There are currently six separately-sold fact-filled volumes, each a fascinating picture book biography of a different real-life princess. The volumes include a multi-cultural group of princesses who also represent different times in history: Isabella of Castille, Hatshepsut of Egypt, Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Persia, Artemesia of Caria, Nur Jahan of India, and Sorghaghtani of Mongolia. They would be an excellent fit for public or school libraries and despite their 24 page format, provide detailed text that would offer plentiful material for school reports.
They are also a good fit for young people who enjoy historical fiction biographies of royalty such as Scholastic's The Royal Diaries series.
Today I will share with you highlights of two of these books.
Isabella of Castille by Shirin Yim Bridges (Goosebottom Books, 2010): Isabella of Castille is perhaps best known to young people as the queen who sponsored Christopher Columbus' expedition to find a trading route to Asia. Bridges points out that unlike in fairy tales, where princesses get rescued by princes and then "swept away to a 'happily ever after'" Isabella made a "happily ever after" for herself. She had a sad childhood, living in exile with her mother after her father died and her half-brother took the throne. But when she becomes heir to the throne of Castile, she refuses all the suitors her half-brother presents, wanting to marry Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon, instead. Bridges explains in accessible language the politics behind royal marriages, and how despite everything, Ferdinand and Isabella fell in love. She provides details of their stormy marriage, Isabella's coronation, her leading the Castillian army into battle, her clothing, her children, and more. The author also does not gloss over negative aspects of Isabella's legacy, including the infamous Spanish Inquisition, launched under her reign, and the high price native populations paid for the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
Both books are amply illustrated with pen and watercolor illustrations, photos, and period paintings, include a glossary with advice on how to pronounce unusual names, as well as maps and a timeline of different princesses in the series, and a "what she wore" section. A bibliography in each volume with suggestions for further reading and web resources would have been a useful addition.
It is often very young girls who are obsessed with princesses; see Peggy Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly-Girl Culture (Harper, 2011) for more on this topic. Nonetheless, the 9 to 13 year old crowd that these books are targeted to still has many princess worshippers, only instead of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty they now idolize Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, among others. This series provides an alternative to what author Bridges calls the "all-too-pervasive message that girls should look pretty, sit around, and wait to be rescued by a prince." And we can all say Amen to that!
For further information on this series, see the Goosebottom website as well as a very informative article from Publisher's Weekly, "Goosebottom Books Seeks to Empower and Entertain 'Thinking Girls.'"
Disclosure: Review copies provided by publisher.
To enter to win one copy each of these two books for your home or school library, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address so I can contact you if you are the winner, and share with me the real-life princess (or queen) from history whom you find most fascinating (no fictional Disney princesses, please)! The winner will be selected by random number generator on March 31, 2011.