A classic feminist picture book, and one of my own childhood favourites, Princess Smartypants is a witty and amusingly misandrous subversion of the traditional “suitors-try-for-hand-of-princess” fairytale trope. From the opening line: “Princess Smartypants did not want to get married. She enjoyed being a Ms”, to the gleeful ending, she is shown as independent, strong and competent. In this case the “happily ever after” ending serves to demonstrate that Smartypants is permanently happy to be unmarried, having rejected all men. Nice.
It’s in a similar vein to another 80s feminist classic, The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch), but I much prefer the style and humour of Princess Smartypants, it’s certainly aged much better, and is still available even in mainstream bookshops. I don’t always love Babette Cole’s illustration style, but it really works in this context, with lots of appealingly grotesque images of Smartypants’ monster pets.
What’s good about the book?
Smartypants is a kickass protagonist, but her liberation isn’t gained through rejecting femininity. It’s genuinely funny and a good way of chatting about fairytale tropes with little ones.
What is less good?
It’s still about a princess, and the vast majority of characters are princes. All appear to be white. The only other female character, Smartypants’ mother the queen, is a figure of (borderline misogynistic) ridicule, the butt of an unnecessary gag about her shopping excesses.
Notes on the author
Babette Cole was super cool and very prolific, and sadly died earlier this year. This book has a few sequels/spin-offs and she also wrote a few books on social issues including Mummy Laid An Egg, a sex-ed picture book, which is kind of endearing, if a bit 90s and painfully hetero.
Good for conversations on…