The Princess and the Shoe by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
This is a remarkably clever, interesting and progressive twist on Cinderella with a lively rhyming text, lots of humour and fabulous illustrations. "Unlike SOME girls who love ribbons and bows," Jasmine is a princess who hates "long dresses and other smart clothes." As her birthday ball approaches, Jasmine despairs. She'd much rather take part in a race but is told "princesses can't run." Jasmine constantly hears that she's "meant to look pretty, smile sweetly, be calm" and "stand still, smile and wear a nice hat." Her stepmothers and stepsisters warn her that "no prince wants a sweaty princess on his arm."
Jasmine almost surrenders her dreams but is visited by an encouraging fairy godmother who gives her a gift of a new pair of running shoes. Jasmine manages to race in the morning and attend the ball afterwards, where we see her wear dungarees instead of a dress. She firmly establishes that "there's no end to the things that a princess can do" and celebrates at her birthday party.
The determination and persistence of Jasmine, especially when faced with adversity and doubting herself, is admirable. After getting into difficulty when practising for the race, Jasmine cries: "Oh dear me, it’s too hard. I’m no good." She doesn't give up, but continues running "through the grounds, past the town and beyond.”
Halfway through the big race, Jasmine loses a shoe and her confidence dwindles. "Harsh thoughts" like "princesses should try to be pretty," "princesses should think buying dresses is fun" and "don't try to be different" begin to taunt her. Jasmine finds the courage to continue, assuring herself that she'll "finish this race wearing only ONE shoe" and prove to them all what this princess CAN DO!"
One of the things l love most about this story is that it isn’t a spell that makes Jasmine run faster, it’s the power of her own faith in herself. Jasmine thinks that the runners are enchanted but after the race, her fairy godmother tells her: "the magic you used came from inside your head, You had to believe you could do it." The fairy godmother continues "Your dreams are important, they're what make you, YOU. Let nobody tell you there's things you can't do." This is wonderful wisdom that can be applied to all aspects of life and an empowering message for children.
She might lose a shoe and have a fairy godmother but Jasmine is not like Cinderella. This princess doesn't want to go to the ball and her stepmother and stepsisters are not wicked. There is no emphasis placed on anyone's appearance. Jasmine's positive attributes have nothing to do with her looks.
Women are not portrayed as consumed by jealousy and driven to cruelty towards each other. The other female characters are all kind to Jasmine and supportive of her. Their ideas may be old-fashioned but they mean well. Instead of pretty (and presumably uncomfortable) shoes made of glass, Jasmine receives practical ones from her fairy godmother.
It's also fantastic how this subverts the more traditional tales of reserved princesses whose stories end with matrimony. This plays with expectations of princes too; the prince in this story is rude and obnoxious instead of "charming." When he finds Jasmine's lost shoe and proposes, she tells him; "there's no way I'm marrying YOU!" The final page depicts Jasmine gazing at the evidence of all her accomplishments. We see trophies, rosettes and pictures of Jasmine engaged in an assortment of athletic, academic and artistic pursuits.
The Guardian reported that only 5% of children’s books had black, Asian or minority ethnic main protagonists in 2019. Published in June of last year, this book is part of that 5%. In addition to Princess Jasmine, the king, the fairy godmother, several of the race's spectators and participants, and attendees of the ball, are from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
The Princess and the Shoe is the latest addition to the Princess series by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton. There are currently five books in the collection and they have sold over 220,000 copies worldwide. We have The Princess and the Pea which is great fun too. We recently got The Princess and the Christmas Rescue, which has been stowed away as a surprise for Christmas Eve (though I'm hoping to review it before then).
Caryl Hart is a superstar as far as I'm concerned. Not only a prolific writer of acclaimed, bestselling and utterly brilliant books for children of all ages, Caryl also blogs about, and tirelessly promotes, literature for young readers. You can purchase signed copies of her books from her website. We were delighted to receive a copy of Meet the Planets with a personalised note included, and lots of stickers and postcards (review coming soon).
Sarah Warburton has worked with a wide variety of authors and publishers. Her portfolio includes the Rumblewick's Diary books by Hiawyn Oram, another series that is popular all over the world and has even been optioned by DreamWorks. Caryl and Sarah also collaborated on a rhyming retelling of Peter Pan that has colour illustrations throughout.
Sarah's illustrations are extremely dynamic and colourful with lots of comical details. My kids love the frog that appears on several pages, especially when he emerges from the mud, on top of Jasmine's head. The boy dressed up as a shark always gets a laugh too; it's great fun watching him progress through the race and then seeing him appear at the ball later on. Even the endpapers are bursting with energy; Jasmine zooms through them, leaving trails of muddy footprints everywhere.
It's so exciting to see a new generation of princess stories like this one where the female protagonists have so much agency and so many skills and talents. Caryl Hart's princesses remind me of one of my favourite quotes by Nora Ephron: "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim." Jasmine is no damsel in distress and by the end of the story, she's not even a damsel in a dress. She defies not only gender stereotypes but princess ones too. Above all, Jasmine shows children that they are capable of anything if they believe in themselves and that they should never listen to anyone who says otherwise.
PS. If you enjoy feminist fairy tales, see also Don't Mess with a Princess by Rachel Valentine and Rebecca Bagley and this brilliant article by Melissa Ashley about how the first fairy tales were feminist critiques of the patriarchy.
Title: The Princess and the Shoe
Author: Caryl Hart
Illustrator: Sarah Warburton
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Publication Date: 9781788003360
Publisher: June 2019