BLOG TOUR: Princesses Break Free by Timothy Knapman illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Watch out – there are princesses about! Today is my stop on the blog tour for Princesses Break Free, a new picture book by Timothy Knapman and Jenny Løvlie, with a guest post from author Timothy. Move over damsal in distress, and hello feisty and fantastic Princess Tilly!

Princesses Break Free is a fun, wild adventure challenging the stereotypical image of the poised, preened damsel; Tilly is a princess who takes life into her own hands without waiting around for anybody else, as she shows princesses – and then princes, witches, and dragons – that they can do anything they want to!

I’m sharing a guest post from author Timothy all about the inspiration behind this delightful story. Welcome to the blog Timothy!

What Was the Inspiration For Princess Tilly in Princesses Break Free?

by Timothy Knapman

“Before my princess story, there was a pirate story.

The princess story is called Princesses Break Free.  It’s my new book, dazzlingly illustrated by the ridiculously talented Jenny Løvlie.  Princesses Break Free tells the story of Princess Tilly, who is carried off one day by a dragon – so far, so traditional.  Tilly’s fairy godmother has told her she must wait until a handsome prince comes to her rescue, but Tilly thinks that’s boring.  So instead she just rescues herself (with a parachute made from knickers, naturally) and in so doing encourages every other princess in fairy tale land to take their destinies into their own hands and go out and do what they want, not what’s expected of them.  Of course, this puts the princesses’ support network of dragons, handsome princes and evil queens out of a job.  Suddenly and unexpectedly having time on their hands, the dragons try being carried off for a change, the princes have a go at getting rescued and the evil queens find a new use for their poisoned apples.  Soon enough, they realise that they all like this new freedom too. 

I’ve wanted to write a princess book for ages.  One of the great pleasures and privileges of being a children’s author is that sometimes you get to go into schools to meet your readers.  If your visit’s anything to do with World Book Day, you’ll probably be welcomed by row upon row of Harry Potters, superheroes, dinosaurs, pirates and princesses.

I can see why kids love dressing up as these big, bold, clearly defined characters.  It’s partly because it’s fun, of course: a brilliant way to enter your favourite fantasy world.  But it also helps them explore and develop their personalities, as they try on different ways of being until they find one that fits.  Weedy little boys (as I was) take comfort in the padded muscles of a superhero outfit, or take advantage of the licence to misbehave as a naughty dinosaur.  Little girls are attracted to the magic and glamour that a princess costume will lend them.  But I’m very conscious that these outfits can also be traps – unthinkingly imposing on the kids wearing them the values and expectations of the original stories, some of which (about class, gender and ethnicity) we have long outgrown.

I’m a children’s author, not a cultural critic, so rather than write an essay about this, my solution was to take some of these traditional characters and have a bit of fun with them.  As I said at the beginning, the first one I picked was the pirate – in a book called Captain Sparklebeard.  It tells the story of a girl called Peg who lives, miserably, by the sea with her wicked step great grand auntie.  Every night, Peg reads pirate stories and dreams of escape and adventure.  She thinks her luck has changed when a crew of real pirates comes to town, but – traditional to the core – the pirates don’t allow polite little girls who can read and don’t have beards to join their crew.  Peg won’t stand for that, and she adopts the persona of the mysterious Captain Sparklebeard aboard a boat made of books.  In the ensuing race for buried treasure, she shows those scurvy sea dogs once and for all who’s the greatest pirate who ever lived.

With princesses there’s a similar range of clearly defined expectations that are, if anything, even more restricting – and therefore even more fun to play with.  Princesses frequently find themselves at the heart of the exciting moments in a story but they don’t often get the chance to do anything about it.  The energy released by turning those expectations inside out is what drives Princesses Break Free, as all that liberated excitement courses through the fresh twists and new possibilities of the story.

I’m not the first person to have tried to reimagine the role of the princess in a story, and I won’t be the last.  Nor am I saying there’s anything wrong with little girls dressing up as princesses.  I’m just suggesting that these familiar characters are so vivid, and so entrenched in our collective consciousness that they can withstand, and even benefit from, a little narrative mischief.

More importantly, I want my young readers to know that if they ever find themselves limited by the imaginative worlds handed down to them, they can always bend and twist and reconstruct those worlds to suit them better. 

And if they ever need to escape, they can always make a parachute out of knickers.”

With thanks to Walker Books for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Follow the rest of the tour here:

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