Monday, 24 September 2012

The Worst Princess, by Anna Kemp & Sara Ogilvie

“Once upon a time, in a tower near you,” begins The Worst Princess. “Lived a lonely princess - the Princess Sue. ‘One day,’ she sighed, ‘my prince will come, but I wish he’d move his royal bum.’ ”

How could anyone fail not to be moved such a plea? It’s brilliant.

Princess Sue knows exactly how she’s supposed to behave - she’s read all the books on how to be a princess, after all. And then, at last, a prince turns up and frees her from her tower. “Whopee!” she cries, thinking of all the fun she can finally start having. But this prince is not a modern man; he has other ideas. Instead of setting her free, he takes her to his own castle where she finds herself pretty much back in the same position: confined to a tower. Princess Sue, however, is having none of this; recruiting the local dragon to her cause, she escapes, running off to do all the things princes traditionally get to do and princesses don’t.

This is a beautifully straight forward story that combines the ideas of fulfilling your potential, being true to yourself, standing up for your rights, and - at it’s core - female emancipation. I find it amazing that all of these ideas are conveyed to me in a short story that basically tells of a princess breaking free of the chains of expectation and turning those expectations on their head. Its a very subtle yet powerful message for young children, wrapped up in the guise of a princess story. To be able to put this idea across so succinctly and enjoyably shows truly masterful storytelling by Anna Kemp. It’s genius because little girls who like princesses will enjoy the story simply because it has a princess in it - and yet, little girls who don’t like princess should enjoy it too, because she’s not very good at being a typical princess!

Princess Sue’s tale is told all in rhyme, and is very funny. She’s certainly a personality that any prince would have difficulty in taming, and the expressions that Sara Ogilvie gives her in the pictures are priceless. The pictures have lots of extra little things in them too - a preening peacock where the prince tells Sue “You wear dresses, are we clear?”, a crocodile hiding under the castle moat, and Princess Sue wears yellow converse boots instead of glittery sandals. The fact that the prince is a complete nitwit is made obvious from the beginning too, as he describes his journey to Sue’s tower. “I fought, I won,” is accompanied by a picture of him pointing his sword at a cowering frog; “I shocked, I awed,” is accompanied by a picture of him giving a cute little bunny a dirty look. So it’s not a massive surprise when the dragon vanquishes him so easily.

Princess Sue is a strong, confident girl set to take the world by storm. She isn't going to take no for an answer. A darn good role model if ever there was one. Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing dresses and sparkly shoes, but it’s good to have a choice.

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