In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One last princess

Dear Annie,

I gave you Stories for Free Children?   That sounds in character, but I have no memory of it.

The predominant attitude toward gender has changed so much in the 12 years I've been selling books and toys.  It used to be only the occasional customer -- usually of grandparent age -- who would specify that a gift must be for a girl (or a boy).  Now it's rare that someone doesn't specify a gender-related gift -- for any age.  One of the more startling moments of transition for me came when someone asked for a book for a six month-old.  I showed her
, a delightful book full of pictures of babies eating. She recoiled from the cover and said, "No, I want a book for a girl." That made me wonder for quite a while -- what said "not girl" about that? I think she meant that girls aren't messy. Oy.

I'm happy to hear regular highlights from Cinderella Ate My Daughter as you go.  I'm so glad Peggy Orenstein wrote that book.  Your princess problem is, of course, being created by forces outside of the home.  You just have to keep believing that your values will ultimately trump.  There have been times when I've talked with Lizzie or Mona about something that was central to their lives at age 4 or 5 and they will literally have no memory of it.  So you can always hope..

I swear this is the last time I'll talk about royalty in children's books for a while, but your mention of Stories for Free Children reminded me of a book I was so happy to give you when you were around four: The Queen Who Couldn't Bake Gingerbread, by Dorothy Van Woerkom.  A king sets out to find a bride who is beautiful and wise and can bake gingerbread.  Various princesses try to please him, to no avail.  But when he asks the wise Princess Calliope if she can bake gingerbread she replies, no, but can you play the slide trombone?  Neither can satisfy the other's heart's desire, but they decide to marry anyway and agree not to discuss the longed-for skill.  They can't keep the promise -- there's a fight, the forbidden words (gingerbread! trombone!) are spoken, and they both stomp off to opposite ends of the castle.  Soon sounds of a slide trombone being played by a novice float from the queen's tower, and the smell of burnt gingerbread wafts from the king's.  Each finds happiness in learning what they wanted, reconciliation takes place, and all's well.  This book has so many lessons: about unrealistic expectations, about grown-ups fighting and making up, about working for what you want.  And it's a lot of fun.  Out of print, but findable.



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