Recently a friend of mine asked me if I had any recommendations for non-Caucasian princess books for her toddler and preschool-aged daughters, and specifically if I knew of any Latina princess stories. I started thinking and...couldn't come up with anything! On the hunt I went, determined not to let my friend down! Weeding through the scores of books listed on Amazon (yes, I use Amazon as a research tool!), I found a couple that look like good ones:
While I haven't read this particular book, the fact that it was written by Jane Yolen is an indication that this book has merit and is worth a peek. Ms. Yolen has written hundreds of books for children and is regarded as one of the greats in children's lit. The cover art is very appealing to me, and although most of the princesses have peach skin (one has brown and one has dark peach/light brown), I liked the fact that two of them have red hair, two have brown, two have black, and only one has blond hair. (For those who don't know me, I have blond hair myself!) The back of the book says this: "Some princesses wear their jewels while fixing things with power tools." Yes! "These princesses dig in the dirt, kick soccer balls, and splash in muddy puddles - all while wearing their sparkly crowns" says the cover flap. Now that's a princess book I can stand behind!
"Princess Truly and the Hungry Bunny Problem" was given 5 stars by twenty reviewers at Amazon (and 5 stars on Goodreads, too.) While the cutesy, Precious Moments-esque style of illustration is not my favorite, I can appreciate its sweetness and innocence that will appeal to many. The author, Kelly Greenawalt (who, by the way, is also an adoptive mom!) has this to say about her book (quoted from babybighair.com): “It’s an enchanting tale that inspires little girls to learn, to be helpful, to love their curly hair, and to use their imaginations. Princess Truly is a character that little girls can identify with and that parents WANT them to identify with. It is important for us to teach our children to love the skin they are in, to be passionate about helping our kids develop confidence." I couldn't have said it better myself!
Classic fairy tales retold and illustrated in an African setting? I'm on board! In regards to princess stories, Rachel Isadora has re-imagined "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "The Princess and the Pea." Now while I respect and support this concept, while I think the illustrations are beautifully crafted, I don't think the text is exceptional in any way. It's fine. It gets the job done. The story is told. But this book and Ms. Isadora's other re-imagined tales definitely deserve a read with your kiddos, and maybe even a place on your shelf, if only to show your children that you do not have to have flowing blond hair, peach-colored skin, and a European heritage to be a princess!
For the slightly older crowd (say, ages 6 and up), there is "Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella" by Robert D. San Souci. This tale is told from the perspective of the godmother and is infused with French creole words and phrases. I love when stories are told from a different perspective than the norm, so that children can get a well-rounded view of an event and hopefully learn that theirs isn't the only view to take into account! Paired with the vibrant illustrations of Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Brian Pinkney, this princess book is not to be missed!
There are so many Cinderella retellings out there, and I'm not about to review each one, or even one from each cultural tradition that can be found; however, I will note just a few more, as I believe that these are under-represented and worth knowing about. "Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story" is also written by Robert D. San Souci (see "Cendrillon" above.) "The Rough-Face Girl" is an Algonquin Cinderella tale by Rafe Martin and illustrated by acclaimed children's book artist, David Shannon. These two stories are very similar to one another. I believe both to be well written and beautifully and accurately illustrated, but of the two I do slightly prefer "The Rough-Face Girl" if I needed to choose. "Sootface" sings this song to herself to bring comfort, "Oh, I am thinking. Oh, I am dreaming. That even ugly as I am, I will someday find a husband." This may be culturally appropriate for the time, but I do not want my daughter to believe that to have value she needs "to get a man." The story does vindicate itself somewhat in the end though, as it demonstrates the importance of virtue (courage, kindness) over beauty. All in all, two good books to add to your Cinderella collection!
And now to speak to the beginning of this post where I said that my friend was especially interested in Latina princess stories! Well...sad to say, there's a decidedly large gap in the publishing industry for such stories! I have searched and searched, talked with guru's in the children's bookselling industry (the ladies at Pooh's Corner Book Store), and besides Disney's Sophia (which is hotly debated whether she is Latina or not), this is what I found:
More Cinderella stories! This Mexican Cinderella story was written and illustrated by another master in the field of children's literature, Tomie dePaola. His bold illustrations pair beautifully with the text, infused with Spanish words and phrases. (A quick word of caution on this story (and other Cinderella tales): There is talk of the death of not just one, but both parents. Sensitive children may be scared by this, wondering if this can and will happen to them. This story also says that "Poor Adelita was an orphan." Fellow adoptive families, just wanted to give you the head's up! I always appreciate knowing whether a book or movie could trigger a talk about my children's adoption story.) This is a very well written and beautiful book that I recommend reading with your kids!
Even though "Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition," might at first glance appear to be just another Cinderella story, it does appear to have elements that render it a must-read of Cinderella tales. I like how these were stated by Kendergirl on Amazon: "The focus and character development of the often forgotten prince may make this tale more interesting to boys, as the male character is the hero on a quest, rather than the reward at the end of a girl's suffering. Furthermore, the tale is woven of realistic elements (rather than the fairy godmother, singing mice, and glass slipper of tradition), explains why the father remarries, and includes a period of grief after the mother's death." I haven't read this book yet, but it's now on my list!
I would love for this list of great non-Caucasian princess books to grow, so if you know of any (such as "Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters") which I didn't mention above, please let me know so I can share them!
I am excited to start sharing my thoughts, recommendations, and resources on great children's books with you! As you join me on this journey, I'd love to hear your thoughts, recommendations, and resources, too! Let's journey together friends, increasing awareness of the need for, and the availability of, great multicultural books in every classroom, school, and home!