In the past week, both Hillary Clinton and Savannah Guthrie released children’s books, both bestsellers. So are they worth buying? Let’s dig into the lessons from both.This post contains affiliate links, which means ToB will receive a small commission if you choose to buy these products. Read full disclosures here.
Princesses Wear Pants Review
“Princesses Wear Pants” is touted as girl power. Empowerment for a new generation of girls who can “do it all.” So is it a groundbreaking feminist tale, or same-old princess culture?
Written by Savannah Guthrie of NBC’s Today Show and Allison Oppenheim, the very first page of this children’s book begins with a description of Princess Penelope Pineapple. Sadly, readers don’t find out whether she’s shy or outgoing, risky or cautious, or skilled in karate or spelling. No. Children learn what she looks like: “brown eyes, pink cheeks, and pigtails of fame.”
On the very first page, we also learn that the community values Princess Penny primarily for her appearance. “The one thing more admired than her long flowy tresses / was her closet full of tiaras and dazzling dresses.” Really, the one thing? Wouldn’t it have been cool if she were the best bug collector instead? But no. She is a “proper young lady” (groan) who can paint, sing, and dance.
Penny also loves to wear pants, a supposedly unique characteristic, for activities like yoga and gardening. My optimism rises momentarily when Penny organizes a science fair and flies a plane.
Did We Move the Needle on Gender Expectations?
But when it comes time for the Pineapple Ball, the royal higher-ups prohibit pants for girls. Will Penny resist? Rebel? Perhaps stage a protest? After all, she says she wants to be herself. But no, she shows up to the ball in a gown. In the end (spoiler alert), Penny saves a cat from drowning after revealing she wore a swimsuit under her gown. Confusing, as Penny’s supposedly beloved pants didn’t save the day after all.
While Penny succeeded somewhat to change public opinion in her kingdom – naysayer Lady Busyboots admits that Penny saved the day because sometimes dresses get in the way, and changes the rules accordingly – Princesses Wear Pants does little to create an engaging, memorable character or a forward-thinking plotline to inspire young girls to be unique.
Mixed Messages for Girls
The Today Show’s morning coverage further snarled the mixed messages of the book. Off the bat, Hoda Kotb addresses the girls in the audience as the “gorgeous little panel” and nothing else. Ugh, Hoda, is that what’s most important about them? When introducing co-author Alli Oppenheim, Kotb doesn’t mention any of her credentials aside from being a parent educator, only that she’s married to the president of NBC News. Ugh, Hoda, is her husband the most important thing about her? Kotb then quickly refers to the co-authors as “lovely ladies.” At this point, I feel like begging her to please read my post about finding other ways to start conversations with girls and women.
To her credit, Oppenheimer seemed genuine in her desire to dive deeper with her own daughter, and reportedly pressed her child to think more critically about what princesses actually do, and how they act as leaders. I wish this theme had driven the story.
Meanwhile, Guthrie seemed eager to preserve her mainstream and non-offensive likeability. Her repeated disclaimers in interviews made me wonder if she’s scared to be called a feminist. Or if the network told her not to be too controversial.
“You can be a girl who loves sparkles. You know, we [pointing to the adult women] all love our dresses and our fashions and our shoes. And that’s fun.”
“I’m into princesses. I’m all for it. It’s great.”
“Look there’s glitter on the cover, so we’re like, give the people what they want.”
After all, if the book were truly rooted in feminism, it would have to venture out of the safe and predictable confines of a white female character awash in glitter and pink dresses to disrupt rigid gender stereotypes. Instead, we’re left with a princess who hides her preferences under a socially acceptable outfit after being told that’s what girls are supposed to do, and doesn’t reveal her true character until absolutely necessary.
The authors and reporters seem unaware that not all girls want to be princesses. Not all women “love dresses and fashions and shoes.” Not all girls like to dress up. Not all girls love pink. But some boys do. Have we stopped to consider that?
NBC Correspondent Jenna Bush Hager praises the book as empowering girls to do ANYTHING they want to do. Sadly, this version of empowerment carries a subtler message that girls SHOULD like all things pink and glittery and appropriately feminine. Do girls have to adhere to a traditional stereotype of femininity before achieving anything grand?
For a truly groundbreaking tale about a princess, the 1970s made more progress than this with Princess Atalanta from Free to Be You and Me. Show this to your girls AND boys and please report back if it doesn’t give you chills.
While Princesses Wear Pants was well-intentioned, the competing messages and heavy emphasis on appearance made it just another princess story for me.
It Takes a Village Review: A Hopeful Message to Children
If you want to be inspired about your children’s future, pick up “It Takes a Village” instead. The new children’s book by Hillary Rodham Clinton is based on her 1996 book by that same title, in which she set out her more complete vision for children.
It teaches them that they often will need a little help to get that job done. A champion, actually, which is a great reminder to adults reading the book that we need to be that champion; not only for our own kids, but for all kids.
If you believe that we all have a responsibility to help our neighbors and community members to make the world a better place, this book will reinforce that lesson.
Drawn with beautiful illustrations by Marla Frazee, children will love looking at the many scenes of adults, kids, and families who are quite diverse, from gender, race and ethnicity to ability and family makeup. They read, help, grow, build, run, share, and unite.
(Bonus points for the subtle depictions of a mother nursing her baby, people using wheelchairs, and families with two dads.)
“The village needs every one of us to help and every one of us to believe in each other.” After all the people in this community work hard and pitch in, they unite to relish in their shared result.
While the book is geared toward children ages 4-8, my younger toddler loved looking at the gorgeous, colorful illustrations of different people doing different things.
As all parents know, it really does take a village. I hope this is the kind of world that my daughter grows up to help create.