Flashback Fridays: Of Princesses and Paperbags . . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
You’re a princess who’s going to marry a prince. Until a dragon comes along and ruins everything you own and steals him away. Well you’re not going to let things stand, that’s for sure!
Do you remember:
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press, c1980)
Princess Elizabeth starts off this hilarious picture book as a traditional princess . . . at least for the first page. She’s beautiful and has a wonderful castle and a Prince Ronald who’s going to marry her. But author Robert Munsch isn’t about to leave her there. On the second page a dragon burns down her castle, burns all her clothes and steals away Prince Ronald. Elizabeth is left with nothing to wear but a paper bag. However, this does not stop her from heading out on a quest to rescue Prince Ronald from the dragon.
One proactive princess meets one very vain dragon . . . and she cleverly defeats the dragon using his own vanity against him. It’s brilliantly done. And then Elizabeth goes to rescue Ronald who has just witnessed her victory. But is Ronald grateful? Hardly! He’s outraged that she’d come to rescue him in a paper bag and covered in soot. He demands she come back when she’s dressed “like a real princess.” At which point Elizabeth decides Ronald may be pretty, but he isn’t much else. So she decides not to marry him after all.
Robert Munsch is a master of bizarre picture books. Even if you love his work, I bet there’s at least one or two books that will leave you scratching your head. Among his most popular works, however, is this one–The Paper Bag Princess. A fractured feminist fairy tale that tends to make my read aloud groups giggle with glee. As a kid, I was equally delighted with this story –especially with Elizabeth’s ingenuity. But the kicker is the end–because Elizabeth doesn’t get mad about Ronald’s derision. She doesn’t see her whole adventure as pointless! Instead she declares him a bum and joyfully skips off into the sunset without him. I’d like to think the ungrateful wretch Ronald winds up stuck in his dragon prison when the dragon awakens and finds him still there. But it doesn’t matter, because this is Elizabeth’s story–and she is victorious.
Michael Martchenko illustrates plenty of Munsch’s books–and for good reason! The pair go together like peas and carrots. Martchenko strikes just the right note with Elizabeth’s paper attire. (the bent and sooty crown is a nice touch).
If you’ve never encountered Robert Munsch and his picture books, I highly suggest you go out and find them! Plenty of fantastic tales: one about a vicious mud puddle that lurks on roofs and in shadows waiting to attack a little girl in her clean clothes (Mud Puddle), and one about a subway stop inside an apartment (Blackberry Subway Jam). They like to find the absurd in things, but I tend to find that just about right.
The Paper Bag princess is the first book that rang home the message that happily ever afters didn’t have to come with marrying a prince–and that marrying somebody because they were pretty certainly wasn’t a good idea. I’ve read about many excellent princesses since then, but Elizabeth remains a favorite, and a clever young woman I’d like to introduce every young reader to!
Upon surfing images on the web, this story has apparently caught the imaginations of many readers! Great artistic interpretations, hilarious costumes and some really clever projects. (Plus a number of tattoos, believe it or not!)
So who’s your favorite princess? Comments Welcome!
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on September 3, 2016, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, fantasy, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Picture Books, Reading, reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.