8 Picture-Book Princesses Who Break the Mold

The Princess in Black

I tried to keep princesses away from my 3-year-old. I really did. “Why give her a role model,” I thought, “who is expected to do nothing but sit around all day and wait for a prince?”

It only took one little girl at school to convert her. In the time it takes to say “your highness,” not only did she think that princesses were the very best people, she had also adopted the beliefs that all princesses are pretty, and that anyone who is pretty is a princess, and that she herself was of royal blood.

Other parents have warned me that the only way to win this fight is to wait it out. But I’ve also found that, given the right books, princess-mania can steer children to some important life lessons (or at least, the notion that there are better things for girls to do than sit around and look pretty). If your child is anything like mine, and you’re anything like me, give these books a try.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko
A classic in the twisted-princess genre, this one’s been saving girls from the damsel-in-distress cliché since 1980. Princess Elizabeth is about to marry Prince Ronald, but he’s prince-napped, and she must hunt down the dragon that stole him away. She does it bravely, cunningly, and in a paper bag instead of a dress.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, by Ian Falconer
Never one to go along with the crowd, our favorite pig is weirded out by all the frilly pink sameness of her classmates’ favorite outfits. She puts it bluntly (as she always does): she’s having an identity crisis. I love her rebellious look, which includes a French sailor shirt and dark sunglasses.

The Princess and the Pig, by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
In this colorful, twisted fairy tale, a pig and a princess change places. And unexpectedly, the princess loves her muddy, penniless farm life, and she doesn’t want to switch back. It’s clever, it’s surprising, and it might just teach your kid that there’s something better to aspire to than life in a palace.

Princess Truly and the Hungry Bunny Problem, by Kelly Greenawalt and Amariah Rauscher
Princess Truly wears frilly pink dresses and lives at the top of a fairy-tale tower—and she also has beautiful, naturally curly black hair. Her curls have magical powers that, along with her big heart and sharp mind, help her solve problems. It’s a perfect book for kids of all colors who could stand to see a princess without blonde hair and blue eyes.

The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham
Magnolia is a princess by day and a monster-fighting ninja by night, proving you never know what’s hiding behind a royal face. Her story’s told in short, illustrated chapters perfect for kindergartners through third-graders.

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, by Jane Yolen, Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple, and Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
I’m still not convinced we should encourage our daughters to want sparkly crowns. But if they’re gonna wear them, this book teaches them that even in their crowns, they can play baseball, splash in puddles, and use power tools (under strict supervision, I hope). I love this book’s eye-catching colors and illustrations. And the fact that one of the princesses wears stinky socks.

Princess Potty, by Samantha Berger and Amy Cartwright
On the princess scale, this book nearly soars off the chart: it’s like 95% pink and dripping with jewels, hearts, and flowers. And it leans way into the “every little girl is a princess” philosophy. But if that’s what it takes to get your kid on the toilet, then hallelujah! “Even princesses use the potty,” it declares, and the princess shouts, “Hear ye, hear ye, I have to pee-pee!” The book comes with a cut-out tiara and stickers to get kids on track to being diaper-free.

The Duck Princess, by Zach Wilkinson and Paul Jarvis
Read your kid a princess book that barely uses pink. Instead, whimsical little characters are illustrated on nature photographs, and playful, hand-drawn words tell the story of Juniper the duck princess and her friend, a bear wizard. In a world of lookalike princesses, it’s a true original.

How do you handle princess-mania?

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