#IMWAYR – Sept 12, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

Fall is here with a vengeance! Shorts and flip flops have already been traded for jeans and boots, and I for one couldn’t be happier. I am a pasty northern flower who wilts in the heat and turns fire engine red at the first sign of sunshine, so I am definitely more comfortable in autumn/winter!

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This week I shared my love of Japanese animation (anime) with a Top Ten Tuesday list dedicated to ten of my all-time favourite programs, many of which are available onNetflix!

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For Nonfiction Wednesday I featured a fascinating title celebrating female fashion trailblazers who changed the world by changing their clothes. Fashion Rebels is a perfect nonfiction choice for any budding fashionista, but it could really appeal to just about any tween/teen history buff – I’m the least stylish person imaginable, but even I was drawn in by these stories of pioneering women who used fashion as a means of expressing themselves, fighting societal conventions and turning assumptions on their heads.

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On Thursday I took a walk down memory lane and shared an old university essay dedicated to one of my favourite children’s books of all time, the Canadian classic The Paper Bag Princess. If you haven’t read this one yet, hop to your nearest library on the double – it’s the original girl power picture book, and it’s pretty darn fantastic.

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Friday was my first foray into Poetry Friday! As a student I was convinced that poetry was TERRIBLE, and I HATED it. My academic interactions with poetry consisted primarily of “interpreting” poems by long-dead Englishmen, which inevitably meant memorizing the correct interpretations and repeating them on demand. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, I swore to the moon and stars that I would never set eyes on another poem for the rest of my days. This, of course, was a terrible shame, and as a librarian and book lover I’m hoping to do my part to help connect young readers with poetry that speaks to them, and to help future generations avoid my unpleasant experience. How better to kickstart this project than with a collection of poems about dinosaurs?

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Saturday saw the continuing of my B.C.-themed Reading Staycation project with Spark, a sweet little story about a young dragon who just can’t seem to control his flame! Author Kallie George is a successful author, editor, instructor and speaker who is based in Vancouver.

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Finally, I capped off the week with an ode to one of my favourite book stores – the wonderful Japanese second-hand book store chain Book Off, which sadly doesn’t have a location in my home city. Though considering the stack of books my partner brought back from a recent trip to New York, our wallets might benefit from the distance between ourselves and the nearest Book Off!

Over on The Book Wars we celebrated the launch of our brand-new website, and we couldn’t be more excited!!

September is “space month” over on The Book Wars, so I let my feminist/geek flags fly and shared two great nonfiction titles all about female astronauts! Women In Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures features the incredible stories of 23 pioneering women from a variety of different countries, cultures, backgrounds and decades who  triumphed over prejudice to pave the way for future generations.

One of these women in particular is the focus of the second space-themed book I shared this past week. Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman in space, which is an incredible accomplishment in itself, but she’s also a successful physician, entrepreneur, Star Trek fan and all-around awesome roll model. This engaging early reader introduces children to this inspiring, trail-blazing woman, a true embodiment of girl power.

It’s been a great week so far – bring on the sweaters and the pumpkin spice lattes! 🙂

Kicking it Old School with the Paper Bag Princess

The initial assignment in one of my favourite MLIS classes, Survey of Children’s Literature, was to revisit a favourite picture book and consider whether childhood adoration can survive an adult’s critical eye. I decided to look at the Canadian picture book classic The Paper Bag Princess. Here’s what I wrote.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Long before the feisty Scottish princess Merida of Pixar’s Brave, there was Elizabeth, the spunky young heroine of Robert Munsch’s Canadian classic The Paper Bag Princess. First published in 1980, this simple children’s story, told with humour and illustrated with charm, is the antithesis of the traditional damsel-in-distress fairy tale, and a refreshing reinterpretation of cultural gender norms. Though I was hardly aware of it as a child, the story of The Paper Bag Prince helped shaped my developing view of the world, and my place within it.

As a work of children’s fiction, The Paper Bag Princess remains as relevant today as it was when I was a child. The story’s protagonist Elizabeth begins the story a typical princess, but when a dragon destroys her possessions and steals her prince, Elizabeth sets out to rescue him. Brave and resourceful, Elizabeth uses her intelligence to defeat the dragon, and when the ungrateful prince insults her appearance, she decides she’s better off without him. The Paper Bag Princess delivers a powerful message of female empowerment that’s humorous and engaging, and never heavy-handed or preachy. The story is told so matter-of-factly that its reversal of traditional gender roles seems entirely natural and believable, the way it ought to be. Elizabeth is a straight-forward character who sees a problem and discovers a non-violent way to solve it. By presenting the princess as a strong, intelligent character who just happens to be female, The Paper Bag Princess puts the emphasis on her personality and actions, rather than on her gender. The message to children is simple, yet powerful – gender need not define who you are, or determine what you are capable of.

 When I was first introduced to The Paper Bag Princess as a child, I knew nothing of notions of female empowerment or gender equality. I loved the story because it was funny, with an exciting plot and delightful illustrations of dragons. Robert Munsch created in Elizabeth a female character that was immensely appealing as well as empowering. Even as a child, I knew that Elizabeth was a special character, a girl who took on dragons and stuck her tongue out at boys. I may not have realized then that she was shaping my understandings of gender norms, but I did know that she was more impressive than the usual boring storybook princesses! The Paper Bag Princess gently reinforces cherished lessons that last a life-time: that intelligence is powerful; individuals should be judged on their character, not their appearance; violence is not the only solution; and all relationships should be based on respect.

As an adult I appreciate more than ever the positive spirit of The Paper Bag Princess and its emphasis on intelligence and bravery, particularly when so much of today’s media seems to reinforce negative gender norms for young girls. The Paper Bag Princess is a story at once powerful and light-hearted, and its endearing protagonist is a role model who delights as much as she empowers. I can only hope that future generations find as much pleasure and encouragement in this story as I once did, over 20 years ago.

Munsch, Robert N., and Michael Martchenko. The paper bag princess. Toronto: Annick Press, 1980. Print.