Discovering Diversity – Princesses in Picture Books
If you asked children in a preschool or kindergarten, ‘How does a princess behave?’ or ‘What does a princess look like?’ what sort of answers would you get? Would perceptions extend beyond Disney’s version of Cinderella, Ariel and Rapunzel?
How might children describe or draw a princess?
Is she helpless or is she capable?
Is she in danger and waiting for a brave prince to rescue her or is she resourceful and able to take care of herself?
Is she always physically beautiful? What is her hair color?
What sort of clothing does she wear?
Is she intelligent, quick-witted, wise, bold, courageous?
Is she kind to others?
Thoughts of a grade five student ~
“A princess is a girl who has a dress and she’s very pretty. She’s the king’s daughter and he can choose someone to be the prince to marry her. Some books have princesses and some don’t have princesses. You might have seen movies about one or maybe you haven’t. Princesses often appear in fairy tales.”
Here are some terrific picture books that depict princesses in unconventional ways
Lyra’s mama tells her that she is an African Princess but she is not convinced. She and her family in a big city and she has freckles. Her schoolmates tease her and prompt her to question the story she has been told by her mama. One wintry day she learns that she and her family are going to travel to meet Taunte May, an African Princess. Lyra counts the days until the family boards a plane to the Caribbean. Once there, Lyra discovers and embraces her very rich heritage.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
Rhyming picture book about individuality, stereotyping, gender roles published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Vivid illustrations and cheerful text highlight Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, a look at the many ways young princesses express themselves. Perhaps they play baseball or soccer or they roll on the ground. Whether working on a construction site, riding a bike or planting a large garden, these princesses challenge stereotypes and wear sparkly crowns.
When a nasty dragon smashes her castle, burns her clothes and carries away her betrothed, Princess Elizabeth decides she must rescue him. Elizabeth’s wardrobe is in ruins so wears a paper bag as she follows the path of destruction to the dragon’s cave. Once there, Elizabeth uses a series of clever tricks to rescue Ronald. He is not at all grateful for her efforts on his behalf and gets exactly what he deserves.
The Princess and the Pea was originally published by Hans Christian Andersen in the nineteenth century. Rachel Isadora sets this version of the traditional story in Africa. A prince wants to meet and marry a ‘real’ princess. His travels take him all over the world but he fails to meet ‘the one.’
One evening there was a terrible storm. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the gate, and the old king went to open it. Sure enough, there is a sodden young woman outside the gate. She claims to be a princess but her appearance suggests otherwise. The queen decides to test her by putting a pea into her bed.
Beautiful collage illustrations nicely match the exotic African setting and costumes.
Emperor Huang-Ti is very fond of his two sons but never speaks with his daughter, Princess Hsi-Ling Chi. One afternoon, she and her mother visit the royal gardens. When a cocoon falls from a tree and lands in her mother’s teacup, Hsi-Ling Chi notices the cocoon unraveling in the hot liquid and soon sees a long strand of thread. Not realizing the length of the thread, her mother agrees to let her attach one end of the thread to her waist and walk away. Hsi-Ling Chi is astonished as the long, silky thread permits her to travel through the royal gardens, leave the grounds of the royal palace and explore the world beyond its gates. She travels into the mountains, knowing that she must be cautious because there is a dangerous dragon lurking nearby. Despite being careful to cross a bridge quietly, the dragon awakens and frightens Hsi-Ling Chi. The thread is broken and Hsi-Ling Chi is lost. While searching for the thread, she meets an old man. He is weaving thread from silkworm cocoons into beautiful, shimmering fabric. Hsi-Ling Chi learns from him and eventually returns home to share her discovery with her mother. Her mother instructs the royal weavers to create a new robe using the new material. The Emperor is captivated by Hsi-Ling Chi’s discovery and she becomes known as the Silk Princess.
Painterly illustrations are a wonderful match for this story of adventure and discovery. Best suited to kindergarten age (and older) children, there is considerable text – some in white and some in black. The font choice may make this a difficult read-aloud in a large group setting.
Free Printables – Crown Writing Paper and Royalty Picture Dictionary
Royalty / Fairy Tale Picture Dictionary
Free printable fairy tale picture dictionary for readers and writers in kindergarten and grade one.
You will also be interested in our post about grandparents and family diversity.