Poison Chalice Award: Don’t Kiss the Frog: Princess Stories With Attitude

21 Aug

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Usually I do not review children’s books, but this one is making me so infuriated that I’m going to X-Post my Amazon review here.

Warning to mothers who care about message: Avoid this wolf in sheep’s clothing.

If you love princesses, and are just looking for something a little different, then it’s cute enough. But if you are like me, and you don’t love princesses, yet have a princessy daughter whose spirit you don’t want to crush by forbidding all things pink and glittery and are looking for alternatives…. you will gack.

I had high hopes that this book would undermine the female stereotypes that go along with princesses—the pink, the love of shoes and shopping, the dream of big castle, big ring and Mr. Right, the passivity, the emphasis on wealth and consumerism. But it emphasizes those things at least as much as our ordinary princess programming, if not a little more. Programming like Disney’s “Brave” and even “Sofia the First” are more levelheaded and less ickily gendered than this book.

The first story, “The Clumsy Princess” is the most maddening, as it falls into the Hollywood cliche of making a girl likeable because she’s a klutz. This is the first time this annoying stereotype has entered our home, and my daughter thinks it’s just hilarious that the girl is bumping and tripping and falling all over herself. The basic plot is that the klutzy princess is supposed to present a handkerchief to the knight who wins a tournament, but she doesn’t want to, and instead falls into a suit of armor and ends up winning herself. The message is that princesses don’t compete; they win without trying, by accident, despite themselves. It’s a terrible thing to teach little girls, who already are steered away from confident achievement and sports.

Story number two is about a princess who wants a bigger castle and fancier clothes, but when she switches places with a cousin who has those things, discovers that it’s boring to be dressed up all the time and that she prefers home. It’s ok, but it still feels like a story essentially about wanting a big castle and fancy clothes.

Number three, “The Princess and the P.E.,” like the first, is about a princess who sucks at sports. My daughter has already osmosed that “sports aren’t for girls,” not, I fear, to her benefit. At the princess school, girls play boys, and this princess is so inept, she singlehandedly sinks her side, and the boy teams always win. (‘Cause boys are good at sports). Until, that is, a magic frog (prince in disguise) teaches her to try harder by imagining something she really wants—SHOES! She does, and becomes a star. (All it takes is the right shoes, ladies! Keep on buying.) The frog turns into a prince but she doesn’t want to “walk away into the sunset” with him because he’s sweaty, slimy and wearing gym clothes. Some messaging in here is ok–trying harder, not choosing the prince–but again there’s the taint that princesses don’t do sports, and don’t like things like sweat and gym clothes.

And story three and several others play with the fairy-tale marriage convention, which isn’t something I want to program my girl to believe is the end-of-story for her. Number four and six are both also marriage plots, one with a passive princess and no redeeming qualities (it even slags on poets, with vaguely anti-intellectual aplomb), and another where the princess supposedly subverts the tradition by setting out to find her own prince, ending with an illustration of a woman in a room jammed to the rafters with suitors.

I’m omitting to mention one very cute story, “Double Dragons” by Enid Richemont, that’s in fact just what I’d want, about a princess who goes out and defeats a dragon. Unfortunately it’s way too little considering the rest of the book.

And I also should mention–ultimate poison chalice–that my daughter adores this book, and wants to read it multiple times a day.

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