She was SOOOOO cute, this little girl who came rushing into the shop, her mother a few steps behind... The little one was completely decked out in princess attire, adorable. While many of our friends are quite comfortable being champions of little boys who want to dress up as princesses, there are some mixed emotions around the idea of little girls being over-enthusiastic about princess culture. Why? Too often princesses have been portrayed as beautiful outside without much inside, stereotypically white, thin, with perfect teeth and hair, and all-too-often needing to be saved by a handsome prince in order to have any worth at all. This picture doesn't exactly lead to high self-esteem among girls who don't quite fit into those glass slippers!
Shaping Youth's Amy Jussel, who has spent many years working to shine a bright light on media's unhealthy manipulation of children and empower parents, teachers and children to overcome the toxic messages of omnipresent marketing, has taken her own approach to princesses:
In my house, I brushed off princesses dismissively rather than give them any ‘heat' at all, preferring to subversively turn stereotypes upside down with a wink and a nod reading fairytales like The Paper Bag Princess (who does NOT live happily ever after with Ronald) and Dinorella (the dinosaur that saves ‘Duke Dudley's tail, quite literally). Sure, we read the classics, but it became a favorite past-time to add a dollop of irony to the usual palate of kid-lit and lack of cultural diversity in the princess posse.
Amy Jussel has a fantastic post about princesses on her Shaping Youth web site (click here). She knows that you can't overcome the massive amount of money spent to market to our kids by trying to shield our eyes and cover our ears. Instead, you have to flip things around through education and a little bit of subversion.
Reach And Teach is all about subversively turning stereotypes upside down which is why we love books like My Princess Boy and Goosebottom Books' Dastardly Dames series. We're always on the lookout for more titles like these so when Setsu Shigematsu reached out last year to tell us about a series of books she and a team of folks were working on, with princesses as the lead characters, but not your typical princesses, we were intrigued.
Imagine you are hearing some movie commercial music with a deep-voice saying "In a world where evil multinational conglomerates seek to despoil the planet and enslave all its people, where toxic waste dumps spew poison into the rivers and free-thinking people are turned into mindless drones, who will come to the rescue to save the innocents and the entire world from death, despair and destruction?"
The Guardian Princcesses will save the world! Using a combination of compassion, quick-thinking, keen intelligence, community organizing, and of course a little bit of magic, these princesses will help overcome the most nefarious evil-doers around. The Guardian Princess team has just released the first three books in their series, which can be purchased separately in paperback or combined in one hardcover book. Here's how the team describes the first three stories:
Princess Terra and King Abaddon
Princess Terra is the Guardian of the Land. Her role is to care for and protect the land that allows her fellow people to lead healthy and balanced lives. All is well until the greedy King Abaddon comes and tries to take it away and make it his own. How will Princess Terra stop King Abaddon from forcing them off their land? In addition to providing a wealth of inspiring lessons and ethical models for our children, our books are also designed to meet the current Common Core State Standards. www.corestandards.org Includes Etymology Chart, Glossary, Common Core Discussion Questions and Bonus Activity.
Princess Vinnea and the Gulavores
Princess Vinnea is the Guardian of Plant Life in the land of Hortensis. At harvest time, a mysterious stranger appears with Gulavores that destroy their crops and gardens. He then feeds the people his unnatural food which makes them ill. How will Princess Vinnea help her people? In addition to providing a wealth of inspiring lessons and ethical models for our children, our books are also designed to meet the current Common Core State Standards. www.corestandards.org Includes Etymology Chart, Glossary, Common Core Discussion Questions and Bonus Activity.
Princess Mariana and Lixo Island
Princess Mariana is the Guardian of the Seas. One day, Princess Mariana and her friends discover dangerous garbage that is polluting their beautiful waters. This garbage comes from Lixo Island, a land of trash and filth ruled by the Spumas. How will she prevent the Spumas on Lixo Island from harming marine life? In addition to providing a wealth of inspiring lessons and ethical models for our children, our books are also designed to meet the current Common Core State Standards. www.corestandards.org Includes Etymology Chart, Glossary, Common Core Discussion Questions and Bonus Activity.
So what are the people behind this new series of books trying to do? Here's what they say:
The Guardian Princesses provide a welcome and much needed alternative to the current princess culture which has become a multi-billion dollar industry. The "traditional" princess stories marketed to our children emphasize external beauty-as-virtue. The stereotypical story of a damsel-in-distress who needs to be saved by a prince teaches children that a girl's destiny and happiness is to be coupled with a man. We are not "anti-romance," but we believe that children should not be encouraged to focus on finding prince charming or a beautiful princess their life priority.
We thus aim to shift the focus of girls' self-esteem and self-worth. We want to encourage children's empowerment through their full development, promoting both their independence and a deeper understanding of the vital interdependence between people and other living beings.
Reach And Teach says:
How do we feel about these first three books? We like them! We like the way the princesses think (pretty sharp young ladies who have both book-smarts and street-smarts), their compassion for all creatures and the land, their use of community-building and princess teamwork, and their ethnic / color diversity. The stories are compelling and mirror real-life quandries communities across the world face.
The first story felt a little heavy handed (King Abaddon trying to buy Princess Terra's community) but still fun to read and filled with plenty of fodder for great discussions. The next two books took themselves a little less seriously and were more fun to read, though still dealing with some pretty weighty issues.
We'd like to see a little more diversity in future princesses and know the Guardian Princess team already has a few good variations in the works. Color and/or ethnic diversity clearly do abound in the princesses and all the other characters portrayed in the first three stories (giant kudos here), but the princesses themselves can use a little more shape and feature diversity. A girl with Down Syndrome, for example, will not see herself reflected in these princesses faces. Nor will a girl with a fuller body type or more "average" features see herself in these stories. The villains and plots of future tales could also be a bit more subtle, and perhaps a few could be female instead of male. We like these first three stories and are excitedly looking forward to future releases.
Buy the Book:
Click here to buy an "Heirloom" copy of the inaugural trilogy.