One of my favourite books is Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess. This picture book has stood the test of time, being a fan-favourite when I was in school (light years ago) and still holding its place in bookstores and school libraries.
I must admit that most of Munsch books are a bit too loud for me, with characters that shout and scream and demand in ways that make me a bit uncomfortable. But, Princess Elizabeth has to be one of the coolest feminist characters in the book world – and probably one of the first to appear in contemporary children’s literature.
Aodhan has been a big fan of TPP since he was about 12 months old and it has continued to be a hilarious and stimulating bedtime read. I just love the way that Elizabeth takes matters into her own hands and outsmarts the dragon in the face of his own self-satisfaction. The real clincher though is when Elizabeth heads off to rescue her prince she realizes that he is a ‘bum’ because he acts like jerk (he has nothing but unkind things to say about a woman who just tackled a dragon to save his butt).
I decided that reading TPP just wasn’t enough – we needed to act this sucker out. And we did it in a bunch of different ways that resulted in a bunch of fun.
First – I made Aodhan (and one of his totally cool friends) a dragon costume. So easy, so fun! Want to know how?
- Grab some green felt (or fleece) and cut yourself a perfect square (about 1 m x 1 m), and fold it corner to corner so that you have 1 big triangle.
- Now fold again, so that you have a four-layer thick triangle.
- Take the point where all the bits come together and use a SMALL dinner bowl (really, trust me SMALL – I cut our neck holes too big and had to re-stitch), to cut a quarter of a circle.
- Open it up and you should have your poncho body.
- Now, use more felt to cut out some triangles for scales in two different sizes because you are going to put some running down the back and some running down the hood.
- Make the hood by grabbing felt or fleece of your colour choice (we used brown) and make a shape like the one in the photo above.
- Try for a 20 cm bottom and about 25 cms from the middle of the bottom to the middle of the top.
- Lay your spikes on the INSIDE with triangle points facing in and make a hood sandwich. Now sew with a 2 cm seam allowance.
- Sew the bottom edge of the hood to the back of the poncho’s neck hole.
- Take your fancy fabric scissors and slice a hole from the bottom point of the poncho to about 3 cms from the hood top. Turn inside out and on one side lay your big triangles (points facing inward – lay the flat of the triangle along the edge that you will sew) and lay the other side of the fabric on top of your spikes and sew.
- Clip your loose threads and you are done!
Once Aodhan was dressed up as the dragon, I had no choice but to join in the fun and I grabbed a yard bag and cut a hole in the top and two arm holes and voila! The Paper Bag Princess.
In our costumes we read, we recreated the story and we just generally had a hilarious time with each other.
The next day we constructed Elizabeth’s castle and built a dragon’s cave with a fleecy blanket.
We also found images of the characters online and covered them with contact paper, adding a popsicle stick – instant puppets! We had so much fun remaking the story in our own living room.
As far as feminist children’s texts go, this is a score for me. It subverts the whole princess genre and really encourages the idea of self-reliance and problem solving. Though it is about the worst from an ecological perspective – I am always mentioning in our reading that actually burning down forests would be a really, really bad idea. And don’t even get me started on how non-vegan it is! Oh well, you win some and you lose some. It’s a brilliant book and I hope that it is one that Aodhan will read to his children, if he decides to have some that is.
I am linking up to these great blogs.