Growing Reader

Tutu Strong: Empowering Picture Books for Would-Be-Princesses

by Devorah Blachor

Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill, Blend Images/Getty Images

When my daughter fell down the rabbit hole of princess obsession, I worried what it might mean for her. Beyond the usual concerns (Was she learning to be passive? Was she becoming materialistic? Were we going to go into debt purchasing princess pull-ups and other overpriced princess merchandise?) a deeper fear was lurking. I lived with depression for years. Low self-esteem was at the root. While loving princesses seemed like an innocent preference, when girls learn to base their self-worth on appearance, it bodes poorly for their self-esteem. More than anything else, I didn’t want my daughter to lose her spark and enthusiasm for life as I had.

As parents, we can’t control everything. But I knew there was one thing I could do to help my daughter during her princess years: search for great books that offered a different model. I found wonderful children’s stories that teach qualities such as resilience, independence, and self-acceptance. We discover so much about the world through reading, and I was thrilled to introduce my “Little Princess” to these books.

  • The Paper Bag Princess

    by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

    Some princesses are saved by princes while others are more proactive. In this fun and inventive story, a princess named Elizabeth has her royal life all planned out until a dragon comes along with his fiery breath and spoils everything. But the dragon — and Elizabeth’s dubious fiancé Prince Ronald — are in for a surprise when the Paper Bag Princess demonstrates that she’s no pushover. The fun begins when Elizabeth takes control of the narrative in this delightful and subversive fairy tale.

  • The Gardener

    by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

    The Gardener tells the tale of Lydia Grace Finch, who is sent to live with her grumpy uncle in the big city. Written by Sarah Stewart and beautifully drawn by David Small, this moving epistolary children’s book gently evokes the tragedy of the Depression Era while portraying the quiet strength of one little girl. Instead of being beaten down by a challenging situation, Lydia transforms the people and the place around her with her green thumb, her love of nature, and her unique spirit.

  • A Unicorn Named Sparkle

    by Amy Young

    Things don’t always work out the way we plan them, and people — and pets — are not always what we expect. When Lucy sends for a mail-order unicorn, she dreams of an elegant, well-behaved, and dainty creature who will be admired by all her classmates. Then the “unicorn” arrives and he doesn’t live up to any of Lucy’s lofty fantasies. This charming story teaches worthy lessons about acceptance. We can’t always get what we want, but when we open our hearts to imperfection, we can embrace all the gifts in our lives anyway.

  • Rosie Revere, Engineer

    by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

    Rosie is an innovative inventor, until one day her uncle Fred laughs at one of her quirkier creations. Mortified, Rosie withdraws. She hides her passion and buries her dreams. Fortunately, her great-great-aunt comes to visit, and she is none other than the American icon, Rosie the Riveter. Aunt Rose shares one last dream with Rosie Revere: She wants to fly. The prospect of making her beloved aunt’s dream come true reignites Rosie Revere’s creative spark. Rosie Revere, Engineer helps children learn the merits of trying, failing, then trying again.

  • Ramona Quimby Series

    by Beverly Cleary

    Beverly Cleary’s classic series traces the life of Ramona Quimby, a girl from the suburbs who gets into trouble, fights with her older sister, and witnesses her dad losing his job and her mom entering the workforce. Throughout, Ramona laments the injustices of her ordinary childhood. Though it was written two generations ago, Ramona’s authentic voice still resonates today. Young readers have loved this series for decades because of Cleary’s ability to get inside the head and heart of a spirited and intelligent little girl.

  • The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

    by Mark Pett, illustrated by Gary Rubinstein

    Beatrice Bottomwell never makes mistakes. And while her legion of imaginary fans admire her neatness and efficiency, Beatrice’s infallibility causes her to miss out. She never gets to learn from her errors or be silly like her less careful brother, Carl. On the night of the big talent show, Beatrice is finally forced to confront her imperfections. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes helps young readers learn an important lesson: It’s definitely okay to make mistakes.