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Are Pink and Pretty Picture Books Here to Stay?

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So I listened to this great interview with Peggy Orenstein, the author of CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER on NPR. As a mother of 3 girls deep in the princess stage of childhood, it was sooo interesting. The quote that has me thinking the most is this one: “I mean pink is just a color, but it's a small slice of the rainbow and it comes to represent this little box that gets tighter and tighter around girls that tells them that girlhood is defined by makeovers at four years old and princesses and being the fairest and ultimately the hottest of them all. “

Major food for thought. I'm sure we could have an amazing discussion here on the blueboards just about the book itself, but my question is actually about the picture book market. Being a picture book writer as well as a picture book consumer who buys primarily for girls, listening to this got me wondering if the pendulum will ever begin to swing away from “pink and pretty” picture books? Or maybe it already is beginning to? Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious seem to still be going strong. What do you all think?
#1 - February 17, 2011, 12:32 PM
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One of my PB WIPs is intended to address just that. . . . been something bugging me since my daughter came on the scene.  Nothing wrong with pink -- my daughter gravitates toward the color although I try to show her the beauty in brown and other colors (hey, I'm a redhead, I never could wear pink). 

Hopefully other PB writers will put more alternatives out there that celebrate the girl who would rather do something other than dress up and be "pretty."  Girls need to see all of their options. 
#2 - February 17, 2011, 12:44 PM
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I hope so! It's funny you mentioned this, as I am working on a WIP that uses the word princess, quite a lot :) I have a daughter and although she isn't super girlie, she just told me the other day her favorite color is pink.  She also loves Cinderella, so I hope this is a yes.  However, I am not an agent or editor, so this is clearly my own personal two cents.

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#3 - February 17, 2011, 01:23 PM

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I've thought about this a lot too. Thing is, little girls LOVE pink and sparkly. The reason they do is, of course, because everything around them tells them it's pretty - from the clothes rack in the store, to the diapers they wear. But that doesn't change the fact that because of those influences, they do gravitate towards those colours/looks. I would LOVE to see PB writers try to explore other possibilities for kids but my fear is that publishers won't be so keen to bother publishing a book that goes against the grain. The only chance I see is for a book like Kellie's (I've picked up on enough info on that to know it's a book I will happily buy and read repeatedly to my daughter!), with a spunky MC that's somehow 'cool' enough to capture young girls' imaginations too.

What's so funny about Fancy Nancy is that the message there is actually that being fancy isn't that great, but when I read it to my daughter she totally missed that message and started demanding bows and all sorts, so she 'could look fancy like Nancy'! Talk about backfire!

PS For anyone that doubts whether girls 'naturally' love pink, just go to another place where Disney and the like don't have such major marketing power (I'm thinking of Germany here, where my sister lives). The girls are like a different species!!!
#4 - February 17, 2011, 01:24 PM

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When I work in my library's children's room, there is usually at least one question per shift from an adult looking for a "princess or fairy book" for their pre-schooler (daughters usually). Some parents roll their eyes but it is what their kids want. Others are happy to have anything for them, including the Disney princess books.

Ironically, a parent asked for CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER from me yesterday and until she told me it was for her book group, I thought it was a parody children's picture book. :)

On another note, during every children's room shift, I also have at least one request for train/truck books for their pre-schooler (sons usually).
#5 - February 17, 2011, 01:25 PM
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Isn't Jean Reidy doing a "Too Princessy" book????  I think so. . . .

See, Jean's already on the case!
#6 - February 17, 2011, 01:42 PM
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Great topic!  I'm a mother of 2 girls (now "tweens") and a preschool/kindergarten teacher of 20+ years.  I've always been bothered by that stereotypical "frilly girl" character found in so many picture books.   I tended to steer away from those types of books.  I think one of my favorite characters is definitely Junie B. Jones, and I loved reading those books with my daughters!  She is such a realistic character and has so much spunk - not to mention - she is hysterical!  I think we need more of those characters!  Many of the girls I have taught over the years, as well as my own daughters, definitely enjoyed "girly stuff" like playing dress-up.   I think anything that allows a young child to use his/her imagination is wonderful.  I think sometimes, however, there is too much emphasis placed on girls being "girly".  I'll never forget a student I had many years ago, who would be immaculately dressed every day.  Her mother would take the daughter (who was 4 or 5) to get a weekly manicure and pedicure!  It made me CRAZY!  And the mom was always worried about the daughter getting messy... which also  made me CRAZY, since that's what preschoolers are SUPPOSED to do.   Anway, I think that girls get enough pressure about looking "pretty", and the pressure seems to be starting at an earlier age.  I'd rather not see that message in a picture book.  This discussion is somewhat ironic for me because I just sent out my first pb manuscript about a preschooler who can't decide what shoes she want to wear to a party.  The reason it's taking her so long to decide, is that every time she tries on a different pair of shoes, her imagination takes over and she turns into a different character.  But she is definitely spunky and wild , and that is why I wanted her to come to life.  Think I went off on a tangent here... sorry!!   :) Kathy
#7 - February 17, 2011, 02:11 PM
« Last Edit: February 17, 2011, 02:14 PM by kathym44 »

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My daughter, now 17, was always a huge tomboy. After about age 2, she refused to wear anything with pink or flowers. We made her wear dresses for temple, but otherwise she wore pants. It was very hard to find clothes for her. So much was pink or flowery or had princess stuff on it. As she got older, so much of the clothes made teens and preteens look like little prostitutes. Happily for me, she didn't like the little prostitute look either.

I never had trouble finding books for my daughter though. There are plenty of princess books, but there are also plenty of Goosebump books, adventure books, science books, etc. I like that there's something for everyone in books.
#8 - February 17, 2011, 03:05 PM
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The flip side of Debby's post is that pink, when worn correctly, can be a very masculine color.  I've seen the phrase "real men wear pink" on numerous t-shirts and I've known many school age boys - hyper-masculine jock types, mind you - wear this color with pride.  The last year I was teaching, one of my fifth grade boys - a kid who made fun of basketball because it wasn't manly enough for his taste (he was into wrestling) made no bones about the fact that pink was his favorite color.

I have a pink shirt and tie that I sometimes wear with a black suit and I'm always guaranteed compliments on how I'm dressed when I go out in it.

So, to be fair to pink, let's not box it into an image of being a frilly little girl color.  Guys look great in it and wear it willingly.

(And for the record, I loathe princess books.  Unless someone wants to write a book about a princess who happens to be a biker chick with a black belt and a law degree.)
#9 - February 17, 2011, 03:50 PM

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Isn't Jean Reidy doing a "Too Princessy" book????  I think so. . . .

See, Jean's already on the case!

Thanks for the shout-out, KDubay. While TOO PRINCESSY! wasn't written to make a statement, it was written with great honesty -- just as TOO PURPLEY! is about finding the perfect comfy clothes, which don't always happen to be girly.

One thing to keep in mind is that with a picture book you have your story and then you have the packaging of that story. The packaging - in particular the cover and title - can house a much richer story than would initially appear. But like any product, the package is often what sells it. And for whatever reason, pink sells.
#10 - February 17, 2011, 05:43 PM
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Others at www.jeanreidy.com

Love the classic "anti-princess" book... The Paper Bag Princess by Munsch
#11 - February 17, 2011, 06:14 PM

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One thing to keep in mind is that with a picture book you have your story and then you have the packaging of that story. The packaging - in particular the cover and title - can house a much richer story than would initially appear. But like any product, the package is often what sells it. And for whatever reason, pink sells.

This is actually one of the points Orenstein makes in the interview. She says that in many of the Disney movies involving princesses, there is actually a redeeming message for girls. Many times it is one of empowerment. But then they market it by selling make-up kits, mirrors, jewelry etc. and it muddles the message. But it is what sells.
#12 - February 17, 2011, 08:07 PM
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When I was little I wasn't allowed to have disney or tv merchandise, princess books, barbies or any of that stuff.  We watched PBS and nature shows, and the news. No disney movies, no plastic toys (for toys I had stuffed animals, teddy bears, wooden stuff, books, etc., and a computer).  Well, I guess it was not so much "wasn't allowed" to have that stuff, as, they just never bought it for me, ever.  And my mom was a super-feminist who would not have given me a pink room or pink clothes in a million years.

Still, my fave colors were pink and purple -- and still are!   :bellydancer  YAY PINK!! <3
#13 - February 17, 2011, 08:32 PM
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Literaticat. . . nature shows?  Like how to survive in the wilderness?  Your tweets from country livin' take on a new level of humor for me! 
#14 - February 17, 2011, 09:34 PM
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Literaticat. . . nature shows?  Like how to survive in the wilderness?  Your tweets from country livin' take on a new level of humor for me! 

LOL - gosh no. More like Jacques Cousteau and Nova. :-)
#15 - February 18, 2011, 05:43 AM
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Part of it is developmental. There's a certain age when kids are learning about gender differences and are particularly rigid. Girls have long hair, boys have short hair, etc. It's just a way of understanding the world. When they get older, those stereotypes become more malleable.

The other day we went to a water park that has a MagicQuest game. The kids all run around the hotel with wands of their choosing. All the girls who were my daughter's age (5) had the pinkest, sparkliest wand there was, with a sparkly unicorn topper. The older girls were far less stereotypically girly, and in fact, I think they would have found all that pink too babyish.

So I think it's a normal part of development. But yes, the princess movies drive me crazy. I wasn't going to let my daughter watch them at first, but she loves them so much, I gave in. She's not overly girly. She loves worms and getting dirty. But she does love pink too. I figure as long as I'm not pushing the pink sparkly thing on her (as some parents do), and as long as I explain things to her, then she'll be fine.

I don't think Fancy Nancy is bad. I particularly like that they had her playing soccer but her socks simply let her "play better". The new Disney movies are pretty good, I think. "Enchanted" was so funny. But the old ones, well, they're from a different time.
#16 - February 18, 2011, 06:29 AM
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I have two girls and they like "pink accents" ....a little pink trim on their black  gi (karate uniform) as they train with   black belts  or a little pink on their mountain bikes as they compete in races- makes them feel "girly", they tie ribbons to their backpacks and carry little stuffed animals into the wildreness.
and the adventure started with their dad- ( I can take little credit) who read them Kipling, Treasure Island, Narina, and PB like Olivia, Henkes mice PB, the old Francis classics, and anything with an animal-
I'm working on a PB of a little girl who loves animals and doesn't mind getting muddy- maybe I should make her rainboots pink!
#17 - February 18, 2011, 08:41 AM

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My four-year-old daughter's favorite color is brown.  Her sister, 5, must wear dresses and tights every day (even to climb trees and play in the snow or mud) and accessorises with all things pink and sparkly.  Buuuutttt -- she is a wicked tomboy too, and can wrestle her 8-year-old brother to the floor.  So, sure, she gravitates to the pink princessy stuff but also to other titles as well.  She is currently obssessed with the Magic School Bus series.  So, I'm not worried.  (And yes, she wears fancy stuff to play soccer whenever she can!)

It's funny -- I'm staring at my wall of Post-It notes from PiBoIdMo, and nearly half of them seem to have that rebel princess/girl kind of theme.  Clearly, we're bound to start a new trend!
#18 - February 18, 2011, 09:35 AM

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Haven't read it myself yet, but Jane Yolen's picture book, NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IN PINK, may be of interest.
#19 - February 18, 2011, 06:44 PM

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Good call, Candace. Thanks for mentioning the Yolen book.
#20 - February 19, 2011, 06:45 PM
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#21 - February 19, 2011, 07:11 PM

Interesting discussion. I was in Borders today (the one near me isn't closing...yay) and there was a display of "girly" picture books. There were a number of gimmicky-looking pink-and-sparkly books. There was a really cute book called Do Princesses Have Best Friends Forever? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle--it's about a couple of little girls who bond over princessy stuff, but they get messy and climb trees, etc. too. And the illustrations by Mike and Carl Gordon are adorable. Right next to it was a book called A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid, about a feisty little girl (her personality reminded me of Mo Willem's pigeon) who wants a skunk for a pet. So there was a mix.

Honestly, my own daughter, now 17, went through a phase from 3 - 5 where she only wore dresses and loved everything pink. By third grade or so, she was a jeans-and-t-shirts tomboy, and now she's a smart young woman with her own sense of style and a desire to make the world a better place. I'm not a fan of the princess craze, but I don't think it will warp them irrevocably.
#22 - February 19, 2011, 09:02 PM

Kids are all different, just like adults. I hope we always have pink, princessy books for girls who love pink princesses. I've got 2 girls. One of them loves animals and pink and princesses and anything with glitter. I'm so glad she has Beatrix Potter and Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious.

My older daughter never wanted me to read her anything about animals or heaven forbid girly girls. I read her the Magic School Bus and Greek Myths and everything I could find on Ancient Egypt. I think it's good to let them love what they love. :)
#23 - February 19, 2011, 11:55 PM
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I've just revised a pink story... but I wouldn't say it is pretty. And it is not little girl... it is funny animal.

It is pure humor along the lines of James Marshall and Holly Hobbie. It got me into Rutgers a few years ago. I am finally really happy with it. Now I have to re-storyboard it. I think parents and kids will both like it. Third person omniscient. Fun to write and fun to read.

Pink is popular. And there are so many different shades of it to boot!!


#24 - February 20, 2011, 06:17 AM
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I think it is great that little girls develope their own personality and style and  have books they can ID with at the bookstore-  pink or not- I can remember my two going in a bookstore and literally hugging a book they found as if the world would end if they didn't get to buy it.
#25 - February 20, 2011, 06:42 AM

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While at the library yesterday, I left my 3 girls (ages 2, 4 and 6) in the picture book section while I stepped away to help my son pick out some middle grade books. When I came back they had this stack of books:

GOLDILICIOUS by Victoria Kann
SHOE-LA-LA! by Karen Beaumont & Leuyen Pham
PRINCESS BESS GETS DRESSED by Margery Cuyler & Heather Maione
PRINCESS BABY by Karen Katz
BELINDA BEGINS BALLET by Amy Young
ANGELINA AND THE ROYAL WEDDING by Katharine Holabird & Helen Craig

Every single cover was pink and sparkly. I thought of this thread and laughed. Yes, pink sells!

I still wonder if we are going to see a slew of "anti-princess" picture books in the near future.
#26 - March 18, 2011, 02:44 PM
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