“The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert N. Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko is a humorous fairytale that takes the idea of the knight in shining armor and gives it a modern twist. Elizabeth seems to be your normal everyday princess complete with a castle and “expensive princess clothing.” Martchenko makes it perfectly clear through his illustrations that Princess Elizabeth is smitten with her betrothed, Prince Ronald. If her clenched hands and expectant smile isn’t sign enough about Princess Elizabeth’s feelings toward Ronald, then the floating hearts around her head give her away. Unfortunately, Prince Ronald seems less interested, facing in the opposite direction with his eyes closed, aloof and uninviting. Like almost all fairy tales a dragon interrupts this one-sided romance, burns down the princess’ castle and all her clothes and steals Prince Ronald. Princess Elizabeth is left with only a paper bag to clothe herself and sheer determination to get her beloved prince back.
The illustrations in themselves are worth a moment or two of reflection. In one picture the newly bagged princess glares down at the scorched earth that serves as a trail to the dragon’s lair far off in the distance. The princess’ expression along with her singed hair and warped crown are enough to make anyone laugh out loud. But the real jewel in this story is the message Munsch offers to his readers, in particular, young girls. The story itself smacks of reality when it comes to those princes we’ve all chased after and fought dragons for only to find out that they neither reciprocated our devotion nor valued us for the right reasons. Despite Princess Elizabeth’s attire and homelessness, the dragon still recognizes her as a princess. Prince Ronald, however, refuses to do so as she is not “dressed like a real princess.” Munsch poses this question to his readers: What makes a real princess? The story would suggest that brains, bravery, and boldness all constitute part of the makings of a real princess.
“The Paper Bag Princess” is a terrific story with a relatable heroine for people of any age. Princess Elizabeth’s story may not have the happy ending you’d expect from a fairytale that involves a dragon and a prince, but it will leave you with a sincere smile on your face.
– Aubrey Siino