In Praise of Paper Bag Princess, Belle and Mrs. Potts

The theatrical sound track to raising our two daughters was ‘Beauty and the Beast’.  The 1991 animated Disney film was the movie of choice on our VHS tape deck.   When I close my eyes I  see our daughters seated at their child size arts and crafts table painting and pasting, while Lumiere and Cogsworth playfully bicker from the screen.

The sweetness of the movie features a strong, book reading heroine named Belle who saves the Beast from prison.   A prison created by his own selfish spirit.  Only if the Beast can learn to love and be freely loved in return can the spell of an enchantress be broken.

This weekend a new live action adaptation of this classic animated movie opened. Starring Emma Watson as Belle.  Always a challenge to attempt a retelling of a classic tale this cast pulls it off.

Belle’s father, played by Kevin Kline is asked by his daughter to describe her mother, who died when Belle was an infant.  Her father replies: ‘She was fearless.  Absolutely fearless’.   This is the attribute that Disney emphasizes for the heroine Belle.

In raising our daughters we looked for strong, feminist role models in popular culture.   We knew that such role models would help to fire the imagination of our girls as they grew.   A helpful librarian introduced us to ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, a self sufficient girl who doesn’t wait for the prince to rescue her from the dragon.

In like manner Belle  is an independent heroine who defies the expectations of her village to conform.  She is a fearless in rescuing her father from the Beast’s prison and ultimately her courage and compassion frees the Beast from a prison of his own  making.

This weekend my wife and I went to see the new Beauty and the Beast with our youngest daughter now 22.   That same evening our eldest daughter age 25 went to see the film on the west coast with her friends.  We all agreed we loved it.

It was a pleasure to hear the familiar songs.  Angela Lansbury the Mrs. Potts that helped raise countless children, was replaced by the voice of Emma Thompson.  Both actors brought the same kindness and protective mama vibe to their role.

Adding to the experience 20 plus  years later was seeing the intelligent, compassionate, fearless women that our daughters have become.  Its comforting to know that Belle and Mrs. Potts whose story line and sound track were part of our daughters childhood, will continue to entertain and encourage a new generation to love books, to be fearless and kind.


In Praise of Paper Bag Princess

My daughter recently sent me a list of The Best Feminist Picture Books: She prefaced this by saying, ‘this made me think of you’.

Twenty-three years ago my wife and I had our first child, a daughter. As a dad it was important to me that the stories we read didn’t follow the standard formula of the handsome prince saving the girl in the tower.

As a new dad I asked our local librarian to recommend books where the girl was the hero. She said there weren’t many books like that but a new book had crossed her desk ‘The Paper Bag Princess’.

Paper Bag Princess

The Paper Bag Princess is the story of a princess who’s had enough of waiting for her knight in shining armor, she takes off and vanquishes the dragon and then decides the prince (whom she rescued), is not worth her valuable time after he makes a rude comment about her appearance.

I thought, ‘this is the kind of book I want to read to my daughter!’ One of the qualities that attracted me to my wife is that she is a smart, strong, independent woman. In raising our daughters (another daughter would follow a few years later), our goal was to raise strong, adventurous, socially conscious young women. The Paper Bag Princess was a good place to start.

Twenty three years later our two daughters are launched. One is living and working in Los Angeles as she pursues her passion and the other is studying for a semester in Ireland with adventures ahead. Both are setting their own course and inspire me.

We continue to live in an a world that is too often sexist and misogynistic. Yet we’ve made progress in the last twenty years. In a recent listing of The Best Feminist Picture Books, there are many more books to inspire girls and boys to follow their dreams.