As a child I loved The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. I grew up in England where snow was a rarity and the stark ice palace fascinated me. But most of all I loved that feisty Gerda left her home and braved danger to rescue her good friend Kai from the wicked queen. I think now that I loved this story because it was different from so many of the others — a girl rescues a helpless boy. I wanted to be brave, determined Gerda. But other Hans Christian Anderson tales are far more problematic. Take The Eleven Wild Swans. In the retelling I found on my bookshelf Eliza is the sister of eleven princes who are “kind and good” while she grows “more beautiful every day.” The children's jealous stepmother turns the princes into swans and then pours dark brown dye into the bath tub so that Eliza’s white skin and golden hair are stained as “brown as wood.” The King mistakes Eliza for a dark-skinned gypsy and banishes her. The story so far has perpetuated the ugly stereotype that gypsies are bad and emphasised that blond hair and pale skin are superior to dark hair and skin. But it gets worse. After Eliza washes away the dye she is kidnapped by a king who sees her and immediately wants to marry her. But the king becomes convinced she is a witch and prepares to burn her at the stake. As Eliza stands on the pyre the swans appear and she returns them to their human form with the help of shirts she has woven from nettles. (Ouch!) The king relents and asks her to marry him. And this is where I clench my teeth and swear all the swears because Eliza meekly agrees to marry the man who has kidnapped and then attempted to murder her. Here you go girls — he's a king so he's a catch. Just ignore the fact he was going to kill you!
Note: Some of these stories stick to the traditional tales but offer multicultural viewpoints (such as La Princesa and the Pea); others reinvent the stories (such as Interstellar Cinderella); and others are alternative “princess” books.
Princess, Princess ever after by For the younger crowd:
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchencko. (I can't say enough how much I love this book.)
Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt. (Another personal favorite.)
Not all Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin.
Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? By Carmella LaVigna Coyle, illustrated by Mike Gordon.
Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton.
Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright.
King and King by Linda de Haan, illustrated by Stern Nijland.
La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. (A bilingual re-telling of the traditional story with award-winning illustrations.)
The Princess and the Pea by Rachel Isadora. (Also Hansel and Gretel, The Fisherman and his Wife, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.)
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe.
Beauty and the Beast by H. Chuku Lee, illustrated by Pat Cummings.
Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller.
Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa by Niki Daly.
Little Roja Riding Hood by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Susan Guevara. (Also Rubia and the Three Osos.)
Little Red and The Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith.
Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings.
Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young.
Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan.
The Girl Who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo Dillon.
Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colon.
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. (First book in a beloved series.)
Fortune’s Folly by Deva Fagan.
Princeless by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin. (First in a series.)
Princess, Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill.
Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Susan Guevara
Tam Lin: An Old Ballad by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak.
Sister Bear: A Norse Tale by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Linda Graves.
For the older crowd:
Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel and Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison.
Ash by Malinda Lo.
Damsel by Elana Arnold. (Note: This book is not available yet - it comes out in October, 2018.)
Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon.
The Wolf Hour by Sara Lewis Holmes.