My two oldest children are girls and they went through that rite of passage: Disney Princess. We had Disney princess dress-up clothes, Disney princess tea sets, Disney princess books — you name it, we had it. My husband joked that the person at Disney who thought up combining the Princesses better be running the company by now (or at least, highly compensated) for the stroke of genius.
But the Disney princesses were always so helpless, especially the older ones like Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Do princesses really need rescuing? Please! I don’t like this message imparted to young girls so, in a perfect world, these are the books I’d read instead!
Best Brave Princess Books for Girls
10. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
When a dragon destroys her castle and takes the prince captive, Elizabeth figures out what to do. She dons a paper bag (because her clothes are burnt up), tricks the dragon, and rescues the prince herself. He criticizes her appearance and she realizes that he’s a bum and she lives happily ever after. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
9. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The classic and beloved story by Frances Hodgson Burnett about Sara Crewe whose life turns upside down from a life of privilege to a life of poverty when her ship captain father dies penniless in India. [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
8. The Princess and the Tower by Michael Dahl
Princess Lily thinks that someday a prince will rescue her from a dragon or witch, but when that happens she finds that she isn’t helpless after all. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
7. The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child
My girls adore all books by Lauren Child: they love the artwork, they love the feisty girl characters, they love the quirky stories. Here, Child takes the classic story and adds fabulous collage art to make a winning picture book with a very je ne sais quoi princess who lives in a treehouse, never opens her mail, and likes to take long walks to follow the moon. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
6. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Caroline Funke
Violetta wants to be the bravest, cleverest, and most nimble knight in the land like her brothers. When she turns sixteen, the king decides to hold a jousting competition to determine her husband. Violetta takes matters into her own hands and disguises herself as a knight. She wins the competition and chooses independence over marriage.
This was a book club book for a preschool book club and the activity was creating a game using foam core board for the bed, wallpaper scraps for the coverlets and pillows, and dice. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
5. Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris
A perfect twist on a classic fairy tale. Christian is a boy raised in the forest by a troll. When he sets off to discover the world, he meets Princess Marigold who is about to be betrothed to another. Add in an evil mother, a doting but clueless father, and let the fun begin.
This was a book club book for a 3rd-grade girls’ book club. The activity was making perfume using a kit called Perfumery from any toy store or Amazon. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
4. Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca
Princess Cora has a dull life, forced to take three baths a day, read dull books, and jump rope for exercise. her parents are well-meaning but misguided. Luckily Princess Cora has a fairy godmother who grants her a wish, sort of. Instead of a fluffy dog, she gets a pet crocodile who is determined to fix her life. The crocodile attempts are hilarious but they are effective. This is a fun and funny early chapter book for girls who like to get dirty! [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
3. Shadow by Jenny Moss
“In a time of kings, queens, and conspiracy, it’s impossible to know whom one can trust. . . .
In a kingdom far away and long ago, it was prophesied at her birth that the queen would die before her sixteenth birthday. So Shadow, an orphan girl the same age as the young queen, was given the duty to watch her every move. And as prophecies do tend to come true, the queen is poisoned days before her birthday. When the castle is thrown into chaos, Shadow escapes with a young knight, whom she believes was betrothed to the queen.
Unsure of why she is following Sir Kenway, but determined to escape as far as possible from the castle, her long-time prison, Shadow sets off on an adventure with the handsome knight who has been charged with protecting her. As mystery builds, and romantic tension does, too, Shadow begins to wonder what her role in the kingdom truly is. Soon, she learns, it is up to her to save her land.
Jenny Moss’s novel is a lyrical, fast-paced adventure filled with mystery, magic, honor, and romance that will lead readers on an incredible journey. ” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
We all know the beloved movie but the book is 10 times better than the movie — it always is!
“[Goldman’s] swashbuckling fable is nutball funny . . . A ‘classic’ medieval melodrama that sounds like all the Saturday serials you ever saw feverishly reworked by the Marx Brothers.” —Newsweek
“One of the funniest, most original, and deeply moving novels I have read in a long time.” —Los Angeles Times
[middle grade, ages 10 and up]
1. The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye
This was a book club book for 2nd grade girls. It was a little difficult for that age group and the first half of the book is a little slow so not all the girls finished the book but it is worth it! We told the girls to keep going for the final chapter!
Princess Amy’s gifts from the fairies include wit, charm, health, courage. Her final gift is to be ordinary. She looks a little ordinary compared to her beautiful sisters and her parents’ despair of marrying her off. She finally runs off and discovers, while an assistant kitchen maid, a prince who is unconventional and misunderstood as she is. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Honorable Mention Brave Princess Books for Girls
The Princess and the Cafe on the Moat by Margie Markarian, illustrated by Chloe Douglass
It’s a busy day at the castle but no one needs help from the princess so she crosses the drawbridge and finds townspeople outside in need of assistance. She reads a letter to an old man, babysits for a widow, and bandages an injured squire. Her parents are inspired by her kindness to set up a cafe outside the moat in the very spot where she helped everyone. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Lady Lucy’s Quest by Karen Gross, illustrated by Ji Woo Jasmine Shin and So Young Jang
Lucy’s quest to become a knight is met with skepticism but she’s allowed to take the three-part test because there’s no rule technically that says girls can’t be knights. This is a difficult test of endurance, strength, and courage. Lucy uses her assets: her compassion, her ability to build a team, and her creativity. And it’s enough to pass the test. While this book is not technically a princess book, it’s a book about empowering girls. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Albert Nguyen
I am always looking for intriguing non-fiction for kids and I really like this picture book biography series of real princesses. This is a really well-done series that not only covers the biography of each real princess and the time period that she lived, but has details on what she ate and how she dressed. Life as a real princess back then was fraught with danger and political intrigue so these stories are also exciting. [advanced picture book, ages 6 and up]
Sorghaghtani of Mongolia
Because I had never heard of Sorgphaghtani and she was one of the most successful princesses in the series manages to be both an exceptional ruler and mother. She was the granddaughter of the Great Genghis Khan but keeping the empire intact is a more difficult job than just conquering foreign lands. Sorghaghtani had the wisdom to respect other cultures and recognize and reward talent regardless of race or religion. She is a great example of how the world would be if women ruled!
Hatshepsut of Egypt
I am very partial to ancient Egypt and Hatshepsut is intriguing as the only female pharaoh in Egyptian history. As a ruler, she made Egypt a powerful and prosperous country by focusing on expanding trade with other countries which brought in timber, horses, and other exotic treasures. One mystery still remains: why were most records of Hatshepsut wiped out? This question might pique the curiosity of your daughter to dig for more!
Isabella of Castile
We’ve all heard of Christopher Columbus and his patrons who funded his trip in which he discovers America, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. It turns out she was a powerful force behind Spain’s Golden Age who didn’t allow herself to be played like a pawn in a saga for power that is not unlike a soap opera. Unlike some of the other real princesses in this series, Isabella’s conquests of territory — in the case Grenada — were bloody, resulting in thousands of Moors driven out of Spain or killed. This may have affected her karma because none of her children had long nor happy lives. Let this be a lesson for future real princesses!
Qutlugh Cerkan Khatun of Kirman
This story is even more dramatic than the Story of Ruth. “A girl born into a noble family, [in Arabia], is taken in a raid by an enemy king and sold into slavery. In the squalor of the slave market, her sweet nature shines through and she is rescued by a kind merchant who brings her up as his own child. As she grows, her beauty, intelligence, and gentleness enchant all around her. So desirable is she that she is kidnapped again several times. Finally, she finds herself in the arms of a prince who marries her…With him, she rules a nation. So wise and just is she, that on his death, the people ask her to continue as their ruler.” To this day, her rule is considered Kirman’s golden age.
Nur Jahan of India
We’ve all heard of the Taj Mahal with its unequaled beauty and symmetry. What we learn from this book is that Nur Jahan is behind the change in architectural design at the time, replacing red sandstone with white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. Her brother-in-law, Shah Jahan, is the one who builds the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his wife, but it’s Nur Jahan’s work when she built a mausoleum for her father that lays the groundwork for his design. Nur Jahan’s story is another “Story of Ruth” who marries, Jahangir, the future emperor of India. Though this was unusual, her administrative talents were recognized by her husband and she began to assist in running the country focusing on improving trade (a similar focus like Sorghaghtani of Mongolia). She also worked to improve the lot of women. Her only misstep was to switch allegiance from the heir apparent to a younger prince. While she is unable to get her progeny into power after her husband’s death, she survives the political turmoil in exile where she continued to work on behalf of the poor, particularly disadvantaged women.
Artemesia of Caria
Caria is one of the states in Ancient Greek that gets absorbed into the Persian empire. The King of Persia, Xerxes, wants to annex more of Greece into his empire. In a time when girls were designated to the women’s quarters of the house, Artemesia was very, very different from her peers. It’s not clear how she accomplishes what she does, but she becomes an admiral and then Queen of Caria through her fighting and sailing prowess. In this story, and it’s a shame that the real story of her rise to power is lost to the sands of time, we learn that Artemesia is the only person under Xerxes who has the courage to stand up to King Xerxes’ battle plan which turns out to be disastrous. After his defeat, she becomes the only war advisor he trusts.
The Princess and the Potty by Wendy Cheyette Lewison
My middle daughter loved this book as a potty training toddler. A cute and fun book for a princess whose potty doesn’t please her either! [picture book, ages 2-5]
Best Brave Princess Books for Girls Reader Recommendations
Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Regan Barnhill
Thank you to Middle-Grade author Kurtis Scaletta for this suggestion. It sounds great!
In most fairy tales, princesses are beautiful, dragons are terrifying, and stories are harmless. This isn’t most fairy tales.
The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairytales by Jay Williams
Thank you to Bekka for this great recommendation!
The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray
Thank you to Sadez for this recommendation: The Apple-Pip Princess (Jane Ray) is one I love ~ strong, intelligent princess; beautiful illustrations; positive message.
The Secret Lives of Princesses by Philippe Lechermeie
Thank you again to Sadez: Also, while I’ve yet to actually read it, I have been greatly intrigued by The Secret Lives of Princesses, by Philippe Lechermeier. The illustrations look wonderful, and quirky princesses are so much more appealing than helpless ones…
Princess Bubble by Susan Johnston, illustrated by Maria Tonelli
The TODAY Show “Raising Confident Girls” on August 20th featured Princess Bubble and authors Susan Johnston and Kimberly Webb. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane Auch, illustrated by Herm Auch
When Princess Paulina’s father surrenders his kingship, the enterprising young lady sets off for a neighboring castle to marry Prince Drupert. Vying with other princesses, she sails through the traditional pea test, stays in the running after the glass-slipper fitting, but faces real difficulty in the third trial. Competing against two other princesses, Paulina finds herself left with some flour, yeast, water, tomatoes, cheese, and the threat of a beheading if she can’t concoct a tempting feast. In haste and trepidation, she tosses the fruits of her culinary labor onto the hearth and-voil…-wins the everlasting admiration of the prince and the overbearing queen. Paulina, however, has other plans; she spurns marriage and opens the highly successful Pizza Palace. But the happy-ever-after ending has a hitch; Drupert’s mother is a pizzeria regular and is last seen sharing a slice with Paulina’s father. This fractured fairy tale has a thoroughly modern sensibility, from the retired monarch pursuing a second career in the arts to the feisty heroine who runs her own business. The story moves briskly along with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to traditional tales, and the exaggerated features in the illustrations are reflected in the hyperbole of the text. In a clever bit of foreshadowing, Paulina’s oft-repeated “for Pete’s sake” becomes the etymological basis for the word pizza. One bothersome note: Paulina’s diamond pendant disappears from the illustrations with distracting regularity. A silly take on kids’ favorite takeout. Carol Ann Wilson, Westfield Memorial Library, NJ, From School Library Journal [picture book, ages 4-8]
The Three Mighty Princesses by Cynthia Anne Young
The Kite Princess by Juliet Clare Bell
Review by Story Snug.
Rescue Princesses by Paula Harrison
Review by Story Snug.
Marigold and the Dragon by Fred Crump
Review by What Do We Do All Day?
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p.s. Related posts:
Book Club for Kids: Chapter Book on Knights, Princesses and Castles
Great New Chapter Books for Kids
10 Middle Grade Books about Immigrant Families
Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad Blog Tour
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
28 thoughts on “Top 10: Strong and Capable Princess Books for Girls (ages 2-16)”
Thank you for this post. You have included some of my favourite books and authors plus introduced some new ones that I shall now go and check out at the local library.
I absolutely adore anything by Lauren Child and my best friend even gave me a book signed by her for my 40th birthday! You’re never too old for picture books;-D
found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later
Don’t forget The Princess and the Pizza, a fun picture book with a princess who is anything but helpless. This was one of my son’s favorites and we still enjoy it as a read-aloud.
Thank you for that one. I didn’t know about it. I will track it down, read it and add to the list!
Have you read Princess Bubble?
Thank you for that suggestion. I will track down and add to list after I read it!
Thanks for including The Paper Bag Princess, Robert Munsch has got to be the greatest storyteller ever! I saw him when I was 7 and he inspired my life long love of reading, and now the paper bag princess is one of my daughters favourite stories!
All his stories are awesome, and a lot of them usually have hidden messages, princess taught me (and my daughter) that girls can be strong, smart and brave and dont need boys to ‘rescue’ us!
The Paper Bag Princess was the first book I thought of when constructing this list. I love that book too! I’m so glad that you got to meet him and that he’s a wonderful person. I will search out more books by him. I think that was the only book I’ve read by him. Thank you for sharing your experience with him!
So glad to spot THE ORDINARY PRINCESS on this list. It’s an absolutely ideal storybook for young women and everyone, really. Very much deserving of the No. 1 slot. Love this book so much.
I love The Ordinary Princess so much. It was a book club selection for my oldest when she was in 2nd grade which meant a read-together book. It took her a long time to warm up to the story; it gets really good 3/4 into it. But I am glad that we stuck with it.
This is an absolutely fabulous list. Thank you!
Thank you! I have two girls so good (non Disney) princess role models are important personally to me!
Love this post! Can’t stand helpless girl stories. Proud to say when my daughter learned about Star Wars she decided to be Luke Skywalker not Princess Leya.
Keep up the great work, Mia.
Thank you so much! I’m glad that my niece is not a girly girl though she still wears dresses! You are lucky! My girls have refused dresses for years now! (And Luke is cooler than Princess Leya — he gets the sword!)
I ran in to a book on the internet the other day called The Three Mighty Princesses. I was really surprised when I received it, I read it to my daughter, she loved it because the Princesses rescued their princes instead of the regular damsel in distress. It was great, very empowering for young lady’s. I found it on the web at Barnes and Noble.
Thank you for the book rec. I will add to the list!
The Apple-Pip Princess (Jane Ray) is one I love ~ strong, intelligent princess; beautiful illustrations; positive message 🙂
Thank you sooo much for your two great additions! I have added them to the list. I LOVE that there are so many great princess role model books for girls!
Also, while I’ve yet to actually read it, I have been greatly intrigued by The Secret Lives of Princesses, by Philippe Lechermeier. The illustrations look wonderful, and quirky princesses are so much more appealing than helpless ones… 😉
What a great post. My daughter is absolutely obsessed with Disney Princesses too! In fact, Princesses generally, so we wrote to ‘real-live’ princesses with a few questions & we received some very interesting replies. My idea was to show her the reality behind all the pinkness. I think it’s working – instead of wanting to be just a princess, she now wants to be a Princess road worker! Anyway, it’s all on my blog -the princess letters project.
I’ll be hunting down some of these books, thank-you for an interesting list.
I love your idea of writing to real princesses to break the myth. What a great idea for a blog. I’ll add to my blog roll. Thank you for your comment!
The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairytales by Jay Williams – the original and still an absolute favorite.
Thanks so much! I’ll add to the list!
I didn’t see the princess cimorene books by Patricia C. Wrede. I loved those growing up and still enjoy reading them today.
Thanks so much for your great princess recommendation!
I belive I read a book in grade school in the seventies or eighties about a princess that saved more than one prince and never intended to marry them. I can’t seem to find anyrhing about it. Only newer books that are like it. Any help is welcomed.
Becky Morales of Kid World Citizen and I think you might be talking about The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch BUT she only rescues one prince (and he’s a bum). Do you think this is the book you are remembering? I think the time frame is right.
Becky Morales of Kid World Citizen and I think you might be talking about The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. She rescues only one prince though and he turns out to be a bum but the timeframe is correct. Is this it? I love that book!