Primrose by Alex T. Smith

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children's Books, 2013)

Primrose: Alex T. Smith (Scholastic Children’s Books, 2013)

This is one of those picture books that should be in every library, every nursery, every school and every bookshelf. I’m afraid there may be a large amount of gushing about to follow, but I’ll try to contain it.

Primrose is a pink princess; but she’s also the antithesis to the typical Pink Princess. She lives in a “pretty pink palace” and has “a pretty pink tiara, two prancing pink ponies and a plump little pug named Percy.” In many other hands, I might be running a mile by this point. But… Well, just look at the artwork for a start:

[Apologies for the appalling picture quality. I’ll replace with pictures taken in natural light as soon as possible!]

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Primrose is bored, bored, bored! So she tries to have some fun but everything she does is met with cries from her family to do something more princessy.

She’s not allowed to climb trees.

She’s not allowed to dress up in a monkey costume.

She’s not allowed to play board games.

She’s not allowed to to dig vegetables in the garden.

Princesses must dress in pretty pink dresses and sit decoratively. How utterly, wonderfully, subtly subversive this book is. All these activities are things that manufacturers and retailers would want to make you believe are not for girls. Don’t believe me? Look at the examples campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks find day after day after day. Science kits are for boys only; dressing up clothes for girls are all pink dresses and fairy wings; lego is for boys; kitchen play is for girls…

The messages that children are receiving daily in their everyday lives is disturbing and must be stopped. I battle constantly against the sexist drivel my six-year old brings home from school every day (and when she was five; and when she was four…) I have got somewhere in that Mighty-Girl now tells me that she’s the only person in her class who doesn’t think there are ‘boy’ colours and ‘girl’ colours.

My four year old used to love being a pirate and her favourite colour was orange. A year in pre-school and she wants to be a pink ballerina. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s peer pressure into pinkness that has forced this change, not her own opinion.

Primrose, a very pink princess book, is perfect. It starts with pink and frilly to lure in the princess-loving brigade, and then adds in all the other elements whilst remaining pink and frilly. Because, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with pink, it’s just the all-pervading non-choice that’s the problem.

Returning to the story… The royal family despair at Primrose’s lack of princessliness and decide there is “only one thing for it. Somebody must call Grandmama.” The introduction of Grandmama is perfection again. On one side we see the stern matronly visage of Her Royal Highness (Senior); on the opposite page Primrose and Percy are tiptoeing in mud, brightly clad and not a care in the world. Storm clouds are gathering, but whom are they for?

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But we really needn’t worry because Grandmama has the perfect solutions for every issue that the family have with their darling daughter and is soon bounding off again leaving everyone happy. The last double page spread showing Grandmama’s method of travel is, of course, sublime.

There are many other touches that add to this book. The copyright page ties in beautifully (“borrowed from The Royal Library”) and Percy bears an uncanny (intended) resemblance to the awesome Book Sniffer – toot toot! Overall, a sunny slice of perfection from the “royally talented” (hear hear!) Alex T. Smith.

[Apologies for the appalling picture quality. I’ll replace with pictures taken in natural light as soon as possible!]

3 comments

  1. ReadItDaddy

    Love the look of this. We’re not averse to a pink princess here and there (but wholly agree with the sentiment about the enforced gender stereotypes. No one would ever DARE tell me that C couldn’t do science, couldn’t dress as a pirate or couldn’t break those stereotypes whenever and wherever she wanted – thankfully her school are brilliant and don’t do anything like that at all).

    Really like Alex’s effortless artwork and storytelling. Along with David Roberts, and of course David Melling they’re an awesomely talented trio when it comes to respinning fairy tales, or writing ones from the ground up that instantly feel like classics. Will hunt this down fo sho.
    ReadItDaddy recently posted..Tom and Millie’s Whizzy Busy People by Guy Parker-Rees (Orchard Press)My Profile

  2. storyseekersuk

    We have ‘Primrose’ as a Me Book and both the boys (and their parents!) love it just as much as you guys do! Alex T Smith is becoming our go-to guy for books as his positive images of characters wearing glasses have been a real hit with H.
    Having two sons (and no daughters), I feel that I’m sometimes battling different gender issues, although obviously the ultimate goal is the same – equality and an end to the ridiculous stereotyping.
    I try very hard to make sure that the boys read a real mix of books and play with a wide range of toys and so far they have never once made a comment about anything being specifically for girls or boys. Even when presented with books or toys that have quite clearly been marketed towards girls, i.e., they’re very pink and/or princessy, they accept them and enjoy them just as much. I wonder how much of this will change once C starts school in September though…
    Thanks for a great post – a brilliant review of a brilliant book :)
    storyseekersuk recently posted..A book to celebrate C and H’s wonderful daddyMy Profile

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