Six Princess Books for Parents Who Really, Really Hate Princess Books

by Tom B.

It’s a sad fact, but, if you’re the parent of a young girl, at some point, there’s a better than average chance that you’ll have to deal with the creeping horror that is the princess book genre. The princess craze is an amazing thing to behold. It’s like an airborne pathogen or some kind of morphic field cultural memory download. It just worms your way into your child’s subconscious with no obvious point of entry. Even if your daughter is the most tomboyish tomboy on the block, eventually, there’s like a 90% chance that you’re going to have to buy her a princess dress and a cringe-inducing selection of princess-themed reading material at some point. (No parent should have to read their child a book this pink at bedtime.)


How can something this boring be considered a “fantasy”?

And, trust me, resistance is futile. I’ve spent countless hours already trying to shape my daughter into a gender-proud feminist (and she’s FIVE) and yet there I was – taking her to a Disney Princess breakfast at EPCOT (by myself!) and making sure that we saw every damn princess in that park. Why? Because she simply loves princesses and fighting against their appeal is just going to make me the common enemy of both my daughter and the princess industrial complex. And I won’t survive if they unite to take me down.

So, how do I fight back? I mostly do it through books. I am still a MAJOR gatekeeper when it comes to my daughter’s reading material, so, at the moment, I do have the ability to keep her away from cheap throwaway titles like Barbie: The Princess Shoe Party Fashion Show and Cinderella: A Sparkly Royal Thanksgiving… which are EVERYWHERE and are just as soul-crushing as they sound. While I hide those titles behind the periodicals at the local library, I spend a good deal of time searching for really engaging princess stories that I then subtly push her way.

And that’s a challenge. It’s not easy finding princess books where the princesses aren’t passive, aren’t beholden to a prince, and have lives and agendas of their own. And, on the flip side, I also don’t want to give my daughter really hacky, didactic propaganda pieces where the author is just out to scream, “AND THE PRINCESS COULD DO ANYTHING THE PRINCE COULD DO! AND PROBABLY BETTER!” (If I could find the video of 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon as her high-school football place kicker, missing an easy kick and cheering “Equality!”, I’d put it here.) Even if I agree with the message, if it’s not a well-told story, forget about it.

As a service to you parents out there who may have children suffering from princess mania or who just simply can’t face down another royal Disney bedtime, here are six really impressive princess books that your kids will enjoy and that won’t make you curl your fists in post-feminist rage.

1. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

The Princess and the Pizza

The Princess and the Pizza

This is an extremely fun title – particularly if your child is already familiar with the normal Disney princess canon. Princess Paulina is struggling with peasant life now that her father, the king, has given up his throne to become a wood-carver. So, when she hears that Prince Drupert is seeking a wife, she hurries over to “get back to princessing” and finds herself in a competition against other potential princesses to be his bride. The humor in Princess and the Pizza is really irreverent and clever – it reminds me a lot of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre – particularly as Princess Paulina realizes how ridiculous the competition is. She’s competing against nicely exaggerated versions of classic princesses like Snow White and Rapunzel and, after a cooking competition where Paulina accidentally invents pizza, the book ends with a great twist – Paulina sees the value in what she’s created, tells Drupert to shove it, and opens a successful pizza joint. This is a very silly take on the whole notion of princessing, but Paulina is such an expansive, resourceful character that your princess-jonesing kids will love her. (Age range: 3 and up. It’s more of a storybook than a picture book, so there’s a fair bit of text on its 32 pages.)

2. Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised at all to hear me praising a book by Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, but, all of my preferences and biases aside, Princess Hyacinth is one of the best books either of them has ever done. (I will one day write a much, much longer appraisal of Princess Hyacinthfor the blog, but I couldn’t leave it off this list.) The concept is elegantly absurd – there was a princess with a problem. She floats. She can’t stop herself from floating into the air at any time. And, around that premise, Heide and Smith craft a story that just feels fresh and unique – you’ve never read a princess book like this before. Hyacinth is annoyed that she can’t play outside with the other kids (particularly with Boy, the young man she has a crush on), but she also longs to take full advantage of her unique condition and soar among the clouds. After a close call where she almost floats away into the stratosphere, Hyacinth becomes much more comfortable with who she is and decides to stop fighting against her problem and learn to enjoy it.

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated

Smith delivers some of the best work of his career here, but, for me, it’s Heide’s prose that really makes Princess Hyacinth a classic. Her text reads like it was mined directly out of the mind of a kid, like the smartest seven-year-old in the world is telling you the greatest story she’s ever heard and, in my experience, kids eat that up. They can’t get enough of it. In my mind, the closing words of the book say it all: “The problem about the floating was never solved, and that’s too bad. But Princess Hyacinth was never bored again. GOOD.” Yes, it is. (Age range: 3 and up. There’s more text than some picture books, but it’s fairly large and fun to read.)

3. Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer

Cornelia Funke is a prolific and popular German author, best known for her Inkheart novels (they made them into a movie), but I fell in love with her thanks to her picture books, which are, frankly, amazing. Honestly. If you have kids – PARTICULARLY if you have girls – go out right now to a library or bookstore and get every picture book that Funke has ever done with Kerstin Meyer. They’re FANTASTIC. In their picture books like Pirate Girl or The Wildest Brother, the lead characters are always children who just really, really seem like children, which is, actually, a very hard thing for an author to pull off. Funke’s characters are astoundingly well-developed and she creates these wonderful little fables in which all of the details and story moments are disarmingly human and believable (and fun to read). Princess Pigsty is all about a princess who is sick of being sheltered. Princess Isabella hates being waited on, hates sitting around and doing nothing, so she tosses out her crown and declares that she wants to get “dirty”. Her father, the king, punishes her by forcing her to work in the kitchen and the pigsty, but it backfires when Isabella realizes that she LOVES camping out in the pigsty, loves doing things for herself, loves the satisfaction of working, and loves being self-reliant.

Princess Pigsty

Princess Pigsty

That’s a very cool message for kids, but, actually, my favorite moments in Princess Pigsty are towards the end, when the king invites Isabella to come back to the castle – not because she’s proven him to be a fool, but mostly because he misses her. And, while Isabella opts to stay in the pigpen, she does come back to visit and even recovers her crown, which seems like a definite gesture to make peace with her dad. I don’t know why, but that ending just kills me. I love that the characters don’t act like operatic buffoons. Yes, he’s a king, but he’s also a dad and he loves his daughter and actually admits that he was wrong – and parents just don’t do that in picture books that often. And Isabella, in turn, adjusts her behavior because even she realizes that she’s been less diplomatic than she should. Those moments, the moments where fairy tale characters act like real living breathing people, are why I’ve got such a dad-crush on Cornelia Funke and why TWO of her books made this list. (Keep reading.) (Age range: 3 and up. Kindergarteners and first-graders will LOVE this one.)

4. The Paper-Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

The Paper-Bag Princess

The Paper-Bag Princess

We have relatively few Robert Munsch books in our home library – not out of design; we’re just late-comers to this caustically entertaining Canadian children’s author and, believe me, we have friends who think much, much less of us for letting Munsch fall under our radar. (His fans veer towards the evangelical, in my experience.) That being said, you can’t have a collection of subversive princess literature without including The Paper-Bag Princess, a very direct, very funny indictment of the “Happily Ever After” scam. Princess Elizabeth leads a charmed life until a dragon burns down her castle, incinerates her clothes, ruins everything she owns, and kidnaps her handsome prince-to-be Ronald. So, the almost-naked Elizabeth proves that she’s made of stronger stuff by putting on a paper bag as a dress and using her wits to outsmart the dragon and save her prince.

Most stories would end here, but the real kicker of The Paper-Bag Princess comes after Ronald is rescued and the snotty prince tells Elizabeth, “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.” (Oh snap.) What does Elizabeth do? She kicks the jerk to the curb, which is almost an even better lesson for young readers than having her slay a dragon. The story is all about this frilly princess having expectations of what the world is like and, when faced with reality, having to adjust and move forward. She won’t let a dragon get away with wrecking her castle and she won’t marry a creep who can’t even be grateful for being rescued, which, again, is a fantastic lesson for young girls. (Age range: 3 and up.)

5. The Secret Lives of Princesses, by Philippe Lechermeier, illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer

The Secret Lives of Princesses

The Secret Lives of Princesses

What a cool, unusual book. I will fully admit that this picture book – which is really more of a coffee table book (and you know how I love coffee table books) – is definitely too old for my five-year-old daughter. There isn’t any objectionable subject matter, but the writing level is a bit over her head and it’s an incredibly dense book for young kids. That being said, The Secret Lives of Princesses is possibly the most visually arresting princess book that I’ve ever seen and my daughter does love flipping through the pages and marveling at the beautiful artwork. And the text is pretty fantastic as well. Lechermeier has created this extremely unique catalog of different kinds of princesses and none of them are the traditional damsel-in-distress sort.

There’s Princess Paige, the librarian; Princess Primandproper, with the permanently pinched face; and, beyond the wordplay (and the book is packed TIGHT with wordplay), you’ll find unusual princesses from all over the world. That fact alone makes this an essential princess read because finding a book that actually includes African princesses, Native American princesses, Indian princesses, Latina princesses, and Asian princesses, standing aside their Anglo-Saxon cousins, is next to impossible. Yes, this is more of a coffee table art book than a storybook and, no, I can’t actually imagine sitting down and reading this to my kid back to front. BUT I do love leaving this one out on her bookshelf for her to discover and watching as she pages through the strange and beautiful variety of princesses that the world has to offer. (Age range: 7 and up – however, much, much younger children will have fun leafing through the pages and marveling at the paintings.)

6. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer

The Princess Knight

The Princess Knight

This is the second Funke/Meyer book on this list and it’s another great one, especially if you have a daughter who’s ever been forced to sit on the sidelines while the young boys around her go at it with toy swords and lightsabers. That’s the experience that Princess Violetta has suffered through in The Princess Knight – her mother died in childbirth, so her father, King Wilfred the Worthy, has raised Violetta in the same way that he raised his other three sons, encouraging them all to swordfight, wrestle, and behave like princes. Since Violetta was smaller, she spends most of her childhood being bowled over, until, after years of training and learning to be smarter, more aware, and more clever than her siblings, Violetta starts to prove herself as a skilled fighter. However, since she’s a princess and he has no idea what else to do with her, her father holds a jousting tournament to marry off Violetta – a fact that appalls Violetta to such a degree that she enters the contest in disguise to win her own hand in marriage.

This is an incredibly engaging female empowerment tale that, again, in Funke’s trademark style, is extremely human and relatable. Violetta’s father isn’t a bad man, but he’s grief-stricken and clueless about raising a girl, so, even when he makes a bad decision, it’s fairly obvious that he’s not some cartoonish oaf oppressing his daughter. He’s just a confused dad who made a mistake and, as a constantly confused dad myself, I love seeing more of us good-natured screw-ups turning up in fairy tales. If your daughter has ever picked up a lightsaber and showed her brother that girls can hit just as hard as boys, you need to pick up The Princess Knight. (Age range: 3 and up. But, just be aware that the book does open with the death of Violetta’s mother – there’s a beautiful illustration of her father mourning his wife – so, if your child is particularly sensitive about death, you might want to either skip this, warn them, or tread lightly.)

{ 126 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin October 18, 2017 at 1:25 am

Like many people here, I also have been drawn to atypical princesses in fairy tales (both for myself and for my children). I have several favorites that were not mentioned here, perhaps because a few of them are more for older readers. 4-6 yr olds and older may appreciate The Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale, about a princess who seems typically sparkly and pink around her friends, but has a secret identity that is basically a superhero. She has also written the Princess Academy series, beginning with a princess who is used to living among commoners in a mountain village (maybe 3-4 grade and up?)
I have two favorite fairy tale books that should be mentioned, though adults should preread them before using as bedtime stories, as some may be considered more for young adults: “Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters” edited by Kathleen Ragan, and “Favorite Folk Tales From Around the World,” edited by Jane Yolen. I love that there are stories from each continent where people live, and that there is such variety in how women are portrayed, but they are never helpless.
Teens or young adults may enjoy the Bayern series by Shannon Hale (based on the Goose Girl fairy tale and other characters she invents) about a princess whose servant forces her to switch places for a time. She makes friends with commoners and royalty just by being herself, and has hidden talents that save the day.
Robin McKinley has several books for young adults and up about princesses, including Spindle’s End (a version of Sleeping Beauty where the fairies’ blessings on the child don’t turn out quite right and she is definitely not what the bad fairy is looking for), The Blue Sword (with a princess who swordfights beautifully) and The Hero and the Crown (about someone from our world ending up in the setting of The Blue Sword). I have not read a book by that author yet which dies not include a strong female role model. Anything by her is worth reading, though use caution with Deerskin in particular, for although it is also about a princess, it’s subject matter includes nonconsentual incest (because the fairy tale it is based on did, too).
Although their princesses are a little closer to the norm than the others I recommended, I also can’t forget to mention the Princess Bride by William Goldman (which is even better than the 80’s movie I love that is based on it- a little something for everyone and has a book within a book), and The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. The 13 Clocks is mostly about the prince and a traveling companion of his, but has a beautiful princess who is imprisoned by a deliciously evil count and includes very smart protagonists (including the princess) who outwit him in surprising ways.


Renee April 24, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Ok, so apparently I’m not terribly original… I just just started a blog on kids’ books and my first post is awfully similar to this one, and three of our recommendations are the same. Though I went a little crazy and am recommending 12. If you’re still at this, are still reading all your comments and are so inclined, would you actually be willing to take a gander at my few blog posts so far and see if you think it’s worth giving it a go?

I do think I’m just going to keep at it for a bit because I have all of these wonderful recommendations swirling in my head and I think they’re worth putting out there. I think the next one will be about fun alphabet books.

In the meantime, happy reading! :)


Whitney Sanchez September 11, 2016 at 2:01 pm

I love the idea of providing alternates to the common princess trope! For older kids (10+), I would recommend the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede, which starts with Dealing with Dragons. Princess Cimorene, is a strong character who is a very unprincess-like princess.


Sarah Badat Richardson August 7, 2016 at 4:00 am

I didn’t read all 122 comments so sorry if this has been said. Princess Hyacinth seems to be based on “The light princess” story by George MacDonald. I just finished reading it to my 6 year old daughter. I love this author’s style. This story wasn’t my favorite of his but still good. And the princess ends up saving the prince…
The princess and the goblins & its sequel The princess and Curdie by the same author were excellent chapter books. It focuses on the character & virtues of princes & princesses instead of all the frills.
Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood is a very nice version of the classic (it takes place in space & they don’t marry; they decide to be friends.)


Henning January 8, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Comment #122, but a good thing can’t be overstated. Thank you so much for this! It has baffled me how hard it is to find stories avoiding the ‘she was so impressed with the presents/fine clothes she immediately feel in love’ line.
Many battles will be lost, but yes dammit, I am the library gatekeeper!


Laura March 26, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Big thanks for this list. My daughters, ages 5 & 3, are into anything sparkly, fairy-themed, or princess-y. I HATE when they check out the princess books at the library and the ditzy females in the story do nothing but try to look good. These recommendations you made jumped right into my Holds at the library and I am so glad! Thank you!


Tom B. March 26, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Oh good. I’m so glad you found the list useful. And there are some AMAZING suggestions in the comments thread as well!


susan March 15, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Thanks for this list. I’m actually checking it out for my 3.5 year old son. I think it’s important to remember that boys aren’t immune from exposure to the “princess industrial complex” or the strange ideas it conveys. My son has recently taken an interest in fairy tales and started talking about what girls and boys should and shouldn’t do (based on gender roles). As the mom of a boy, I see how creating a world that’s friendly to strong girls includes raising boys who “get it” (like the feminist dad who wrote this blog). So, thanks. We’ll be checking these out. Also, any ideas for books focusing on feminist minded princes would be appreciated.


Maria October 14, 2015 at 7:48 am

I absolutely adore this alternative princess story:

The Worst Princess. A tale of a princess who does not accept that prince charming wants to keep her safe in a castle with pretty dresses and goes out to befriends a dragon and together they shake things up a bit :)


kaykayaa October 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

You MUST add Princess Smartypants!


Tony Wilson August 6, 2014 at 10:58 pm

I like to think my own anti Princess book adds something to the genre. It’s called ‘The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas’, and is a counterpoint to the Hans Christian Andersen classic. Basically, the premise is that the brother of the prince in the original story, wants to meet a girl who is a little less ‘sensitive’ than the one who complains about a pea under 20 mattresses. So he sets a new test (spoiler alert – frozen peas, shin splints from playing hockey!). It’s done well in USA, UK and Australia.


Maureen September 19, 2015 at 5:54 pm

It does! We love this book!


Dave Fernig November 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Great post. A parallel strategy is to also find books that appeal and do not have princesses, to make sure they keep a literary foot outside the genre (princesses or fairies are a ‘phase’, thankfully!). For 5 year olds (or thereabouts), try Dr Dog by Babette Cole.


Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies October 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

Have you read Tumble Tower by Anne Tyler? It’s about a princess who’s totally messy and gets a lot of criticism from her family — until her mess saves the day! It’s funny and has a great girl hero, and my kids really enjoyed it.


Meredith October 10, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I’m surprised that ‘Olivia and the Fairy Princesses’ ( ) didn’t make the list. You might also look at ‘Cloth from the Clouds’ ( ), even though it’s not technically about the princess, she does resolve the problem in the story.


Tom B. October 10, 2013 at 10:45 pm

I’m a fan of most Olivia books – the main reason “Olivia and the Fairy Princesses” didn’t make the list was just because it came out several months after I posted the list. But thanks for mentioning it! This comments section has become an amazing addendum to my original list.


Win October 10, 2013 at 7:24 pm

For a much older audience than 5 I can’t recommend Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons enough! It’s a great princess story!


Mary September 2, 2013 at 7:29 am

“Zog” by Julia Donaldson is about a dragon but features a princess who decides she’d rather be a doctor.


Jessica August 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I think the book list is great – I will be sure to check these out – some I have seen, others I have not. But try to remain calm – princesses are not that bad. To get riled up to the point of saying you hate something is a little dramatic.


Natalie August 1, 2013 at 7:12 am

Also: Princess Grace that is more multicultural and references a few real princesses.


Natalie August 1, 2013 at 7:08 am

I am late to this post, but loved the suggestions as my daughters sound very similar to yours and my ideals for raising feminist daughters are strong. We liked A Gold Star for Zog ( which features a dragon, but a kindly princess also plays a part where she is both resourceful and independent and in the end becomes a doctor. I love it!


Natalie June 26, 2013 at 2:00 am

A teacher friend of mine posted this link on facebook and I have you bookmarked and have for some time now. In a world of pink and fairies and princesses EVERYWHERE this resource is much needed. I also found one that we quite liked from our library called “The Mud Fairy” by Amy Young
It is a great book about what you think it’s like to be a fairy and this fairy is not like that and can’t find what she’s good at. It turns out that what she loved doing and was against “the rules” was her gift and it was ok and she earned her wings and got to play in the mud with frogs after all.


Ellie Crowe April 16, 2013 at 1:34 am
The Princess in the Purple Tower — a fractured fairytale. The princess is stuck in the purple tower. The wicked witch has cut off her long golden hair and is spinning it into gold. Will a prince ever come by. and if he does, how will he climb the tower? Luckily the princess is an entrepreneurial girl.

Please add to your list of great princess books.


Melissa March 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm

As a children’s librarian, I cringe every time a child asks for the ‘Princess Books.’ (Code for Disney) We started a section of non-Disney princess books to help kids find our other princess books. My one complaint is the covers. When I have a child who wants a Disney princess book, it’s hard to sell them on a fantastic book with a lack-luster cover. I wish someone would write a series of empowering princess books that have pink, sparkly covers. Anyone? Anyone?


Brent January 27, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Great post, great list! A few more recommendations (sorry if they’re repeats):
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (features a clever spin on The Princess and the Pea)

King & King (tale of a Queen trying to find a princess for her son, but he ends up falling for another prince!)

Wonder Woman is the ultimate princess, so pretty much anything she’s in. This one is a good primer for little kids:


Diana December 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Another book called CinderSilly is the anti Cinderella. In other Cinderella stories, the main character is always a victim who is first rescued by magic, then by marriage. In CinderSilly, she is never a victim. She is resourceful in solving problems, and is true to herself. She doesn’t need to get married to live ‘happier ever after.’ And, is a strong, positive and fun role model for girls.


Jennifer December 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Igraine the Brave–also by Cornelia Funke. While not a “Princess” book per se, Igraine is the daughter in a family (with talents in magic) who lives in a castle. However, she would prefer to be a knight (albeit in pink armor) than a magician, much less a princess.


Anna October 23, 2012 at 5:01 am

Thank you so much for this post and thanks too to all the commenters. I have never got so much useful information from one post in my life! It would take me all day to check out all of these recommendations, it is such a pleasure to have a new set of titles to go through and also a bit of a relief. I just didn’t go through princesses as a child, that culture wasn’t around me, I missed it, so I don’t have the relevant favourites to work in with my daughter’s inclincation, so these should really help. For us, I want her to be able to pursue any interests she has in books but being able to dilute and diversify on the princess theme is a great prospect (some of the ones I’ve tried so far being more along the ‘EQUALITY’ lines described than my daughter could take).


Tom B. October 23, 2012 at 9:02 am

Anna – I’m so glad you found the post useful! I feel the same way that you do about my daughter seeking out princess books – I want her to have the freedom to explore what she’s interested in, but, if I can direct to her towards some intelligent, well-written variations on the princess theme (that aren’t too didactic or hectoring), that’s win-win for everyone.


Julie MavMad April 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for all of these–I have some but will be getting the others FOR MY TWO BOYS! This emerging consciousness about the problems with Disney princesses if fantastic, but largely missing that our boys need to hear these as much as the girls because *their* warped views of women and princesses is damaging as well. My son likes princesses, and I want to encourage that without it being the problematic princess images, too.


Angie April 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm

I know Cinderella Ate My Daughter was already mentioned above, but I just wanted to reiterate how fabulous it is if you haven’t read it. My husband and I both read it, and I love it. Any parent of a girl who feels remotely uncomfortable with the overly pink and princessy girl culture of today should read it. In the meantime, Orenstein has a fabulous list of “anti-princess” princess books- this link is a great resource for counteracting the “pink” culture:

I have already added a bunch of your suggestions to my daughter’s wish list, and will be looking for the age appropriate ones at the library this week! Thank you!!!


Tom B. April 24, 2012 at 9:44 am

Thank you for reading the list!

And, funnily enough, I just picked up Cinderella Ate My Daughter from the library on Monday. Looking forward to reading it this weekend!


Erin April 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm

When your daughter gets older, I suggest the Dealing with Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede!


Stella March 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I would also add ‘Princess Polly to the Rescue’ to the list (it’s out of print now, but available secondhand on Amazon). It features a double gender subversion – the titular princess’s boyfriend is kidnapped by a dragon, who mistakes him for a princess because he’s so pretty, and Princess Polly sets out to rescue him. Polly is practical and smart and willing to get her hands dirty to rescue her boyfriend, and the book definitely has strong feminist undertones.


Anna King March 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm

You may like Zog by Julia Donaldson. The princess shuns her “silly frilly” life to become a flying doctor.

My daughter, then 2, developed an obsession with the Royal Wedding last year and particularly “Princess Kate”. I am happy to encourage this as Kate Middleton is an educated, sporty and accomplished lady who married for love and my daughter could do a lot worse in terms of role models. She has a nice souvenir book of the day, and the fact that this is a real life princess makes her very appealing!


Tom B. March 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Julia Donaldson has a princess book? We ADORE her books! We have to get a copy of that. Great recommendation!


Donna Duncan March 23, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Princess Bubble is another fabulous princess book.


Debra Price March 4, 2012 at 11:22 am

I like princess books that don’t make the prince out to be smarmy or weak in response. My favorite is Katherine Patterson’s The King’s Equal. A bit longer than the typical picture book, it really examines relationships between the characters and allows the ‘prince’ to see that value of a strong partner ‘princess’.


Carley February 29, 2012 at 5:25 am

Try “Reckless Ruby” not about a princess but a tale about a girl resisting her parents desire for her to grow up to be a princess – she wants to be a fireman!!! Fabulous stereotype busting story from Hiawyn Oram.


Alex February 25, 2012 at 10:41 pm

One I remember my mum reading to me was Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut. Also, very cool list of books 😀


Caroline February 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

“Princess Hyacinth” is a favorite in our house.

We also love “The Queen’s Feet.”


Judy Spanogle February 19, 2012 at 9:12 am

Have you read The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs? There’s also a sequel, The Runaway Dragon. We loved those books. Princess is put into a tower while her father tries to barter her away by having the princes take care of several “problems.” The princess gets herself out of the tower, and solves all of the “problems” herself. Both books are great fun too.


Tom B. February 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I haven’t read that one yet. But it’s totally making our “wanted” list now!

Thanks for the recommendations!


svend February 6, 2012 at 9:16 pm

I really like this collection of princess stories drawn from folklore and literature around the world.


Barbara February 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm

My niece just received a new book titled “Princesses Wear Glasses” .
A review of the book can be found at on their Books for Kids tab. The story empowers girls to be strong and creative plus there isn’t a prince mentioned once in the story!!


AKB February 1, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I haven’t read Ella Enchanted, but _Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep_ by the same author was a fabulous re-telling/re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty. Princess Sonora is a know-it-all and nobody can stand her…until after the 100 years she gets awakened by a Prince of Insatiable Curiosity whom nobody can stand either. They’re perfect for each other – he full of endless questions, and she of every answer…and they still take a while to decide if they want to kiss and get married. I was pleased to read this to my girls. Plus it made me think happily of my own love life, where my partner and I are like the two geeks in the The Far Side cartoon: “Across the room, their eyes met.” I did my best to avoid Disney and Barbie for many years and then became overwhelmed in the landslide. But I’ve come to peace with all of it. My girls are having fun being glam – and who am I to deny a girl her glam – but they also seem more than happy to compete with boys. I refer to my littlest one as “The Princess Who Kicked Ass” as she takes the boys down while dressed in her lace and pearls. :)


Frances February 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I have 2 girls, ages 12 and 8 now. Both went through big princess phases between ages 2 and 6. Both are also strong-willed and athletic too. I realized that the appeal of being a princess is to be special and important and loved, and who wouldn’t want to be all that? Also, the “feminist” antipathy toward the color pink is problematic for me. I understand that it shouldn’t be forced on someone (girls shouldn’t *have to* wear pink), but to disparage it is to disparage the feminine itself. It is not inherently better to like “masculine” things. I love that my 12 year old wears pink shinguards when she plays soccer. We feminists have made it okay for girls to play sports and be tough, but in order to have true equality it needs to be just as acceptable for boys to like pink and dress up!

Anyway, I have another princess book recommendation for you: It is called “The Red Wolf” and it is about a king who is so over-protective of his daughter that he locks her in a tower. It is very sly and fun.


Mouse January 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm

My daughter is a big fan of “Do Princesses Skin Their Knees,” and “King and King”


Christine Macpherson January 23, 2012 at 10:05 pm

We’ve read almost all of your suggestions and enjoyed them, but I can’t believe that The Apple Pip Princess was left off the list…It’s got everything: it shuns shallow worship of power, upholds the power of simple things and simple people, restores a barren planet, and connects a young girl with her lost mother. Check it out!


Ulrike January 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I found you post via Pinterest, and I love it! I recommend adding The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn to the list. In it, the princess has to rescue the prince from his enchanted sleep, and the artwork is stunning!


Lesley Williams January 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Our Library has a “Princesses that Rock!” list:

One I haven’t seen mentioned is Robert San Souci’s _A Weave of Words_, an Armenia folk tale with an intellectual princess who turns warrior to rescue her husband from demons!

And of course the marvelous Oz series, which is full of wonderful female characters, including the courageous, high minded Princess Ozma. _Ozma of Oz_ and _Glinda of Oz_ are my 2 favorites.


Tom B. January 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I LOVE the Princesses That Rock list!

And that’s really good to hear about the Oz series too. I’ve never read any of Baum’s books – seen the movie, of course – but have always heard good things and have had my interest piqued through the Oz lore I’ve picked up from Bill Willingham’s fantastic Fables comic book series. That’s very interesting. I’m going to look into the Oz books this week. I’d love to able to read those to my daughter.


Jessie Powell January 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Ellen Jackson’s Cinder Edna

is cut from a similar cloth. Edna and her prince are much happier than Ella, because they wind up a team who works together. Also, Edna wears loafers.


Linda Gerber January 17, 2012 at 7:03 am

Loved the recommendations. May I add one? Kate Coomb’s Runaway Princess (and the sequel, Runaway Dragon) are clever and witty. Loved them both! Definitely worth checking out.


Tom B. January 17, 2012 at 9:08 am

Those both look great. Thanks Linda!


Rebecca Hains January 16, 2012 at 9:43 am

Hi, Tom:

What a great post! I love these suggestions.

I’m actually writing a book about princess culture right now, and I’ve been interviewing parents who are critical of the princess phenomenon, but whose daughters love princesses nonetheless. I’m interested in learning how parents handle these sorts of issues–the strategies they use, the conversations they have with their daughters (or don’t), and so on.

If you would be willing to chat about this with me (or if any of your commenters might), please drop me a note at princessresearch AT Thanks so much!



Mo January 16, 2012 at 3:15 am

My daughter (5) and I (30) are totally in love with #2 and #3 (though conventional princesses are definitely a plague in my house too. I will have to check out the others on your list.

Though not princess-related, we also love the Ladybug Girl series. I find the heroine refreshing in the same kind of way.


Jennifer January 15, 2012 at 7:35 am

The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams has beautiful silhouette illustrations. It’s a series of short stories about princesses who use their wits to get out of predicaments once it becomes obvious no one else can save them. Good for 5 and older kids. I read it as a teenager and loved it.


carey January 15, 2012 at 7:31 am

We steer clear of the commercial-princess-crap too, but are fine with pink and princesses (and knights/dragons) and we are Disney season pass holders. IMO, Disney Princesses belong at Disney and not in our house. For books suggestions – The Princess in the Forest (by Sibylle von Olfers)


Marcy January 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Thanks for this list! Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman (a follow-up to Amazing Grace) is another good one:


Barbara Medeiros January 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm

“Free To Be” has never gone out of print…in fact, I just purchased two beautiful new editions to give as Christmas gifts. What I find somewhat harder to find from the same Marlo Thomas special is a print copy of “William’s Doll”…a really neglected emphasis on the nurturing part of the male of the species!


Mary January 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm

My favorite anti-princess book has always been Princess Smarty Pants by Babette Cole. Glad to see it’s still in print:


Elizabeth Tritsch January 14, 2012 at 6:43 am

I absolutely HATE princess books for my 5-yr-old but, absolutely LOVE your recommendations. (Sometimes, I change the endings of the princess books that I read to her to make them more credible to me.) Keep up the good work, Tom.


Sheila January 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm

So glad to read some fun princess recommendations. We’ve had a “well-enforced” no-princesses (and not war/camo) rule in our house for over 6 years now. Happily, it has worked – despite two grandmothers many attempts to thwart it. It is not that I don’t like happily ever after — I do, but in its place. Our daughter (6) has never seen the princess movies and owns no princess pink things — gifts in this genre are put away and replaced…by now with no questions. (I mostly object to the cheapness of the toys and replace them with sturdier toys that she enjoys – -her choice.) She is a very cool girl, who just doesn’t go for all the princess stuff. A crown and wand here or there, but not a princess dress or high heels. Phew! And now we are heading to Disney and I find that we may be beaten at our own game…while my kids – we also have a son (3) – know Toy Story and Cars and some other Disney movies, they do not really understand Disney the Magic Kingdom et al. and all the grandeur and pomp and circumstance of the princesses. I can’t wait to see how they react to that part of Disney…a part that is so far removed from our lives…at least for now.


Patricia January 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Another quirky one is the modern version of “The Princess and the Pea” by Lauren Child. They make her far more tough and the prince a little more interesting


Jamie January 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Tumble Tower is another of our favorites.


Bola January 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm

The princess thing was a little overblown and now the pendulum is swinging the other way. I would get requests for my children’s book suggestion service that starts with the phrase “Please do not include any princess titles”


Tom B. January 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Ha! I mean, I think princesses are fine in moderation, but “Please do not include any princess titles” – that’s funny.


Startledoctopus January 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm

When kids are older (I think I was perhaps 8 when I read it the first time), Ella Enchanted is a LOVELY book. The movie was…don’t get me started! But the book is about a very resourceful, skillful, and funny young lady rescuing herself from really crappy circumstances.


April Pardoe January 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Some great reads there

Can I add a favourite of ours

Princess Chamomile Gets Her Way

Lovely story about a princess mouse who gets kidnapped by a bad cat but because she is cleverer than the cat & can read & write she rescues herself while everyone else is flapping around looking for her!!

It’s great fun! :-)


Liam Smith (@AutistLiam) January 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm

A friend of mine recently bought “Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair” by Jewel Katz. It’s a book by a disabled woman who wanted that kind of story when she was growing up. I’ve yet to read it but it looks very good.


Megan January 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Oh, thank you so much for this! Just found your site through Kids Woot…this is very timely information for me given that I just got rid of all of the Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, and Barbie paperbacks my 3 yr old inherited from her cousins…ick. I can’t stand them – they all remind me of bad porn movies! Ha! Now I have something to distract her with when she notices they are gone! I was also wondering how I could possibly wean her off of the traditional princess stories – sorry now that I ever read them to her. I will definitely be checking out your suggestions! Thanks again!


Nil Zed January 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm

My girls loved The Tough Princess by Martin Waddell. So much so that they regularly argue over which it belongs to, and maintain a thin promise that the first granddaughter gets it.


Kypling January 13, 2012 at 2:58 am

Oh, Pam B just took me on a trip down memory lane… I loved that story!

And, from the same era, there’s The Practical Princess, and Other Liberating Fairy Tales. Hard to find now, but the original version had a few really lovely illustrations.


ambermoone January 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I’m not sure if anyone put this on the list but “Princesses are not Quitters!” by Kate Lum is pretty good! A little frilly but the message is fantastic.


Alyssa January 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Great book list! I would also add “The Plain Princess” by Phyllis McGinley. It was a childhood favorite, sadly out of print now, but available on Amazon.


JD January 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

There are some great titles for young adult readers as well!! Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series features a young princess who switches places with her twin brother so he can go to school and she can train to be a knight. I would recommend these titles to a high school age reader.

In addition, Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons and subsequent novels center around Cimorene, who is a princess who is completely uninterested in princessy things, so she runs away to hang out with dragons. Awesome books! I loved them when I was a kid. Age range… maybe 9-11?


Deb January 17, 2012 at 3:27 am

I loved Dealing With Dragons and Patricia C. Wrede’s other books. I strongly recommend them as well. Did you know that a female dragon can be King? :)


Nene January 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Love this list! I am the “Queen Grandma” of a princess. We’ve read a couple of the books on the list, but I’m so glad to have the additional suggestions. And I also appreciate the concept of “finding the right books.” We take her to the library every week and I end up choosing most of her library books. Now that I’ve found your site, I’ll have more idea what I’m doing. Thank you!


Pam B January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

This dates me, but the story I will always remember from my childhood was Marlo Thomas telling the story of Atalanta on my Free to Be You And Me record. It was a wonderful anti-princess, pro-living your life and making friends book. Of course, most of Free to Be You And Me is like that.


Kerry January 12, 2012 at 11:55 am

They are not picture books but I strongly recommend that you add the following to the list:

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye


The Enchanted Forest trilogy by Patricia Wrede


Camille January 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye is still on my Most Favorite Books EVER list. and I’m 32 now.


Kerry January 12, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Same here even though I am 35. It is simply the most charming book ever!


Meanderingmother January 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm

So glad someone recommended The Ordinary Princess! I’m still a huge fan at the age of 30 and can’t wait to read it with my daughter when she’s old enough. I just wanted to be Amy as a child, she’s so cool!


jen January 15, 2012 at 9:51 am

I LOVE the Ordinary Princess! Sadly i think it is out if print. I had a heck of a time finding a copy for my neice a couple years ago. A princess witg mousy brown hair who loves to play in the woods! She was just like me!


Angie April 23, 2012 at 8:38 pm
S November 25, 2012 at 11:44 pm

The Enchanted Forest quartet is one of my favorites too… I started reading it in 3rd grade and still read it again every year (and I am 23).


Tom B. November 25, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Ooh, good to know. I’ve read some of Wrede’s Lyra books, but hadn’t read any of the Enchanted Forest books yet. I’ll definitely put them on my to-read list now.


Dawn January 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

While not officially a Princess story – this is a series of booksmy 7 year old loves – Girls to the Rescue


magpie January 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

There are two great new series:
The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses
The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames

(and no I don’t work for them!)


Emily January 12, 2012 at 10:42 am

You’re missing these from Goosebottom books”


Mica January 11, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Thanks for the recommendation list! I guess I’m not as much of a hater as you are, but I get it. The Paper Bag Princess is an all-time favorite, but my three daughters and I need to check out the rest of your list. We also like Princesses are Not Quitters by Kate Lum.


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I’m not a full-on hater – honestly, I have about 500 princess pictures from EPCOT to prove it – but I do think that, every now and again, you have to challenge some of the assumptions surrounding the whole princess image and just remind your kids of things like “You know, you don’t have to get married if you don’t want to” or “you can rescue yourself” or “Seriously, you’re not walking around Disneyworld all day in those plastic princess stripper shoes.” :)


Mica January 12, 2012 at 9:25 am

No doubt. Have you read Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein? I have been recommending it to everyone I know with young daughters.


Renee January 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I just posted a link to this post on Peggy Orenstein’s Facebook page – I’m sure she’ll enjoy it (and she does read and reply to stuff on her wall regularly).
If anyone wants to see the other stuff she posts, you can find it here:


Tom B. January 12, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Oh wow, that’s awesome. Thanks! I haven’t loved a book title that much since “Go the **** to Sleep”.

Bryan January 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm
Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

That’s seriously cool, Bryan. Consider me flattered as hell.


Larissa January 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Tom, your list is precious – I had to feature it here:

Please add your book suggestions for 6-8 year girls!


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Thank you!


Mandy January 11, 2012 at 7:54 pm

A great chapter book is ‘Just Ellla” by Margret Petersen Haddix. It’s more of an advanced reader book, but it’s still one of my favorites. It’s a re-telling of the Cinderella story, starting after the ball when Ella is just bored with being a princess. She’s very headstrong and promotes the idea that girls are meant for more than just looking pretty! I would highly recommend it!


Sarah Robertson January 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I also love Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole. She’s my kind of princess. Thanks for all the great ideas. We are headed that direction though I feel quite successful at having held it off until my darling girl is almost 4!


Lindsey January 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm

From a non-princess loving mom, Princess Smartypants is definitely my favorite – Babette’s best work. I love reading that book to my students.


Kit Lane January 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm
Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Oh man, she looks like a female version of Max from Where the Wild Things Are. I’ll have to check those out.


Homa January 11, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Cinder Edna is a fun one! She is the anti princess.


Nicole Steeves January 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm
Jen January 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm

From a children’s librarian who has a huge list on princess books try:
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Yolen


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm

It’s funny. We have that one, but, according to my daughter, I always read it wrong. I guess Mom knows the rhyme scheme better than I do (she loves it when Mom reads it), but the “with a sparkly crown” line always screws up my rhythm.


Jennifer Keegin January 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

Have to agree with this one as well. Got it at the library. Mine is turning 3 this weekend and is sorta kinda getting to princesses. She REALLY loves pink.


debra January 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

My 2 year old granddaughters nickname is Princess Destroyer.
She likes girly stuff but she lives cars!
We say she is like 5 little boys inside one little girl.
We need a princess race car driver!


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm

A Princess race car driver is a GREAT idea! If your granddaughter is heck-on-wheels, she might like this book – Izzy’s Very Important Job. It’s all about a young girl racing through town in her rocket car.


Pam K January 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Barbie was a Nascar driver quite a few years back. My daughter actually asked to get that one!


Elizabeth January 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Let me add The Barefoot Book of Princesses to this list! It is a truly odd and fantastic collection of stories from around the world… with three girls and varying states of princess-affinity we’ve nearly worn this one out. My oldest loved listening to the audio version that comes with it, too. I’m also a huge fan of this relatively new telling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses: The illustrations are stunning!


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm

OK, those are definitely making our list… thanks for the suggestions!


Wendy January 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm

“Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots” is a book I recently got my daughter.
She’s 3, and up until recently was very happily into worms and dinos and trains and hiking and cooking and all things that made Mummy happy.
And then, out of nowhere, it started. The need for sparkles, and fairies, and PINK!!! so much PINK… sigh. And Christmas came, and all she wanted was a big pink princess dress with sparkles.

Santa delivered, but he also dropped off some dinos, and cars, and cooking stuff… and…. 😉


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I love royalty in hiking books. Great recommendation.

And, oh man, can I sympatheize. The princess craze hit my daughter like a tidal wave right before her 3rd birthday.

Fortunately, she’s always been able to balance it out with other interests pretty well. For her 3rd birthday, she wanted a Disney princess castle and a fire truck. The castle is, apparently, quite prone to fires, but, fortunately, the princesses make a pretty great volunteer fire brigade.


Jools January 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

That is one of my favourite blog comments ever :)


[email protected] January 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Snap – we recommend that one too!


Patrick January 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm The football clip is right after the 2:00 mark.


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Dude, you are so my hero.


Bvan626 January 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm

You need to add Princess peepers picks a pet. another good one for the anti princess crowd.


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm

A friend who has a daughter with glasses recommended the Princess Peepers series a few weeks ago. I’ll definitely be picking it up now. Thanks!


Brett January 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hi Tom,

Another one I could recommend your readers to read is The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett, just recently released (September 2011).

thanks for the princess recommendations – we just (had to) read The Paperbag Princess last month – a good one btw.


Tom B. January 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Ooh, awesome. Thanks for the recommendation, Brett. I’ll try looking for Princess and the Pig at our library.


JenniferFC January 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

Absolutely fantastic list. And I second the Princess and the Pig. Got it for my princess-loving daughter for Christmas and she loves it. Illustrations are beautiful too.


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