Vulpes Libris

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.

The Worst Princess by Anne Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

TWPThere 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.

7 comments on “The Worst Princess by Anne Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

  1. Andrew Leon Hudson
    March 12, 2014

    I’m starting to understand why people have children: I can’t get away with reading this kind of thing. I think I’ve made a terrible life choice…

  2. rosyb
    March 12, 2014

    I don’t have children but very tempted to get this anyway! Sounds (and looks) terrific. I’ve never heard of this before.

  3. Kate
    March 12, 2014

    I also recommend The Paper-Bag Princess, which looks and sounds very similar to this.

  4. Melrose
    March 12, 2014

    It looks like the non-gender stereotyping applies to the prince too. He appears to be wearing some kind of knickerbocker tutu. And a rather fetching pink feather in his hat to go with the castle insignia. He makes the princess look rather drab in comparison – a bit like birds of paradise. So, maybe there is gender stereotyping after all – it is all so complex. Lovely illustrations though.

  5. Emma Barnes
    March 14, 2014

    Fabulous! What a wonderful book. There’s only one thing I’d take issue with though- while there is definitely gender segregation in the way books are presented to children – notably the covers – the contents are often not as stereotypical as you might think. All those pink, sparkly princesses/fairies/mermaids are usually not “wan girls waiting around for their prince to come” but feisty, independent, active heroines, because to be honest that’s what most little girls want to read about!

  6. Melrose
    March 15, 2014

    It seems to me there is a bit of a broad sweep to your statement, Emma, i.e., “All those pink, sparkly princesses/fairies/mermaids are usually not “wan girls waiting around for their prince to come” but feisty, independent, active heroines, because to be honest that’s what most little girls want to read about!” I can very much see your point about the covers though – a pink sparkly one would make me shy away from buying that children’s book – it yells out “conformity”, “this book is liable to fit into a certain genre, and is for a specific gender”. So, I agree entirely with you on the book covers aspect. But, some girls will enjoy books with a nurturing or compassionate element to it; they are not all derring-do adventurers. (It no doubt is the same with boys, perhaps, but this is not the point that was being made, but I just want to balance the argument.)

    Having said that, there have always been feisty, independent, active heroines about, especially in fairy tales, and even more so in myths and legends, but I think they got a bit Disneyfied. So, I think the reviewer’s children don’t need to grow up on a diet of wan girls waiting for their prince to come, there are lots of good stories out there, with not a wan girl in sight. With Greek myths, for example, there were a lot of goddesses you didn’t want to cross; even the Gods got a bit hen-pecked at times. Look at the trouble the Trojan youth, Paris, got into with his apple – all the wheeling and dealing that went on there, and the outcome in the end. And Psyche got a whole load of grief from Venus, who was out for revenge for Psyche falling in love with her son.

    With regard to fairy tales, Gretel, of Hansel and Gretel fame, was a very feisty, intelligent, little girl, who got abandoned with her sibling, and left to die, but she and her brother worked together to escape the clutches of the witch. Snowwhite had a very big adventure, and went through a lot of trauma, to emerge unscathed at the end. Goldilocks was off having a good scout around the home of three bears, two of which were rather large, and she had no issues about sleeping in their beds, or eating all their porridge. Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t frightened of anything,and she did have a compassionate side to her nature, off to see her granny with a basket of goodies. Marie-Louise Von Franz has some interesting theories on the aspect of the feminine in fairy stories. Stories of passion, adventure, and winning through in the end, have always been about, and not just for boys. I am sure, even simplified, in a sensitive manner, keeping true to the story, that they would be well within the understanding of young children, both boys and girls.

    And, sometimes, we forget for some reason, the very real power inherent in what have traditionally been seen as women’s strength – nurturing and compassion. Why do we do ourselves down so much – women? When the mining communities were being devastated by Thatcher, it was the women that were working, in the background, to keep the community together, providing support for their husbands and sons, ensuring families had food. They were strong in heart and willpower, and they worked in tandem with their menfolk. Thatcher, on the other hand, displayed no feminine virtues, no compassion for the communities affected. She surrounded herself with men in her cabinet, and sent the police in to wave their overtime pay in front of the striking miners. Why did she have only one women in her cabinet – Janet Young, Leader of the Lords? Was she frightened of her femininity, and the threat of the femininity of others? Did she think women, other than herself, weren’t up to the job? But, she did like adventures (especially military ones) and palling about with the big boys.

  7. rosyb
    March 15, 2014

    After the discussion on the age-banding article, I was thinking about “emotional books” I related to as a child. And I remembered one that I liked to return to called The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. I remember loving this book although I can’t remember it too well today – so I had a look to see if it was online. I was really shocked at the modern cover they’ve put on it.

    This is the cover I remember that I had as a child:

    And this is the republished and packaged version today:

    There would be no way I’d pick it up today – the cover is really awful and looks like a barbie doll in a Mills and Boon setting – the absolute opposite of the feisty character I remember. It made me really sad actually.

    I will continue to rail against the appaling covers they put on anything they want to aim at girls (or women for that matter). It depresses the heck out of me.

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2014 by in Entries by Kirsty D, Fiction, Fiction: children's and tagged , , .



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