Once upon a time there existed some strange books. These books were called Princess Stories for Children. In these books, girls were misrepresented as mindless and powerless people waiting for a miracle to happen; and if at all women were powerful, they were of course evil!
Somewhere far, far away, a few awesome authors were sitting and stewing after reading these books. They patiently waited for the opportune moment and bang! They wrote books that represented women as fierce and kind, feisty and sensitive. The princesses in these books go on adventures and lift weights. They even lead lives like regular people. These authors showed the world that girls have opinions, ambitions and also the courage, strength and tenacity to pursue them.
While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in Utopian fairy tales, constant representation of women as ditzy, wide-eyed, beauty queens can be misleading. And repeated exposure of only such books to children may have them believing that women are in fact weak. Here are some refreshing must-read princess books.
The Worst Princess
By Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Princess Sue was a typical princess locked away in a lonely tower. She too dreamt of being rescued and starting her life afresh. But when her Prince finally arrived, he turned out to be a royal let-down. The Prince took Sue to his castle, ordered her to wear fancy dresses, and sit in her tower looking pretty all day. Sue felt like she was out of the frying pan and into the fire. The princess did not sit back and let the Prince treat her that way. She found an unusual ally who was also quite fed up with the Prince. The both of them conspired, created a little mischief and secured their freedom. A wonderfully witty book.
Suitable for 4+
The Weightlifting Princess
Author: Sowmya Rajendran | Illustrator: Debasmita Dasgupta
When it is most appropriate for a princess to marry a champion, Princess Nila decides that she would rather be a champion herself! But championships don’t come easy. And to go to the best sports school, you have got to be the best yourself. With mega determination, hard-work and persistence, Princess Nila manages to qualify for the Weightlifting Championship. Will she win it and claim the life she wants? Read this amazing avant-garde book that trashes not only the idea that princesses are dainty, but also several other stereotypes about how women must look and behave.
Suitable for 4+
Princess with the Longest Hair
Author: Komilla Raote | Illustrator: Vandana Bist
In this spectacularly illustrated book, the princess was not just beautiful, but also had the longest and most lustrous hair in the entire kingdom. Princess Parineeta did not enjoy the status of a princess and disliked being treated like a showpiece. Consequently, she leaves her palace and wanders away from her kingdom. On the way, she stumbles upon many people in need. She helps them all by offering her hair bit by bit until she has no hair left on her head. This actually leaves Parineeta feeling happy, free and liberated.
Suitable for 4+
The Princess and the Pig
Author: Jonathan Emmett | Illustrator: Poly Bernatene
Baby Princess Priscilla, and a farmer’s new piglet, Pigmella; accidently get switched when no one is looking. The humble farmer and his wife believe that it’s the work of a good fairy to have changed their pig into a lovely little girl. And when the imperious king and queen discover that their baby girl is transformed into a pig, they believe that it’s the curse of a bad fairy. The pig is raised like a princess with royal luxuries and the Princess is raised as the farmer’s daughter.
When the little baby grows up into a smart young lady, the farmer discovers that there had been a switch in the past. The princess is disheartened. She does not want to leave her family and go live in the castle. A hilarious switched-at-birth story that subtly conveys the message that you do not need to be a princess to have your ‘happily ever after’.
Suitable for 4+
The Princess Knight
Author: Cornelia Funke | Illustrator: Kerstin Meyer
When a widower king raises his daughter just as he raised his sons, one would assume that he was on the right parenting track. But it turns out that he just did not know ‘how to raise a daughter’. The lessons that were taught to the princess included horse riding, jousting, sword fighting, etc. At first, Princess Violetta found it hard to keep up with her older brothers, but she had the smarts and determination of all three of them put together. She soon begins to give her brothers some serious competition.
On Violetta’s sixteenth birthday the King announces a jousting tournament. Violetta assumes that the tournament was a platform for her to showcase her skills, but the King has other plans. The tournament was for the winner to marry princess Violetta instead. Enraged that she could not participate in the competition and was in fact the victor’s prize, Princess Violetta sneakily takes matters into her own hands and teaches the King a lesson.
Suitable for 6+
In a short interview with Hippocampus, author Himanjali Sankar tells us about how she got to writing a young adult novel and also talks about why she was so determined to write a book around a topic that’s considered taboo in India. Do read on to get to the wonderful author better.
I wish it was a career! I am a writer by night and weekends only. My day job is that of an Editor at a publishing house.
No particular reason. It just so happened. You could say partly because I read a lot of children’s books while my own girls were growing up and reading them as an adult was a different experience from when a child and I felt it would be challenging to try and write for children.
My older daughter was in her early teens when I wrote this book. I think it is a period of tremendous changes and growth for children, laying the foundation for the sort of adults they will grow up to be. I was interested in how her life was unfolding and felt I had the pulse on children of her age and a better understanding of that age group than any other.
Yes, marginalisation and bullying of children who are different has always bothered me. It was to express this discomfort that I chose the experiences of a child who was homosexual and therefore faced bullying in school. The re-criminalisation of homosexuality had also happened around the time I was writing this book – the judgement was passed by the Supreme Court. This strengthened my determination to write this book.
“To Kill a Mockingbird”. I can’t say it’s for children only. What it talks about is important for every one of us but I do love the fiesty young protagonist Scout and her manner of dealing with life and its injustices.
Organising author visits, opening book clubs and hosting book fairs.
Suzanne Collins, Neil Gaiman and Peggy/Herman Parish for younger readers. And from India, Anushka Ravishankar and Asha Nehemiah.
The Harry Potter series (of course!), The Golden Compass trilogy, “Swami and Friends”, “Coraline”, Junie B Jones series.
Elizabeth Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice”.
Himanjali Sankar did her schooling in Kolkata. She then went to Delhi to do her Masters and MPhil in English Literature from JNU. Her book, The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog, was shortlisted for the Crossword Award for Children’s Writing in 2013. She currently works as a Commissioning Editor for Bloomsbury India.
Adolescence and puberty can be potentially troubling times for children and adults. A good sex educator becomes integral for these transition years. This can be a parent or a qualified professional … and books!
As children grow up, they begin to undergo various changes – physiological and psychological – and become increasingly aware of it. Although they anticipate growing up, physical developments – and the parallel emotional changes – can be very stressful for a child when it actually happens, especially if they do not understand what’s going on and why.
Parents and teachers often find it awkward to discuss puberty and adolescence with children, but it is essential to guide and expose young minds to correct information, rather than avoid the topic entirely. Educating children about changes that occur during puberty and discussing sexuality in a matter-of-fact way, puts it out there that physical changes and sexual feelings are normal, and that it happens to everyone. If you’re thinking that talking to children is not your responsibility, and that Sex Ed class will cover everything that they need to know, think again! Children generally have several questions and doubts that they are probably too embarrassed to ask in front of an audience. This leads them to discussing the topic with their peers which could result in the exchange of fictitious, exaggerated or incorrect information from not-so-credible sources.
Hippocampus has curated a list of books that addresses various aspects of puberty and the challenges that come with them. Do read the books yourself before you hand it over to a child or before you leave it around for them to read. You can decide what information you choose to present to a child and at what age. What’s appropriate varies for each individual child. Do introduce these books to parents of the children so they could also benefit from them. Go ahead and read these books yourselves, try to leave behind social, cultural and religious biases and help children live guilt-free lives and become confident individuals.
The Puberty Book – A Guide for Children and Teenagers
Written by: Wendy Darvill and Kelsey Powell
The authors recognise the primary role of parents and carers in the sexuality education of their children, but this book is written for the latter rather than the former. It is illustrated throughout with witty and informative cartoons, and all of the questions that are used are based on the thousands of questions that children and teenagers everywhere ask, all the time.
It’s Perfectly Normal
Written by: Robbie H. Harris | Illustrated by: Michael Emberley
‘It’s perfectly Normal’ offers young people the real information they need to know to make responsible decisions and to stay healthy. This award-winning book provides accurate, unbiased answers to nearly every conceivable question – from contraception and puberty to birth control and AIDS.
Menstrupedia – A Friendly Guide to Periods for Girls
Menstrupedia comic is the period guide for girls ages 9 and up. In this book you’ll find answers to questions related to the changing body, periods, nutrition and care taking during periods. This book helps young girls learn on their own in the most easy and fun way using stories and cartoon characters.
What’s Going on Down There? – Answers to Questions Boys Find it Hard to Ask.
Written by: Karen Gravelle with Nick and Chava Castro | Illustrations by Robert Leighton
Why is my voice making such weird sounds? When will I be able to start shaving? Why do I keep getting pimples? What is a wet dream? Your body has been behaving very strangely lately. You hardly know what to expect from one day to the next. Karen Gravelle, with some help from her two young advisors, Nick and Chava Castro, has written a down-to-earth and practical book that will help guide boys through the confusing time of their lives.
Are You There God It’s Me Margaret?
Written by Judy Blume
Life isn’t easy for Margaret. She’s moved away from her childhood home, she’s starting a new school, finding new friends – and she’s convinced she’s not normal. For a start she hasn’t got a clue whether she wants to be Jewish like her father or Christian like her mother. Margaret confronts various pre-teen female issues, such as buying her first bra, having her first period, coping with sanitary napkins, envy toward another girl who has developed a womanly figure, liking boys, and whether to voice her opinions if they differ from those of her friends.
Hope you find these books helpful. Do tell us about a book that you think is of relevance to the topic in the comments section below. Happy Reading!
Khyrunnisa A., prize-winning author of children’s fiction, created the popular comic character Butterfingers for the children’s magazine, Tinkle. Her books in the Butterfingers series published by Puffin include the novels Howzzat Butterfingers! (2010), Goal, Butterfingers! (2012), Clean Bowled, Butterfingers! (2015) and the recently published collection of short stories, The Misadventures of Butterfingers. In an interview with Hippocampus, Khyrunnisa tells us all about how Mukesh evolved to become Amar aka Butterfingers and much more.
I’ve always enjoyed children’s literature and re-discovered my love for it when my son was growing up.
The story titled Butterfingers was my entry for a short story contest for adult writers of children’s fiction. I come from a large family and we are pretty clumsy; so we sisters often call one another Butterfingers. Since the story I had thought up was cricket-based, I decided to centre it around a clumsy character with the nickname Butterfingers –having a Butterfingers on the cricket field had the potential for spills and laughter. The original name I’d given for Butterfingers in the story was Mukesh, but when Tinkle requested me to create a regular character for the magazine some years later, I went back to Butterfingers who was my personal favourite and re-christened him Amar, the name of my son.
I’m often asked the same question you asked me – ‘how did you come up with the character Butterfingers?’ Other questions constantly asked are: ‘Why did you choose to write sports-based novels?’ ‘Who is your inspiration?’ ‘When did you want to become a writer?’ ‘Who is your favourite author?’
I love children and want them to enjoy reading books. There aren’t too many books that are humorous and I believe children are too stressed out these days; they need to laugh more. I write to make children laugh and bring fun into their lives and if I achieve that through my books it would give me the greatest joy.
Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. I love it.
By having a library period every week and allowing students to use the library whenever they wish, by making story-telling and discussion of books a part of school life, thereby getting them interested in stories and books, and by emphasizing that reading for fun is as important as studying their text books.
Roald Dahl (though he died in 1990, I think we can call him contemporary and every child should be exposed to his books), David Walliams (Walliams, not Williams) and Ruskin Bond. I hope they are exposed to Khyrunnisa’s books too J
That’s a difficult question for there are at least 500 books every school library should own. My choice narrows down to, in chronological order, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Andy Mulligan’s Trash.
Difficult again. Jennings (Anthony Buckeridge’s creation) or William (Richmal Crompton’s)
Women can’t drive. Boys don’t play with dolls. Act like a lady. Boys don’t cry. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Girls must have long hair. He is a sissy. Are these phrases all too familiar? You have probably used some of them yourself right? Although we may see these statements as harmless on the surface, the assumptions they are based on and the repercussions maybe negative. Isn’t this what gender stereotyping and discrimination is? Isn’t this what leads to various kinds of anxiety disorders while trying to keep up with ridiculous expectations? With the advertising world reinforcing ideas such as a fair girl is a successful one, or boys must be big and strong, it’s a constant battle against rigid mindsets. These clichéd inherited assumptions are later carelessly passed on to children. Toy companies and some publishers of children’s books also tend to be irresponsible.
There is a widespread acceptance that dinosaurs, pirates, cars, basketball, robotics are all ‘boy’ topics and princess, butterflies, ponies, fairies and cupcakes are topics for girls and such books promote it. Keep your eyes peeled for pink and blue just in case you miss the FOR BOYS and FOR GIRLS. At Hippocampus, I see girls thoroughly enjoy books about dinosaurs and robots. If any of them were led to believe that it wasn’t meant for girls, would it be fair? Children are constantly victims of gender stereotyping. I was unpleasantly surprised during an event when a little boy picked a purple butterfly mask and his father urged him to pick a caterpillar mask instead.
The silver lining however is that several other authors, publishers, teachers and parents are working towards change. Before I give you a list of children’s books that break gender stereotypes, here’s a throwback of some refreshing incidents where children and parents stood up against sexism.
This dad who won at parenting by letting his son dress up as Princess Elsa for Halloween.
This lovely little girl who gave the Lego company a piece of her intelligent mind.
As adults let’s take initiative and help children question stereotypes by keeping them well informed. Most importantly, let us be aware of our own ingrained biases before we unintentionally pass them down. Here is the list of books that you’ve been waiting for. Happy Reading!
The Berenstain Bears – He Bear, She Bear
Stan & Jan Berenstain
An empowering book about a boy bear and a girl bear who tell us that we can do anything that we set our minds to. We can drive trucks, bulldoze roads, go to the moon or even fly planes regardless of whether we are a he or a she.
Oliver Button is a Sissy
A wonderful book about a little boy called Oliver who takes tap dance lessons. He gets teased and bullied by all this classmates but Oliver sticks to what makes him most happy . This is an excellent book to address the topic of not just gender discrimination but also bullying.
The Story of Ferdinand
Author: Munro leaf | Illustrator: Robert Lawson
Ferdinand is a large muscular bull who is expected to be aggressive and fight at bullfights. Except that Ferdinand prefers to graze by the meadows, lie under a tree and smell flowers peacefully.
The Princess Knight
Author: Cornelia Funke | Illustrator: Kerstin Meyer
King Wilfred had three sons and he brought them up they way in which he had been taught. He raised them to learn jousting, fighting, and stride around proudly. One day when the King has a daughter, the queen passes away. The king now doesn’t know to raise a daughter, so he teaches princess Violetta the same things that he had taught his sons. Violetta fumbles and fails at the beginning. A nurse even asks her to give it up and learn embroidery instead. But with hard work and perseverance she soon becomes nimble and quicker than her brothers. When one day the King decides to get Violetta married, she refuses to let anyone ‘win’ her hand and soon devices a way to rescue herself from the sticky situation.
Big Hero Size Zero
Author: Anusha Hariharan, Sowmya Rajendran | Illustrator: Niveditha Subramanium
A brilliant book that will give teens a fresh perspective of everything they understand and don’t understand about gender stereotypes and inequality. Discover all the truths and ‘untruths’ in a lighthearted manner. A wonderful book about growing up that will help find some answers, and raise more questions with better information.