Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illustrated by Michael Martchenko
This book had such an impact on me as a young Teacher-Librarian when it was first published and I continue to be fascinated by books that I call the modern fairy tale. Other examples are Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole, The Tough Princess by Martin Waddell, The Frog Prince continued by Jon Scieszka and Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen. I like these unconventional princesses who don't worry about clothes, court etiquette and most importantly are not fussed about marrying the prince and 'living happily ever after'. This became the topic of my Post-Grad thesis.
The Paper Bag Princess was one of the first books I had read with this message - I might go as far as to say a feminist message. Elizabeth lives in the castle and her destiny is all mapped out. She will wear pretty dresses and marry Prince Ronald. Unfortunately a dragon attacks the castle and burns it down along with all and I mean all her dresses. Elizabeth is forced to improvise and so uses the only object not burnt to cinders in the fire which surprisingly is a paper bag. Elizabeth now needs to chase the dragon because he has carried of Prince Ronald.
In the classic fairy tale form, Elizabeth puts the dragon through a series challenges. She uses flattery and takes advantage of the dragons huge ego. She dares him to burn ten forests, then fifty forests and finally one hundred forests but how all his fire is spent. "The dragon didn't even have enough fire left to cook a meatball." Next she dares him to fly around the whole planet in ten seconds, then again but this time it takes twenty seconds because he is getting tired and finally the dragon collapses and falls asleep.
Elizabeth is now able to rescue Prince Roland but is reaction is totally unexpected :
"Elizabeth, you are a mess! 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."
If you are new to this book you should stop now and think about how you might react to this tirade. How should Elizabeth respond? Now grab the book and be ready to smile!
This book is so very famous it even has an entry in Wikipedia. There are videos and teaching ideas. You can hear Robert Munch himself reading this book with such delightful expression. Here is a very deep analysis of the text and silly video and I even found a board game.