Friday 30 March 2012

Once upon a time, there was a princess with a career plan ...

Welcome to March edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month’s topic is “Discovering Through Books”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy! 

 “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Some of my best friends are books. This isn’t a joke. Books are – and have been for as long as I can remember – an enormous part of my life. My intense love of books is the reason why I am now a writer and editor. 

I lived inside books, as a child. I diligently tapped the back of wardrobes, I kept a look out for white rabbits, and I fervently wished for an underground twin sister who would take me horse-riding. 

As you can maybe tell from the above, I had a particular penchant for ‘other world’ books, those stories where the central character finds a crack in reality – a rabbit hole, a secret doorway, even just a change of perspective – which allowed them to slip into an alternate reality. I did everything in my power to find my own way into another world. I’m still looking now. 

 Zen toddler has inherited zen mummy’s love of books, and she’s just at the stage where she’s beginning to understand narrative processes. She wants to hear stories continually: ‘tell me the story of Shrek, tell me the story of the three little pigs, tell me the story of my new shoes, tell me the story of when I went to Grandma’s house, tell me the story of when I was in your tummy’. And re-enacting. Lots of re-enacting. I want her to have that same magical relationship with books. I want to give her the key to a secret door. I want to help her find her to navigate the many parallel worlds she might be lucky enough to find her way to. 

And at the same time I’m developing an increasing awareness about the stories I tell her and the books we read. Fairy tales feel like the essential background to a rich imagination, but however you spin it, Cinderella is the quintessential passive princess-in-waiting. Domestic goddes she may be, but Snow White is hardly aspirational. And Sleeping Beauty? Was ever an individual less proactive? So many classic children’s tales are deeply mired in disappointingly predictable gender roles: mummies make the tea while daddies go out to work. So I find myself scanning the library shelves for books that try to break those stereotypes down, even just a little. There’s no such thing as a banned book in our house, but I aim for a better balance: fairies and princesses are allowed, but we complement them with cow-girls and tractors. 

Am I worrying too much? Will too many fairy tales turn my girls into passive, prince-hunting gold-diggers? To what extent do the stories we hear – and the stories that embroider the fabric of our society – shape our sense of who we are and what we might do? Right now, I don’t have the answers. But I’m hoping that with humour, and a little bit of gentle discussion, I can make sure that my girls don’t see ‘princess-in-waiting’ as a career goal. Cinderella is a story, after all, not a manifesto. 

PS: I’m also on the lookout for books that espouse the principles of natural parenting. Aside from the odd instance of baby-wearing or breastfeeding, I haven’t come across many. Any recommendations?

Visit The Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. Have you read "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch? I think you and your daughter would love the spin on the traditional princess fairy tale!

  2. I've not heard of that one, Pam, but I'll check it out ~ thnak for the recommendation :-)