The Paper Bag Princess

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Robert Munsch (text) and Michael Martchenko (illustrator), The Paper Bag Princess (40th Anniversary Edition), Scholastic Books Australia, December 2020, 32 pp., RRP $17.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760974602

Canadian author (formerly American) Robert Munsch has been writing for over forty years and is well known for his stories and poems. This is the handsome 40th anniversary edition of a book that became an instant classic.

Princess Elizabeth rescues her fiancé, Prince Ronald from a dragon through her bravery and cleverness while wearing only a paper bag as the dragon has devastated the countryside and burned her clothes. Prince Ronald instead of being properly grateful, reprimands her for not looking like a real princess and in disgust, in a very memorable image, Elizabeth joyfully skips off into the sunset to face her future on her own, still dressed in the paper bag.

The artwork of Michael Martchenko is witty and descriptive. It gives character and expression to the three protagonists and somehow manages to be both modern and at the same time medieval. Ronald is the very picture of bored haughty young manhood while Elizabeth gazes at him adoringly in her beautiful princess gown. The fierce dragon is nattily attired in a dinner napkin when he first appears, but he soon loses that when Elizabeth starts to set him challenges.

This story has resonated with and inspired children for decades. This edition includes some welcome bonus content: a note to readers from Chelsea Clinton who says: it is critical that children grow up defeating their own dragons, and an article, ‘Stand up to Dragons’ by Francesca Segal who puts the story in a modern context. She asks how to parent daughters while living through a backslide into cronyism, pettiness and institutionalized misogyny? She says, begin with ‘The Paper Bag Princess’ where Elizabeth’s adventures teach how to adventure and be fearless, to walk away from any man who treats you with disrespect.  Strong words but this little story manages to bear the weight.

It has survived and thrived, growing a reputation for courage and plain dealing. The language throughout is ordinary and direct, no subtlety here, but how wonderful and memorable, e.g. Ronald, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.

This much-loved classic is now again available in this beautiful sturdy hardback and no doubt will continue to amuse, entertain, and inspire children for many more years to come.

Reviewed by Mia Macrossan

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