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Heroine chic

If your daughter's fixation with tiaras, tulle and taffeta is becoming a royal pain, introduce her to these six unconventional regal role models.

Once upon a time, in a land overrun with product tie-ins from the Magic Kingdom, there was a surfeit of delicate little ladies. For parents who strove to instill in their daughters deeper values than the desire to be the fairest of them all—or for those with an intolerance for the color pink—these were challenging times. (Pity the family we’ve heard of whose little girl who will wear only head-to-toe snow white, including a faux-fox-trimmed cardigan and floor-length organza gown.) But just when it seemed that moms and dads were doomed to play an endless loop of Cinderella sequels on their Disney Princess DVD players, there appeared on the horizon a small band of powerful young royals of an altogether different lineage. The creators of these tomboys and independent thinkers had a common aim: to provide girls with heroines less passive than those found in many other fairy tales. Who are these antiprincesses, and where can you find them? Right here. Let us introduce you to the half-dozen characters in an array of clever picture books whose goal is to redefine girl power.

Name Violetta
Hails fromThe Princess Knight, by Cornelia Funke; illustrations by Kerstin Meyer (Chicken House, $16)
Why she’s an antiprincess Determined and clever, with black hair sometimes coiled into Princess Leia--style ear loops, Violetta works hard to develop skills ordinarily reserved for boys, such as horseback riding and sword fighting, and turns tradition on its head by defeating the knights who fight for her hand in marriage.
Nemesis Well, there’s more than one: the king, who is determined to find his daughter a husband; her brothers, who mock her when she takes up the sword and armor; and the knights, who want to marry her only to gain royal status.
She walks off into the sunset...with the humble rose gardener’s son—the man of her choice, not someone chosen by her father.
Telling quote “What! You want me to marry some dimwit in a tin suit?”

Name She’s known simply as “the Princess.”
Hails fromThe Princess and the Dragon, by Audrey Wood (Child’s Play, $8)
Why she’s an antiprincess This irritable, noisy prankster slurps her soup, feeds worms to her sleeping guardian and doesn’t give a hoot about her bad reputation. Rather than conform to societal pressures to be more ladylike and rein in her untamed manner, she secretly trades places with a dainty, curtsying dragon, a switch that gives her license to terrorize the countryside .
Nemesis The old knight charged with looking after the challenging girl; all the mothers and fathers in the kingdom who cluck their tongues at her unprincesslike ways.
She walks off into the sunset...with a dragon’s roar, and hosts a wild party in her mountain lair.
Telling quote “Get going Greenie! This is my place now!”

Name None; the anonymous little girl in these three books wears a daisy-chain tiara while inquiring about proper princess behavior, and gets rhyming answers in return.
Hails fromDo Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?, Do Princesses Scrape Their Knees? and Do Princesses Really Kiss Frogs?, by Carmela LaVigna Coyle; illustrations by Mike Gordon (Rising Moon Books, $16 each)
Why she’s an antiprincess Curious, adventurous and sporty, she’s eager to adapt typical princess behavior to suit her own life—not the other way around.
Nemesis The unattainable ideals of the fairy-tale lifestyle, which don’t seem to include real-life activities like playing soccer, climbing trees and dipping one’s toes in the river.
She walks off into the sunset...under a rainbow, on a field of flowers, with her daddy.
Telling quote “When princesses laugh, do they sometimes snort?”

Name Isabella
Hails fromPrincess Pigsty, by Cornelia Funke; illustrations by Kerstin Meyer (Chicken House, $17)
Why she’s an antiprincess She may be blond and live in a castle, but that’s where the similarities end. Rebellious Isabella is stubborn, outspoken and likes to get her hands dirty. She rejects the trappings of her pampered existence, and revels in the punishments she receives for her disobedience, which range from peeling potatoes with the scullery maids to mucking out the pigsty.
Nemesis Nearly everyone, from the ladies-in-waiting who polish her crown and pick up her clothes to the footmen who bathe her and curl her hair.
She walks off into the sunset...and into the castle, hand-in-hand with her father, the king (although we’re told she still gleefully sleeps in the pigsty).
Telling quote “Princesses don’t do anything fun. Princesses don’t even pick their noses. Princesses just stand around looking pretty. Yuck.”

Name Princess Smartypants
Hails from Princess Smartypants and Princess Smartypants Rules by Babette Cole (Putnam, $16 each)
Why she’s an antiprincess Shown riding a black motorcycle on one cover and standing astride two harnessed dragons on the other, Princess Smartypants is willful and independent, and resistant to her parents’ urges to find her a husband. In the sequel, she even decides to become a single parent.
Nemesis Prince Grovel, Prince Swashbuckle and all the other suitors who make nuisances of themselves by trying to woo her.
She walks off into the sunset...surrounded by her giant reptilian pets.
Telling quote “Right. Whoever can accomplish the tasks that I set will, as they say, win my hand.” (The tasks, which include a roller-disco marathon and a cross-country motorbike ride, prove insurmountable to each swain.)

Name Elizabeth
Hails fromThe Paper Bag Princess, by Robert N. Munsch; illustrations by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press, $6)
Why she’s an antiprincess With a sharp tongue and an even sharper mind, Elizabeth upends convention by saving her dauphin-in-distress. After he reveals himself to be somewhat less than noble, she dumps him.
Nemesis First, it’s the powerful dragon who bursts into her castle, burns all her clothes and kidnaps her prince. Then, after she rescues him, the ungrateful, hypercritical prince himself.
She walks off into the sunset...alone—she’s actually skipping—and free of her loser prince.

Telling quote “Ronald, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.”

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