other sister, Manyara, is greedy, rude, impatient and unlovable. When the king announces that he is searching for a woman to marry, Manyara and Nyasha plan to travel to the capital in hope of being chosen queen. Manyara sneaks off early. On the way, a starving boy asks her for food. She refuses him. Next, she meets an old woman who gives her a warning. Manyara rudely ignores the old womans advice. Later, Nyasha starts the journey to the capital. She, too, meets the boy, but she gives him food. She politely follows the old womans advice. In the end, we learn that the snake, the boy and the old woman we're all the king. He now knows both sisters true characters and, of course, decides to marry Nyasha. Manyara becomes a servant in the royal household.

The Princess Frog: Princess Tiana and the Royal Ball

In this picture book sequel to The Princess Frog, Princess Tiana is invited to her first royal ball. Her friend, Charlotte, consults the Princess Handbook to make certain that Tiana dresses and behaves as a proper princess. Tiana comes to realize that a true princess is true to herself and follows her own rules.

Lavina: The Saga of An African Princess

This historical novel tells the story of Lavina, an African princess from the coastal plains of Guinea. In the late 1600s, Lavina and her secret love, Robboni, are abducted from their village and brought to Virginia. Lavina is sold to and then adopted by a kindly Quaker couple. Robboni is sold to a succession of mostly horrible slave masters. Lavina, who had been raped on the slave ship, has a daughter, Alexis. Lavina believes that one day she and Robboni will be reunited. Finally, after ten years separation, the lovers find each other through Alexis and marry.

Some of these books we're written almost 140 years ago! The fact that they are still in print speaks to the lasting appeal of a good princess story.

Have you read any of these books? Do any look interesting to you now? Which one(s) do you think your favorite princess would enjoy?

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Posted in Photograph Post Date 07/19/2021


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