December
18th 2007
The Invisible Princess, by Faith Ringgold (2001)

Posted under: book reviews

invis-princess.gifBecause it’s the Christmukkwanzaastice season, please allow me to recommend a wonderful picture book for all children, but especially for little girls who are in the thrall of the Disney Princesses. I won’t waste valuable blog real estate here listing everything that’s wrong with the D.P.’s, but for me, it’s not their simpering dependence on handsome princes, their bizarre narcolepsy (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White), their boobalicious couture (The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas), or their overwhelming whiteness (all but Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan). It’s their lack of anger–their cheerful acceptance of their servitude, and their naive belief that things will get better without getting angry and doing something about it themselves. I could almost handle the bland, rhinoplastic aesthetic (and the singing mice) if only Cinderella would get righteously pissed-off and clock her stepmother with her mop handle and run away. Seriously: if you found out that all along you had a Fairy Godmother who allowed your labor to be stolen from you throughout your adolescence and young adulthood, you’d kind of wonder what the whole point of a Fairy Godmother was, right? And when she swanned along one night to grant you a wish, you’d go for something a little bigger than a night on the town, even if it came with a new Narcisco Rodriguez frock and car service.

For little girls and boys (or big girls and boys, whatevs) who may have sustained the kind of brain damage necessary to believe that Cinderella has a coherent narrative, I prescribe Faith Ringgold’s The Invisible Princess. It’s a fairy tale based in American history in slavery times, and features a princess who is not powerless, but rather uses her power to free her entire plantation. Her parents, Mama and Papa Love, were childless for many years because they feared that any child they might have would be torn away from them by their master, Captain Pepper. When their daughter is born, they ask that she be hidden away from danger, thus with help from the powers of nature, she becomes the Invisible Princess. This book is valuable not just for offering another vision (and aesthetic) of what a princess could be, but also in introducing children to the history of slavery. Slavery is introduced on the first page as an institution that tears apart families–fathers from mothers, and mothers from children–which is not only historically accurate but a highly effective means of helping children today understand the crime of slavery. In my opinion, redemption comes a little too easily for Captain Pepper, who is permitted at the end to join the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love along with the people he enslaved and tortured, but it’s a fairy tale, right? And even Historianns need a holiday. Happy Christmukkwanzaastice.

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