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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
written and illustrated by Babette Cole
Princess Smartypants did not want to get married. She enjoyed being a Ms.
Because she was very pretty and rich, all the princes wanted her to be their Mrs.
Princess Smartypants wanted to live in her castle with her pets and do exactly as she pleased.
"It's high time you smartened yourself up," said her Mother the Queen. "Stop messing about with those animals and find yourself a husband!"
--Princess Smartypants, by Babette Cole, p. 1-5.
Princess Smartypants doesn't want to get married; she wants to live with her pets (large monsters) and do whatever she wants. But suitors keep coming because she's pretty and rich, and her parents are pressuring her to marry—so Princess Smartypants sets some tasks for the princes that require great courage, intelligence, and skill (rescuing her from a glass tower while a monster looks on, gathering firewood from a forest of live trees that run). All the princes fail, except smug Prince Swashbuckle, who seemed determined to marry her. Princess Smartypants didn't want that, so she turned him into a toad, and was left alone from then on.
Cole's laugh-out-loud story is a rollicking good time with an important message—that girls can be just as, if not more, brave, intelligent, and independent than boys.
The text is upbeat, lively, and conversational, and the story moves swiftly. There is just the right amount of words per image to move the story along, and it moves from problem to climax to satisfying ending smoothly. The story contains humor and word play for both children (Price Bashthumb is asked to chop some wood, her mother goes shopping for underwear) and adults (Prince Pelvis is challenged to a roller-disco marathon, Prince Compost is asked to stop slugs eating her garden). And there are strong, positive messages for girls and boys about respecting girls.
The bright ink-and-watercolor, light-hearted, funny illustrations perfectly compliment the text, and add great humor. (Princess Smartypants sitting on a throne with birds for chair legs and an elephant for the arm, painting her fingernails while ignoring the princes who are courting her). The paintings are free and loosely drawn. The illustrations also complete the story; without them, the true meaning behind the words would be lost on many pages (her pets are monsters, but we see this only through the illustrations, and in each of the tasks that the princes fail, we at first see them fail through the illustrations).
In a society that is overwhelmingly sexist and misogynist, where girls are encouraged to see boys as their heroes and to not depend on their own strengths and resources, and where so many stories have girls being married off, this is an important book for girls (and boys) to read. It's full of strong messages that are given through humor, such as that it's okay to be independent and your own true self; that girls should be respected and seen as individuals, and not just admired for their appearance; that a girl doesn't have to marry if she doesn't want to; that girls can be independent and happy; and that girls can be just as—and more—intelligent, adventurous, brave, and independent as boys. This funny, valuable book turns traditional, sexist fairy tales on their heads.
Want more books?
Go back to Inner Strength: Strong Girls--And Boys, Too to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
Or, go to Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach to see all of the books.