Frozen (2013) was released just shy of 2 years into me being the parent of a daughter. I was at the height of my determination that the princess-industrial complex was not going to dominate her childhood. Continue reading I’m excited for Frozen 2 – but not a new wave of sexist merchandise
I want to celebrate some Disney Princesses… of colour. Continue reading Celebrating Disney Princesses of Colour
Seeing images of Emma Watson as Belle from Disney’s live-action remake of their animated hit Beauty and the Beast, reminds me of one of the issues with the way the Disney Princess brand is marketed and used by licensees.
As a female role model, Belle is a great character. She is compassionate, a book lover, has a thirst for adventure, and a yearning to explore the world.
Yet when I first showed the animated Beauty and the Beast to my daughter, I asked her what she most liked about Belle. Her answer? When she wore the yellow dress.
For a matter of minutes Belle wears a yellow ballgown. But this is the image that you see used constantly on all manner of Disney Princess merchandise from lunch boxes to greetings cards. It is so ubiquitous, it has become the defining image of the film in little girls’ minds long before they have seen it. The same is true for other Disney Princesses such as Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Cinderella.
One of the few things that gives me hope about the live-action movie is Emma Watson. She has become an outspoken champion for women’s rights, a UN Women’s goodwill ambassador, and even runs a feminist book club!
It gives me hope that she can work from within to limit the potential damage of the reductive Disney Princess branding – otherwise her portrayal of Belle may also end up being seen as simply a love struck girl in a yellow party dress.
There’s also the whole Stockholm Syndrome issue, but that’s for another day…
Image Copyright Walt Disney Pictures, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.
Zog and the Flying Doctors is not only another delightful children’s book from writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler – it’s a great story to counter traditional princess stereotypes.
Since Donaldson and Scheffler’s first collaboration with A Squash and A Squeeze in 1993 their books – including the commercial juggernaut that is The Gruffalo (1999) and the follow up The Gruffalo’s Child (2005) – have delighted children (and parents) with their engaging stories, delightful rhyming prose, and irresistible illustrations.
The pair’s latest collaboration is another sequel, and to a particular favourite of mine. 2010’s Zog told the tale of the eponymous dragon in training who struggles to keep up with his lessons. Over the years a girl named Pearl is a recurring figure in Zog’s life, helping him in his times of need.
Pearl is revealed to be a princess, and in a key plot point she enthusiastically relinquishes her royal role to become the doctor she always yearned to be. She even inspires the dashing knight who came to ‘save’ her from Zog, Gadabout the Great, to do the same.
Zog and the Flying Doctors
The sequel Zog and the Flying Doctors picks up where Zog ended. Pearl and Gadabout are the flying doctors of the title (they’re the doctors, Zog does the flying part), and the three of them roam the land helping various creatures in need of medical assistance – there’s the sunburnt mermaid, a unicorn with an extra horn, the Lion with the flu.
To my delight, despite the title, this book really focuses on Pearl, and her struggle to leave her princess past behind her.
While out on their rounds, Pearl urges them to stop by a palace to see her uncle, a King. Turns out that he’s unhappy with Pearl’s decision to become a doctor – “Princesses can’t be doctors, silly girl!”, he tells her.
In classic fairy tale fashion, the king locks up the princess – seeking to control her and impose his idea of what she should be – a life of “Sewing pretty cushions, and arranging pretty flowers.”
Zog and Gadabout set about to free Pearl. Thankfully, Donaldson subverts the simple trope of the dashing knight rescuing the damsel in distress – Pearl is a world away from the cliched helpless princess, and she engineers her own liberation.
This is yet another great addition to the Donaldson & Scheffler partnership, with each author playing up to their creative strengths. Donaldson’s trademark rhymes make repeat readings aloud fun, and Scheffler’s distinctive illustrations bring these characters to life. Our daughter has insisted on multiple readings already, and we’ve had it less than a day.
But the icing on the cake of this delightful book is the way Donaldson once again subverts the princess stereotype. Pearl was already a key character I referred to when discussing princesses with my daughter, and I’m so glad that Donaldson & Scheffler have revisited her (this is only their second sequel).
This is a worthy addition to your families collection of Donaldson & Scheffler books – and if you don’t have any, Zog and this sequel are as good a place as any to start.
Zog and the Flying Doctors, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, is available in hardback now and has an RRP of £12.99. We were provided with a copy free of charge for the purposes of this review.
We were watching an event on TV recently, and I noticed William and Kate, aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, our future King and Queen, in the audience. Continue reading The British Royal Family and the problem with Princesses