Boy Detective let me know early that he did NOT like princesses. “Mom,” he said, “I like FAIRIES, not princesses.” Strangely, though, he loves every princess book in this list. It’s amazing how a good story can transcend genre prejudices, isn’t it? And I enjoyed reading them as much as Boy Detective did.
I also enjoyed finding out that our library is exploding with sassy, spunky, athletic princesses! Unfortunately the vast majority of them are white, reflecting the diversity crisis in children’s books in general. (I delayed this post for quite a while searching for more princesses of color.) So if you have any books that could help diversify this list, please leave me suggestions in the comments.
One Riddle, One Answer by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Linda S. Wingerter. Aziza is the daughter of a powerful sultan who wants to find his beloved daughter a good husband. But his advisors just recommend their own sons! Aziza comes up with her own plan for finding a husband, and since her dad knows she’s a smart lady, he signs on. Aziza loves numbers, you see, so she poses a riddle. Whoever answers it correctly is clearly compatible. It’s a gentle, clever book, and the happily ever after feels so good that I dare you not to smile! My number-loving son thought this book was “SO GOOD!”
The Princesses Have a Ball by Teresa Bateman, with art by Lynne Cravath. A re-telling of the fairy tale about princesses who disappear from their rooms each night and dance the night away. These princesses, however, have a different passion. The local cobbler figures it out and helps the girls reveal their secret to their father the King. Consequences are not as dire as the girls had feared, and they all live happily ever after. One thing especially I liked: the princesses and their dad are a single parent and multi-racial family, AND at no point does the story feel compelled to give an explanation for that.
The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray. I was SO glad to find this gorgeous, quiet book about not one, but three princesses of color. Three sisters, who are given a task by their father: do something to make him proud, and become ruler of the kingdom. The youngest, Serenity, looks at what her sisters create and chooses a different path. This is a lovely fairy tale enjoyable on its own merits, but also a wonderful contribution to helping children understand leadership and community-building.
Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel by James Proimos. Patricia knows she destined for greatness! Even if those around her don’t. But she gets more than she bargained for when she becomes the Princess of the hippos. Who knew there were so many princess duties?! The art is in four colors (black, white, purple, and yellow) and perfectly silly enough for the story. Fans of Where The Wild Things Are will appreciate this homage. I appreciated that Patricia is not the willowy little girl of most children’s books!
The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch. Paulina the Princess, somewhat inconvenienced by her father quitting his kingship, is sure that she can win the hand of Prince Drupert so she can get back to princessing. But she apparently doesn’t have the right attitude. Even if she did, the tests are completely ridiculous, and the other princesses are backstabbers! Plus, if she loses, she may be executed by Dupert’s bossy Queen mother. What’s a girl to do? Hint: it may lead to a chain with franchises throughout the kingdom. Paulina’s no-b.s. attitude and her conflicts with the Queen are really funny, and the story’s “happily ever after” resolution is quite satisfying. Kids familiar with classic fairy tales will get a lot of the extra jokes in the art.
Cornelia Funke’s The Princess Knight, with illustrations by Kerstin Meyer. The kind of book people would probably call “girl power.” But it’s quieter than that, focused and confident. Violet is incensed when her father offers her hand in marriage as the prize for a jousting tournament. Her youngest brother offers to win the tournament to save her, but she says “Thank you, but I think I’d better see to it myself.” Her dad may end up regretting all that swordplay, jousting, and horsemanship training she’s had. The art in this one uses interesting multi-level page layouts that remind me of medieval tapestries maybe? Anyway, it’s cool.
Edward Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess, with art by Michael Martchenko. This is probably well-known to many parents already, but I couldn’t leave it off the list just because it’s popular! Princess and Prince attacked by dragon, Prince kidnapped, Princess saves Prince, Prince criticizes her outfit… and she makes the only sensible decision! Love this book.
The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, illustrated by Christine Davenier. (Yes, THAT Julie Andrews, and Hamilton is her daughter.) Geraldine, the main character, is just lovely. She embraces the fairy princess role 100% and it’s charming as all get out. In her world, fairy princesses look pretty and have refined taste, and also have scabby knees, support their friends, and embrace their creativity. She’s the epitome of the kid who picks an identity and really lives it. The book is funny and sweet.
Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke, with art by Kerstin Meyer. This is amazing on so many levels. My favorite aspect is it shows how an adult can learn from a child, as long as the adult is willing to slow down and listen. So often we imagine that children learn from adults and it’s a one way street. But here, when the Princess decides her usual role just isn’t working for her, it’s her father the King who gets the education.
Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger. Viola goes to Camp Princess hoping to become the darling of her kingdom despite her wild ways. This book’s ending will be no surprise to adults, but the gorgeous art and the karate chops more than make up for it. Also, there’s glitter on the cover of the hardback, so my six year old son is thrilled. (Please be reassured, the glitter is firmly attached. I wouldn’t have let it in my house if it wasn’t.) The gals at Camp Princess are slightly more diverse than the standard background cast in most children’s books, and there’s a Star Wars joke, so I was happy.
The Second Princess by Hiawyn Oram, with art by Tony Ross. Oh, the poor Second Princess. She is so tired of being second… so she hatches a plot to get her older sister out of the way for good. It doesn’t work out quite as she had hoped. Instead her parents come up with something better. It’s funny and heartwrenching in turns, and it’s a good story about sharing your feelings to solve problems without being an after-school special. My only caveat is this: the Second Princess seems to have some legitimate complaints, when you compare her clothes and toys with her sister’s, as well as how staff treat them both. I’m not sure if that was intended as a depiction of her feelings or as reality. If it’s the latter, it seems really bizarre, because her parents obviously love her. I don’t think my son noticed, but I was a little disturbed by the disparity.
Part-time Princess by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cambria Evans. Out of all the “I’m secretly a princess” picture books I’ve read, this one struck me because one of this gal’s primary responsibilities is firefighting. She has a Royal Air Balloon and a red fire hat and a hose and everything. Of course she does all kinds of more classic princessy things too, like learning fencing and circus arts, and riding in her motorcycle which has a sidecar for her dog. Wait, those aren’t traditional princess activities…? Anyway. It’s a delightful little mashup. The art is sweet, and so is the relationship between the girl and her mama. And you can tell they know their target audience, because there’s glitter on the cover. (Oh wait, is their target audience not my elementary school age son? My mistake!)
Princess Patty Meets Her Match by Charise Mericle Harper. In a very fractured fairy tale style, Princess Patty decides that “Someday Your Prince Will Come” is getting boring. So, she and her pet starfish Miss Loverpuff set out to find this guy. It’s harder than it seemed, though, since her neighborhood is apparently full of princes that need serious help! The fairy godmother’s not much better. So what’s next? No worries, there’s a happily ever after. Very fun if the kiddo in your life is familiar with traditional princess tales, and probably even if they aren’t. It’s not one of the deepest children’s picture books, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good light, entertaining read.
The Princess Who Had No Kingdom by Ursula Jones, with art by Sarah Gibb. So whimsical, in a good way! The princess with no kingdom rides through the land with a cart and a pony, making her living delivering items you can’t mail. She hopes to find her kingdom someday, but in the meantime she has a pretty good life (and a good head on her shoulders, in my opinion). A chance meeting with dowager duchess Wilhelmina leads to an invitation to a royal ball. At the ball, there’s a quarrel between potential suitors… and an ending that isn’t what you’d expect, but is far more lovely thanks to the Princess’s good sense.
I do have two complaints. First, the foil on the cover seems gratuitous when Sarah Gibb’s art is so charming. Second, I’m a little done with depictions of women in art where their waists are cinched in to be only slightly bigger than their necks. Historical accuracy just isn’t that important unless you’re curating a museum exhibit! Still, I do love this book.
Here are a couple of books about queens, too. They’re kind of princessy, right?
Okay, it’s not a princess book, but it fits here just fine! The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, illustrated by Kady ManDonald Denton. Rose wakes up one morning feeling royal. A few minutes with a jewelry box and the make-believe basket transforms her into the Queen of France. What I love about this book is how her parents beautifully follow Rose’s imagination throughout the rest of the day. It’s quietly funny and a nice family story.
The Unruly Queen by E. S. Redmond. Uncontrollable Minerva von Vyle has been through 52 nannies in 52 weeks. Then the 53rd nanny shows up. Redmond has produced some hilarious detailed drawings to accompany the 53rd nanny’s reaction to Minerva’s antics. The rhyming text is SO well written and sophisticated (no sing-song here!), with rich vocabulary that respects children’s intellects. I really appreciated that the root of Minerva’s behavior isn’t just “she’s a bad kid.” This book provided a jumping-off point in our household to discuss children’s behavior, but also what makes a good parent.
And that’s the list! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!