Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Read: The Apple-Pip Princess

I don't have a lot of nice things to say about princess books, which is a shame, because I have nothing against a good princess. Alyce loves princesses probably almost more than she loves me (but not quite) and the dilemma I face is trying to expand her princess universe outside of Disney. (Or, Barbie.) Trust me, I've tried. There has been a lot written about why the Disney Princess brand is troubling for girls (and boys, too, though I'd like to see more written about that), and while I'm not ready to ban Ariel and Sleeping Beauty from my house (though I have considered it) I am committed to offering Alyce and Shira alternatives. Sometimes I look for stories that portray princesses with a little more depth than, say, a girl who wants to leave her family and change her own physiology to marry a man she has never actually spoken to. Other times I simply want to introduce my children to a world painted in colours other than pastel pink and purple.

I found Jane Ray's The Apple-Pip Princess at the library a few months ago and tucked it in our pile with hopes that Alyce might read it with me (rather than instantly dismissing the book on account of the lack of light purple, see above re: Disney). It was a very good discovery because it turns out that the book is both visually stunning (look at the blues, greens, and browns!) and teaches readers the values of kindness, memory, and caring for the land without being heavy-handed.

The story begins with a king grieving the death of his wife, trying to decide which of his three daughters should inherit his kingdom. He asks the princesses to impress him, and he gives them seven days to do so. His first two daughters, a rather selfish pair, build enormous towers at the centre of town, with hopes that these towers will reflect their own greatness and royal tendencies. Unfortunately, the townspeople are forced to hand over their sole possessions (like the wood from their homes) in order to construct the towers. But the princesses, convinced of their destiny, carelessly ignore the needs of their people. 

The king's youngest daughter has no idea what she could do to impress her father. She takes a moment to look over a box that used to belong to her mother, a special gift she inherited after her death, for inspiration. Her mother had loved the land of the kingdom so much that she had saved tiny pieces of it, tucked safely inside a box: a few raindrops, some sunlight, a tiny piece of a rainbow, a feather, a spider's web, a bird song, and a tiny apple pip (which I learned is a seed, because I had no idea). She looks around and sees that in the years since her mother's death the land has grown brittle and dry. The king, it seems, ignored the needs of the land in his grief.

His youngest daughter decides to revive the land using the gifts from her mother. Over the course of the seven days she plants her seed, and the seeds offered up by the townspeople, and cares for them with rain, sunshine, and all the treasures in her mother's box. Her actions inspire the town to work together for the first time in years, joining forces to breathe life back into the kingdom. She meets new friends and together they do the hard work of caring for the forgotten land. All the while her sisters sit perched atop their towers, waiting for the king's approval. 

The young princess worries that she's not done enough, but when she wakes on the seventh day she finds the land full of life, filled with colours, new plants and trees, and of course, an energized kingdom. Her father is grateful for her efforts and her commitment to both her family and her kingdom. The crown, of course, is hers. We are left with the great celebrations of the kingdom, including her sisters who have retreated from their towers.

I couldn't love this story more. But more importantly, neither could Alyce. All princesses are welcome in this house, but this story holds a special place.

Can you suggest any alternative princess stories? I'd love to expand my list (we already read The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch.)

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