It’s not that I object to princess stories per se, but I like to challenge the mainstream princess motifs (beauty and marriage, the occasional sleeping curse) with alternative storylines now and then. I like to think that even princesses aren’t monolithic, and I want my daughters to see lots of stories that illustrate their potential pathways in life—not just the standard princess’s happily ever after. Each of the stories on this list features a strong, likeable female character, and all of them play with the genre in ways that freshen up the stories and the princess perspective.
This book is technically not about princesses, but it’s by one of my favorite authors and it’s oozing with magical girl power. The text reads like part incantation, part prayer, all enchanting. And the poem gives an interesting glimpse into the post-happily-ever-after world, when the princess becomes the queen.
2. Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer
After perpetuating the obsession, Olivia realizes she’d prefer to be more unique than the stereotypical pink, tutu clad fairy princess; she alters her style in search of something different, something more powerful, and bears the transition royally.
3. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
In this twist on the fairytale conclusion, Princess Elizabeth rescues the Prince but ultimately decides he’s not worth the trouble. Too much of a complainer. Ever the optimist, Elizabeth dances off into the sunset on her own, proud to be (and be by) herself.
4. Princess Bee and the Royal Goodnight Story by Sandy Asher and Cat Bowman Smith
Another of my favorite authors, Sandy Asher tells the sweet story of Princess Bee, who really just wants her mother to tell her a bedtime story. The story—soft and charming—features a royal family that’s mostly functional and loving, with a special relationship between the queen and her youngest princess.
Both of Funke’s stories show protagonists who deviate from the traditional line of princess work; instead of preening and pampering, these princesses play rough and tumble and like to get their hands dirty. Turns out they’re mighty good at their vocations, too.
7. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch and Herm Auch
A comedic gem, this tale tells of Princess Paulina’s efforts to get back to “princessing” and riffs on several well-known fairytales in the process. In the end, Paulina decides she’s more invested in entrepreneurship than matrimony, and her choice is simply delicious.
8. The Princess and the White Bear King by Tanya Robyn Batt and Nicoletta Ceccoli
This story updates a classic fairytale, with a brave, resourceful, and virtuous princess. She makes mistakes but atones for them, and rescues her true love along the way. The illustrations in particular make these Northern European folktales timelessly beautiful.
9. Princess Pig by Eileen Spinelli
Pig is a makeshift princess (and another addition to the strange trend of coupling princesses and pigs) who learns that being royal isn’t all about luxury. Sometimes it’s better to be a regular old pig—if, as her wise friend Pony reminds her, that’s what one happens to be.
10. The Queen of France by Tim Wadham and Kady MacDonald Denton
This story is a delightful romp through Rose’s imagination, where she alternates between her ordinary self and the Queen of France, and whatever else her mind can conjure up.