Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thursday's Children - Inspired by a Princess

Before I started writing and editing full time, I did daycare.

Out of my home.

Because I wanted to stay home with my own kids

And also, I am insane.

Actually, no - well, not completely, anyway. I really enjoy kids. However, I will say that potty training four kids at once is no one's idea of a good time. But there were parts of the job I adored. Like when any of the kids would grab a book, plop in my lap and say, "I need a story."

It was rarely, "Read me a story," but almost always, "I need a story." I loved that. Mostly, because I often feel like I need a story. I need that break from the rest of my day, that little escape.

To this day, I can still recite all of Where the Wild Things Are, most (early) Sandra Boynton books, Green Eggs and Ham, Princess Smartypants, Drac and the Gremlin, Pandora and The Paper Bag Princess.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, was always a favorite around here. I read it several times a day. When my kids and the daycare kids were in school and I'd volunteer in their classes, this was almost always on the reading list. I'm still inspired by it today.



If you're not familiar with this little gem, it opens with Elizabeth - a beautiful princess who lived in a castle, had "expensive princess clothes" and was going to marry a prince named Ronald. Unfortunately a dragon smashed her castle, burned everything, including her clothes, and carried off prince Ronald. (I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

Elizabeth, being a kickass heroine decides to chase the dragon to get Ronald back, and the only she can find that isn't burnt is a paper bag. So covered in soot, wearing a brown paper grocery bag and her bent crown, she goes off to rescue her prince. Appealing to the dragon's vanity, she manages to trick the dragon into using all of his fiery breath and then exhausts him to point where he can no longer move. Elizabeth steps over him, and rescues Ronald.



And everything's great. Right?

Nope.

As it turns out, Ronald is pretty much an asshat. He complains that she smells like ashes, her hair is all tangled and she's wearing a dirty, old paper bag. He tells her to come back when she's dressed like a real princess.

The last page of the book goes like this:

"Ronald," said Elizabeth, "your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum." They didn't get married after all.



Like I said, this book inspires me. In 24 pages (12 of  them full page pictures) Munsch gives us a character who is willing to fight the dragon, who manages to out-think the dragon and who rescues the person she loves. Only when she discovers that he's not the person she thought he was, she's outta there. She has the strength of character to walk away. She's strong, brave, smart and most of all, she's true to herself and has enough self worth to remove herself from a situation where she's not valued for who she is.

These are the kind of characters I love. And the kind of characters I want to write.

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32 comments:

  1. That IS a cool story. My kids loved the Sandra Boynton books, as did I. For a while I worked in a daycare. My Prince Ronald used to complain that I smelled like baby puke when I got home. I kept him anyway ;-)

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    1. LOL! Yeah...I also wore a lot of Eau Du Baby Puke. ;)

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  2. Haha - I loved that story when I was a kid too! Maybe there's something in the simplicity of children's books that we can all learn from?

    I also like the moral "lesson" goal of those books — I feel like all good stories ultimately teach us something about ourselves, or how we should behave. I try to work those types of themes into my stories too.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I think the thing that's great about children's books is that you can easily see the story distilled to its bare bones and still be a satisfied reader.

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  3. I love The Paper Bag Princess! If you have an adult or YA version, I'm sure I'd be a fan-girl for it.

    http://www.miaceleste.com/?p=227

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    1. I'd never thought of a YA version, but the wheels, they're turning! Thanks, Mia! :D

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  4. Great post Chris! I've been kicking a kids book idea around for a few months, and it's wonderful to be reminded that the best kids lit is simply about fulfilling the "need" for a story.

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    1. Thanks, Jeff! I've had a few kids books rattling around too. We should probably write them. :D

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  5. we love the paper bag princess too! it truly is greatness...

    wonderful post :)

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    1. Thanks, Jessika! I think it'll always be in my top five favorite kids books of all time. :D

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  6. I'm laughing like crazy. I never heard that story, but I love it. Truly inspiring. I'm big into having girl character's rescue guys in my stories. This is a good reminder that all ends aren't happy and to make sure the guy is worth his ever after--or off with his head :)

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    1. It's the *best* book! Definitely check it out if you ever get a chance!

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  7. I have to buy this book. And I'm with Mia--you should totally do a YA re-telling!! That would be so awesome :)

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    1. You HAVE to get it! I'm actually considering it! Must. Write. Faster. :D

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  8. I NEED THIS BOOK! I'd never heard of it before, and now I want it. Badly. Thanks for sharing- I've never even read it, and now I'm inspired by it too...

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  9. I'm with Mia and Kate, a YA retelling of the PBP would be a great read. You should totally write one ;)

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  10. That book sounds AWESOME! Especially the way you tell it. Asshat. haha! You should totally do a YA retelling. I'd read it.

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    1. I confess, asshat is one of my favorite words. :)I think I just might. :)

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  11. You named my favorite thing from my time working at a daycare. "I need a story"; or the pre-speech ones that would just come up and sit on my lap book in hand if I ever got down on the floor for any reason...

    What a wonderful memory.

    And what a great book to focus on... I hadn't heard of it until last year when my son brought it home from school to show me. I felt like I'd missed something all my life when I read it.

    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Ohhhh, the pre-verbal book in the face and diaper-butt in the lap. I miss that. :)

      I'm so glad your son brought it home from school for you to read!

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  12. "I need a story"... yes, so true! Great post, hope you have a great writing week!

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  13. It's a great experience hanging around kids. I did a lot of that when my boys were in middle school and younger.
    Love the story--how could I have missed The Paper Bag Princess? My boys were Crazy for dragons--these days they're into bigger dragons, like war hammer dragons. aye. Now you can use all of the 'training" in your kidlit. I'm getting this book FOR ME! lol. :)

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    1. My boys are into bigger dragons, too. ;) And yes! Get yourself a copy! You'll love it! :)

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  14. I did not know this book - but I think I love it!

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  15. That is an awesome story. I love it! And yes, daycare sounds like it would put me in a straight jacket.

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    1. LOL - that's what the moms I babysat for used to say! :D

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  16. Awesome summary - I love how a good children's story can in a few pages make a really great point. I love her attitude!

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    1. Her attitude is the best! I was so delighted the first time I read that book! :)

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