• Picturebook Snob

Making mischief for royal twits

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sarah Ogilvie, Simon and Schuster

What's it about?

Princess Sue waits in a tower for a prince to come along and take her on an adventure. When one finally arrives, he brings Sue straight to his home. To Sue's dismay, the prince tells her that he "wears the armour here" and that "dragon bashing's not for girls." The prince expects her to "just smile a lot" and twist her curls. Realising her prince is a "twit," and not content with being confined to his castle, Sue spectacularly takes control of her destiny.

What can we learn?

Be your own hero and don't wait around to be rescued. If you're not happy with the direction your story is taking, change it. Never listen to anyone who tells you that you can't do something or tries to place limits on you because of their own misguided assumptions.

What makes this stand out? It's incredibly subversive and doesn't just challenge stereotypes - it detonates them! The lively rhyming text adds to the storybook atmosphere and is as hilarious as it is masterful. This looks like a traditional fairy tale even though its content is anything but, and the illustrations are fabulous.

About those illustrations...

There's so much to love about the illustrations! They're wonderful - extremely animated with a gorgeous, retro aesthetic, and full of humorous details. I'm especially fond of Sue's converse, the snail with a teacup shell, the teapot tied to the dragon's tail, and the facial expressions of all the characters. The montage which shows the "real" story when the knight boasts about his daring exploits is priceless too. We see him terrorise a defenceless frog and I LOVE that the frog later gets his own back, after the dragon sets the "princely shorts" alight.

Why we love it...

It's so funny and original with lots of unexpected twists, and the fate of the "yucky prince" (as he is known in our house) always has my kids in stitches. The dialogue is genius and so comical. I absolutely love when the pompous prince addresses Sue as "Susan," indicating his irritation. His query, "Also Susan, beg your pardon, why's there a dragon in my garden?" is not only one of my favourite lines from this book but one of the best fictional questions ever! Princess Sue is amazing and I love how she stands up to the prince and the ridiculous double-standards to which he tries to hold her. The dragon is a brilliant character too and I love how he and Sue cause mayhem together and turn the tables on their oppressors. This might seem unusual given the old-fashioned storybook setting, but the first fairy tales were feminist critiques of patriarchy. Author Melissa Ashley wrote a fascinating article for the Guardian which explores this in more detail.

Why you need it...

This delightful story is as empowering as it is entertaining. The Worst Princess is guaranteed to make children laugh AND inspire them to be themselves and take no nonsense from anyone who tries to undermine them.

"Why's there a dragon in my garden?" is one of my favourite fictional questions

About the author:

Anna Kemp writes picture books and middle-grade fiction. Her work has been nominated for a number of awards and also been adapted for television. Anna has two new picture books due for release in May 2021 - a multicultural retelling of The Little Mermaid with Natelle Quek and Mammoth, with Adam Beer. Both look fantastic!

About the illustrator:

Sara Ogilvie is an award-winning illustrator and printmaker who enjoys the challenge of a wide range of subjects. She is inspired by anything from old wives tales and household appliances, to street life, trying to spell sounds, second-hand bookshops and pedestrian oddballs – the stranger the better! Her work has featured in a variety of bestselling picture books including, most recently, The Hospital Dog by Julia Donaldson.

The Worst Princess was published in 2012 by Simon and Schuster - see this book on the publisher's website

Watch a video of the author reading The Worst Princess

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