The Paper Bag Princess
by Robert Munsch; ill. by Michael Martchenko
Annick Press, 1992
In honor of my first blogiversary, I’ve decided to do something every blogger has to do at some point or another: write a series. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it!
If you have regular contact with young girls, princesses are probably on your radar. Even if said girls are royally indifferent, princesses are inescapable.
Every type of commodity that might possibly pass through the hands of young girls has a princess permutation. Princesses are on girls’ clothing, dishes, school supplies, toys, bed linens . . .
And, of course, they’re in girls’ books.
The fairy tale princess is probably the best recognized, and certainly one of the most pervasive, female archetypes in girls’ literature (especially literature for very young girls).
Which is unfortunate, since the average fairy tale princess is anything but inspiring. Pretty, passive, delicate, and endangered, yes. Inspiring, no.
So, what’s a savvy grownup to do? Well, read this blog, for one thing (how’s that for a shameless plug?). But, seriously, how do you break the archetype, especially if you’re dealing with a girl who really likes princesses?
Since I have a young daughter, I’ve asked myself the same question. And this series is my answer.
I’m happy to say that, although inspiring princess books are somewhat scarce, they do exist, and for all ages. I’m going to highlight some of my favorites, starting with Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess.
One of many stories Munsch invented to entertain day-care tots, The Paper Bag Princess is brilliant in its brevity.
This is the story of Elizabeth, who initially seems to be a typical fairy-tale princess. She’s beautiful, rich, and besotted with her fiance, Ronald.
But when a dragon destroys all her possessions and carries off her prince, Elizabeth rises to the occasion. With only a paper bag left to her name (hence the title), our heroine sets off on a quest to rescue Ronald.
She braves the wilderness, tricks the dragon, and saves the prince. And, when Ronald proves to be more snooty than grateful, Elizabeth blithely calls him a bum and dances off into the sunset.
Characters aside, the story itself is very satisfying. I love the way Munsch mixes up a variety of traditional story elements (faerie, the trickster, a quest) and then seasons everything with a dash of parody and sly humor.
There are twists around every corner, but they’re entertaining and energizing instead of unbelievable. And Michael Martchenko does a fabulous job of communicating mood and personality through the characters’ facial expressions and body language.
But Elizabeth, of course, is the story’s piece de resistance. She’s brave, persistent, crafty, and independent.
And best of all, she’s self-confident enough to recognize superficiality for what it is. Her message for Ronald: treat me right, or don’t treat with me at all.
Not a bad lesson for little girls to learn.