Sunday, January 8, 2012

Not Your Average Simpering Princess

I adore fairy tales, but can’t stand most of the popular movies and books little girls seem to love these days – with the whole “Princess” mentality. I was wondering to myself what the difference was. I finally decided it was the heroines. The princesses in the popular go-to books get by on their looks alone, and constantly make demands, just because they are princesses. The ladies in these books are strong of character, intelligent, and ready to take on the world. And yes, they are also kind, loving, and attractive. Here are a few of my all time favorite princess stories – minus the simpering.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

{Also: The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword}

Beauty is a young girl who is sweet and courageous. When her father is captured by a beast, she volunteers to take his place and save his life. Naturally the beast is rather frightening, but Beauty treats him with respect, and eventually overcomes her fright and falls in love – releasing him from a spell cast on him long ago. This book is obviously a retelling of the classic fairy tale, but the characters in this telling come to life vividly, and in spite of the familiarity, the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the book. This book is a bit higher reading level than I’ve generally posted about before, it would probably interest middle school and high school students, or adults, more than the younger crowd.

The other books I love by this author are The Hero and the Crown, and The Blue Sword. They are a bit slow getting started, but they turned out to be my favorite books ever. Well. If I could ever settle on a favorite book ever. They are just as likely to be loved by a male audience as female, with horse racing, desert and mountain survival, epic battles, long lost heroes, and plenty of magic.

Ella Enchanted (But not the movie – just the book!) by Gail Carson Levine

Ella has been ‘blessed’ with obedience. Only… it turns out not to be such a great blessing. In fact, it causes her horrible problems, especially after her parents die, leaving her to deal with cruel stepsisters. It get even worse when she falls in love with the prince – and an evil man plotting to steal the throne discovers she must obey his every command. She must break her curse – or kill her love. This book is a little more lighthearted, easier for a younger audience to read (it’s been a while since I read it, but from what I remember, probably fifth grade up), but written well enough to appeal to high school ages as well.

The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

A young girl in a very small village is having a hard time of it. She is fatherless, and desperately wants to help her family and community, but is not allowed to work in the quarry. Then it is foretold the prince of the land will marry a girl from her province, and all the girls are gathered and taken to school to learn to be suitable bride material. They know at the end of their schooling the prince will choose one of them to be his bride. This could be the chance of a lifetime for her – but as she learns about life outside her little corner of the world, she realizes just how much her community could benefit from this education. She is astonished by how much there is to know – the worth of money, demographics of commerce – the list is unending. And in the end, she realizes it doesn’t matter who the prince chooses. Her life will finally seem worthwhile, because either way she can give her family the help they need to thrive. This book is an excellent read for elementary – perhaps about fourth grade reading level - and up. Despite the girly title, it has plenty of action scenes and roughness to appeal to the male reader also. I was a little wary of reading this book - the description made it sound really boring. I was pleasantly surprised to be immediately engrossed in the plot.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede

Cimmaron is bored. She is bored with sewing, she is bored with learning to curtsy, she is bored with being a princess. So she sets off on a journey to find dragons – and discovers all she ever wanted and more. After all, while she is learning to deal with sneezes that catch things on fire, massive bucket size portions of deserts, and piles of treasure and loot to catalogue, the dragons are having to deal with wizards. And dragons are allergic to wizards. It’s a problem. Cimmaron is adventuresome, brave, and full of ideas though, and she and the dragons come to love and respect each other. This is the first book in the Dragon Chronicles. This entire series is fun, energetic, and easy to read. It is a great introduction to fantasy, and could probably be read even by advanced second or third graders. It would also be a great classroom read, since it is fast paced and appealing even to audiences too young to read it themselves.