A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
There has been much in the news in recent days about the Let Books Be Books campaign – an offshoot of the equally marvellous Let Toys Be Toys campaign – which argues for less gender division and stereotyping in children’s books. I couldn’t agree more; there’s nothing than infuriates me more than gender stereotyping, and more than that, I don’t really want my daughter growing up on a literary diet of wan girls waiting around for their prince to come and whisk them away as if that’s the best a gal can hope for.
Which is why I’m such a big fan of The Worst Princess, a picture book by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie. In this story the Princess Sue is sitting in her tower, waiting for her prince. She’s getting bored of waiting.
I’ve read the books, I know the score. I’ve grown my plaits down to the floor. I really need to get some air. To see the world and cut my hair!
But when, finally, her prince does show up on his dashing steed, Sue quickly realises that he’s not her ticket to freedom from the tower. Rather, she’s only swapping one prison for another, except the new one is a bit prettier and she has fancier dresses. Sue is not happy. In fact, she’s pretty angry about the whole thing. She thought she’d be getting to gad about on a horse, having adventures.
What’s a princess to do in this situation? Make friends with a dragon, obviously.
“Hey you!” she called, “with the scary claws. Fancy some tea for your fiery jaws?”
“Ooh, yes,” said Dragon. “What a relief, that pesky prince is giving me grief.”
Needless to say, the pesky prince gets his comeuppance, and Princess Sue (wearing Converse shoes, I note) and her Dragon pal live happily ever after, marauding around having adventures – and drinking a lot of tea.
My little girl absolutely loves The Worst Princess too, happily. The illustrations are bright, clear, and colourful, and the rhyming text reads well and obviously holds her attention. In fact, she has even started chanting along with some of the most memorable phrases: “I wish he’d move his royal BUM!” What two year old does not enjoy yelling “bum”? I am yet to meet one.
For what it’s worth, I also strongly recommend Kemp and Ogilvie’s other two picture books: Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes (in which we find that at least one really does), and Dogs Don’t Do Ballet (yes they do). In all of their stories, not least The Worst Princess, they show that not everything has to be what other people expect, whether that be outdoorsy princesses, dancing dogs, or pancake-munching rhinos. In fact people (or dogs or rhinos) can be anything at all – and what a great message for young children. Be who you are, regardless. It’s certainly what I want my daughter to know as she grows up.
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie: The Worst Princess (London: Simon and Schuster, 2012). ISBN 9781847388766, RRP £6.99.