Category Archives: 2017 Remediating Picture Books

Sexual Exploitation in Sandy Posner’s “The Sleeping Princess”

© Copyright 2017 Juvian Gonzales, Ryerson University

Since When Did Dreaming of Becoming a Princess be so Scary?

When I was a kid, I dreamt of becoming a princess like the ones I read from fairy tale books. I imagined getting rescued from a locked tower by a knight in shining armor who goes by the name Prince Charming. The prince would ride on a horse with his wavy and suave hair, wearing perfectly aligned, white teeth. In my head, it was very magical and romantic.

Therefore, it did not even occur in my mind that something so small like a pocket book of Sandy Posner’s The Sleeping Princess (The Story of the Ballet) would present to be a bombshell due to its rather problematic content as a feminist text…!

Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. Front Cover. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.
Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. Back Cover. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.

This is the second edition of the picture book published in 1949 by Adam and Charles Black; its first publication date being 1945 established by Newman Wolsey Ltd.

It consists of images illustrated by Joyce Millen. This book was considered to be popular because of the rapid interest in ballet dance throughout the European countries during its publication period (Posner 7). It is based off of “La Belle au bois Dormant” (Posner 20), the French version of Sleeping Beauty: a known classical tale that portrays an enchanting love-story about a prince who wakes up a sleeping princess with a kiss.

Seemingly harmless at this point; a kiss is no threat. However, beyond this book’s manifestation is a latent encouragement for sexual exploitation imposed on young dreamers of females.

In The Sleeping Princess, we will look at how the prince comes to kiss the princess, what role the princess initially has, and how the readers are supposed to perceive their characterizations.

“Of all fairy tales Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the most cinematic in its fashioning of a primal scene for visual pleasure” (Maria Tartar 143)

Formatting the Story Book

Posner tells the story of The Sleeping Princess in the format of a descriptive ballet play. Staying true to its form as a ballet book, Posner incorporates ballet terms like “arabesque” (80), a ballet posture, and “mazurka” (96), a group ballet dance. Instead of saying “they lived happily ever after” which is often how fairy-tales end their story, Posner ends the story with “the curtain falls” (96).

These traits depict The Sleeping Princess as a creative and sensual revision of the classical tale that should appeal to readers who are fans of ballet based on the book’s particularly unique references. It is using a “cinematic” design from how the story is told in motion of ballet dances, while the illustrations act as support with their “visual” effects. 

Figure 1. Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An illustration by Joyce Millen. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.
Figure 3. Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An illustration by Joyce Millen. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.
Figure 2. Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An illustration by Joyce Millen. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.

“Curiosity and the desire to look mingle with a display that is both aesthetically and erotically charged” (Tartar 143)

The Female Gender Role

Note how Princess Aurora is illustrated elegantly with a very slim figure, focusing on her long bare legs (seen in Figure 2). Her bed chamber is also emphasized with royal drapes of crowns but at the same time induces a very inviting look (Figure 1 & 3). Princess Aurora is presented as a sexual object.

In appearance, this book may seem modest but it’s actually an “erotic” depiction of the female lead’s character that subjects her to a case of vulnerability. Based on Leslee Farish Kuykendal and Brian W. Sturm’s outline on role reversal, there is reference to Princess Elizabeth by Robert Munsch from The Paperbag Princess released on 1980, as an example of a female character that crosses literary borders in comparison to Aurora’s conventional character. Princess Elizabeth is the one doing the rescuing in the story by marching to the tower to face the presumed antagonist, a dragon, demanding for the release of Prince Ronald. Thus, she is portraying a strong and valiant female character in “reversal” to how children usually read the depiction of womanly roles (Kuykendal & Sturm 40).

In contrast, Aurora represents the conventional female character due to her docile behaviour. She lacks the agency to choose her own destiny by sleeping throughout the tale. Unaware of the things happening in time, she only has one duty which is to wait for the right prince who would save her from the sleeping curse and marry that said man. Looking at the publication year of both texts, it is important to note that The Sleeping Princess was released before The Paper Bag Princess. This is relevant because Posner’s picture book becomes proof to how women were portrayed as idle and useless figures in the past.


The Art of Mocking Women’s Social Class

W. E. F. Britten. Illustration to Tennyson’s “Sleeping Beauty”. Methuen & Co. 36 Essex Street W. C. London, 1901.Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Posner’s book mocks the social status of women by displaying Aurora to be just like any other “trophy wives” whose purpose is to make the prince look and feel good by rewarding his “tough” journey in the form of marriage (Elizabeth Aura McClintock 1101). In the book, Prince Florimond (Prince Charming) is “restless and disgust[ed] at his aimless existence” so he takes it his duty to wake up the princess to achieve something that should claim him as a hero (Posner 69 & 87). There is a sense of disguise from the prince to do something not out of kindness but to doing it for the sake of his own gratification.

Pertaining to the three illustrations above by Millen, in Figure 1, the image displayed is of the prince leaning down to kiss Aurora who is notably wearing a crown on her head. It means that Aurora had to have been from a royal bloodline if the prince were to save her in order for his efforts to be remarkably acknowledged by the town’s people. If Aurora were any ordinary girl, saving her would not have been an option.

Therefore, Posner not only shows support for the conventional female behavior, but also proposes that men regards  the value of women to a bare minimum in terms of their social background. 


A Closer Read on the Story’s Content!

David Nash Ford. “The Rose Bower.” From the “Legend of Briar Rose” by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, 1890. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

 In order to take a closer look on the content of The Sleeping Princess, I chose two other secondary scholarly sources to showcase the indecencies of how Aurora was depicted in the picture book that are offensive to feminist readers.

According to Maria Tartar’s article, by disregarding Aurora’s female agency, The Sleeping Princess is criticized for suggesting the concept of “necrophiliac charms” (153). In the picture book, the prince finds Princess Aurora fast asleep on a “dais” and is surrounded by the sleeping court as he makes his way to give her a kiss (Posner 88-89). This entails the vulnerability of the princess for sexual exploitation where anyone can touch her if they wish. Tartar states that princesses are “swaddled in white serenity, radiating innocence and purity even as they invite desire in the quiet beauty of their features and the soft curves of their bodies (153-4). Princess Aurora as a sixteen year old girl is described to be “radiantly beautiful withal”  and therefore is a perfect representation of Tartar’s princess definition (Posner 78).

Without personally knowing her, Prince Florimond has access to touching Aurora with the way the chamber is opened and the alluring feel the room appears to produce (seen in Millen, Figure 3). Aurora is literally being handed to the prince without fuss that continues to show the princess’ little to no influence on her destiny. The consent on Aurora’s part is given by her parents, the King and Queen, who gives their child away in marriage without talking it over first with the princess (Posner 89). Aurora’s responsibility as a princess and as bride is ultimately not up to her own decision but by the people who take control of her.

Tartar refers to Briar Rose by Burne Jones (1885-1890) that illustrates Sleeping Beauty with “roses and thorns encircling the castle and who incarnates in her stillness the seductive pull of beauty and death” (152) shown in the above image. This presents that beyond literature, artists also sees Aurora’s character as a “seductive” woman because of her “stillness” in the unconscious state.  An art representation like this correlates to the artist’s interpretation of the story. Therefore, as one views Sleeping Beauty as a sexual text, it may provide as a reason for parents not to read this kind of book to their children due to the inappropriate connotations reflected upon it.

Further, There is no dialogue written in the picture book. Everyone is described through a third person’s narration and by actions. The “stillness” not only comes from how Aurora is illustrated by Millen (Figure 3), but is also accompanied by muteness. The combination of these two themes signify a presentation of a bound, voiceless female and a sexual predator male in sight. Thus, it is unsuitable for writers to deem Aurora’s and the prince’s relationship as something happy and appealing to children.

Similarly, Martine Hennard de la Rochère discusses about the production of “La Belle au bois Dormant” and the depiction of this play in theater as being erotic while also trying to maintain an innocent image regarding marriage for young children to believe in. De la Rochère states that marital happiness is associated both in Perrault’s text and Carter’s translation “with the intimacy and privacy of the bedchamber (143). When Prince Florimond wakes Princess Aurora up in The Sleeping Princess, the members of the castle are put to sleep so no one may interrupt (Posner 88). This shows the community’s involvement to repressing the agency of the princess by providing a space where the prince can do anything he wants to the unguarded princess. This is scarring for children since the story is possibly promoting the act of marriage through means of rape since the wedding was prompted only after the prince had kissed Aurora who was in an unconscious state (Posner 89).

Sandy Posner. The Sleeping Princess. An opened up page from the pocket book. Special Collections Archive. Ryerson University, 2017. Public Domain.


Its Shape of Disguise

Based on the class visit to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Book, the librarian discussed about Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and its pocket-sized shape which is deliberate to fit the hands of small children who may choose to read alone sufficiently. Lambert notes the same claim where one important feature of picture books is that “they are sized to comfortably accommodate a shared reading audience, as opposed to a solitary one” (4). This pocket-sized book, however, opposes this preconceived idea due to the high level of vocabularies printed on the pages that does not accommodate for the intellectuals of very young readers.

The Sleeping Princess requires the intellectuals of adults to be the set story-teller in order for a child to know about its story. So it is important to note that for a child to perceive this picture book, the adults have the agency to tell it in a way that could or could not be harmful to the,. However, since the content still strongly implies the “stillness” in Aurora’s position in bed that gives access for the prince to sexually explore her body, and how marriage is taken lightly that disregards its sacredness in nature, it is not recommended for parents and children to pick up this particular book.

Overall, my exhibit focused on the misconceptions of a romantic and heterosexual love, and the theme of feminism in The Sleeping Princess that presents the suitability of child readership as being problematic. Princesses are to be depicted as docile figures under vulnerable conditions. So the main question remains. Is it still a great dream to want a knight in shining armor like Prince Charming? Even when it means that your existence is to be downgraded as a mere tool for sexual exhibitions?

Works Cited

  • De la Rochère, Martine,Hennard Dutheil. “‘But Marriage itself is no Party’: Angela Carter’s Translation of Charles Perrault’s “La Belle Au Bois Dormant”; Or, Pitting the Politics of Experience Against the Sleeping Beauty Myth.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 24, no. 1, 2010, pp. 131-151,185, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS); Research Library,
  • Kuykendal, L.F & Sturm, B.W. “We Said Feminist Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales!: The Construction of the Feminist Fairy Tale: Female Agency over Role Reversal.” Children and Libraries, 2007, pp. 38-41.
  • Lambert, Megan D. “That’s About the Size of It: Trim Size and Orientation.” Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See. Charlesbridge, 2015 Nov.3, pp.3-14.
  • McClintock, Elizabeth A. “Support for Beauty-Status Exchange Remains Illusory. ” American Sociological Review, vol. 82, issue 5, 2017,  pp. 1100 – 1110, doi:10.1177/0003122417725175.
  • Munsch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Illustrated by Michael Martchenko. Annick Press, 1980, pp.1-32. Print.
  • Posner, Sandy. The Sleeping Princess. Illustrated by Joyce Millen. Newman Wolsey Ltd, 1945, second edition by Adam and Charles Black Ltd, 1949, pp.1-97. Print.
  • Tatar, Maria. “Show and Tell: Sleeping Beauty as Verbal Icon and Seductive Story.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 28 no. 1, 2014, pp. 142-156. Project MUSE,

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Beatrix Potter’s World-building in The Peter Rabbit Storybook

© Copyright 2017 Abdullah Idrees, Ryerson University

The Peter Rabbit Storybook Front Cover. (c) Bess Goe Willis. Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archive. Public Domain.


The Whimsical World of Peter Rabbit Exhibit examines literary techniques applied by Beatrix Potter to create a world that makes use of anthropomorphism, perennial socially relevant plot points, and a nature based setting to explore the life of Peter Rabbit. The author uses the concept of innocent beings such as animals to create a connection with an audience in an attempt to introduce the pleasant tone of the world, while making sure that the plot lines taking place are associated with common human behaviors. This idea promotes living vicariously through fictional beings, allowing for the reader to learn  morals from these characters. Physical elements of the story’s presentation, such as the size and format of The Peter Rabbit Storybook, contribute to how the story and accompanying adventures are retained by readers. In addition, Potter’s use of subtext and symbolism to signify rebellion and independence interlace the tales with a density that has allowed the stories to stay relevant for years on end and further exploration of her literary prowess delves deeper into the impact they have had on past generations and many more to come.


Implemented by Potter as a major and defining attribution, anthropomorphism creates a connection with readers who view Peter Rabbit as a role model. “Scholars have noted that animals without clothing are less likely to be personified” and Potter’s use of color-coding Peter Rabbit’s sisters with red and Peter with blue gives them relatable personalities because they are making use of human constructs of clothing (Macdonald 185). Furthermore, Peter’s rebellious behaviour, such as when his mother forbids him from going into Mr. McGregor’s barn, is indicative of the transitioning stages between childhood and adulthood, mimicking contemporary values of children testing their limitations within a world they are trying to understand. The rebellion aspect is actually inspired by Potter’s personal life fueled by “controlling and idiosyncratic Victorian parenting,” allowing her to add a timeless factor to her story because for as long as there are parents, there will be children to defy them to explore their own identities (Robertson et. al 177). As a young girl, Potter spent a lot of time with pets in her room whom she used to treat as “companions,” drawing, painting and creating worlds for these friends of hers (Robertson et. al 178). It only makes sense that these same qualities would so easily be understood by her large audience, who similarly have had pets throughout their lives who they treat as friends rather than as animals with little knowledge. By giving life to animals who behave like humans, moralistic values such as 1) listening to one’s parents,  2) taking care of oneself during times of danger, and 3) learning from one’s mistakes, become a learning and/or callback experience for readers. This way, they can live vicariously through the consequences of these characters and avoid putting themselves in similar situations. Peter Rabbit’s tale not only fulfills  this requirement, but it has a long lasting impact because it uses animals to make an analogy about human lives.

The Peter Rabbit Storybook Inside Pages 1. (c) Bess Goe Willis. Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archive. Public Domain.

Character, Plot and Medium Format

In regards to the human connection anthropomorphism makes, another complimenting factor Potter makes use of is the social commentary of her themes. By focusing on simple storytelling with subtext, she creates a world that has a serene tone that mimics daily life experiences, such as making a mistake by eating too much and getting caught in a garden or being in the wrong place at the wrong time (although it is rare to be abducted and then to be given as a gift to a sibling) (Potter and Willis). Peter Rabbit himself is used as a character that is maximizing the potential of his youth, taking in as many adventures as he can. These range from sneaking onto private property, going fishing, being animal trafficked, and getting married while simultaneously hoodwinking hungry wolves in the process (Potter and Willis). His “imperilled” and “daring” disposition makes him a versatile character, one that heightens readers’ curiosity in where an intrepid rabbit can take them on their journey through his otherwise idyllic world (Macdonald 186). In addition, we have his mother who is trying to keep his family together after the death of his father. She is the widowed rabbit who is strict with Peter for losing his clothes because they have one less provider in the family, with Potter using her to comment on poverty in an attempt to bring a sense of realism to her world (Macdonald 186). We also have his sisters shown as law abiding, juxtaposing his disregard for authority with their youthful innocence. Taking the law into consideration, Potter uses her plot to take “the side of law and order” and teach her younger and older readers about the importance of considering their actions from a logical point of view, rather than simply listening to everything their parents say (Mackey 6). Adorning this moral with the storyline of a rabbit’s journey through a garden of unknown, she creates a world that exists outside of the Rabbits’ home that adds to her story’s serenity. By focusing on a character/world study instead of complex plotting, she manages to expose her readers to a world that they would want to live in because of its simplicity and timelessness. This, in part, is helped by the format the story, and accompanying shorts, is presented in.

By making use of an 8 x 10 format for The Peter Rabbit Storybook, the book appears as a photograph album of a solid reddish-dark orange (Potter and Willis). The world that it holds becomes that of memories, nostalgic for old readers and memories in the making for new ones. How Madeline was horizontally longer to make use of the Eiffel tower as a background character throughout the story, The Peter Rabbit Storybook uses a square photo album format large enough to “comfortably accommodate a shared reading audience” (Lambert 5). The album feel is further noticeable with the presentation of each page’s pictures, with white borders similar to those surrounding camera photographs. The colors of the characters, while bright, have a faded layer to them, preventing the drawings from over-stimulating the reader. The art definitely contributes in setting the tone of the contemporarily halcyon feel that involves the ironically mischievous Peter Rabbit.

The Natural Setting

A square trim size is sometimes used to support thematic elements of a given picture book” and Peter Rabbit uses its format to show the world of nature that Potter has created for herself (Lambert 8). Based on the naturalistic styles of the character and surrounding descriptions, it becomes evident that she intends to place her world “in no particular time, and yet in everytime” (Macdonald 185). While today’s world may be heavily influenced by the technology of our time, such as laptops, skyscrapers, etc., Potter makes it a mission to avoid using technological advances of her time and instead focusing on the countryside because of its perennial presence in all forms of society. For as long as there have been cities, there have been untamed countryside areas longer and Potter makes use of the social concept of the nature that surrounds us. The main plot of the story is not even dependent on technology, but instead focuses on social agreements and the violation of said agreements (Macdonald 187). Basically, Potter uses human problems to fuel her stories rather than relying on contemporary McGuffins that would age poorly with time. By catapulting the story of a rabbit into a constant and recognizable setting, Peter Rabbit’s story is further immortalized in the hearts of its readers because it is less a period piece and more of an “ongoing” story (Macdonald 187). This further makes it similar to the real world, especially seeing as how Potter’s intent is to have a “rabbit world as a complete and parallel one to the world of human” (Macdonald 186).

The Peter Rabbit Storybook The End. (c) Bess Goe Willis. Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archive. Public Domain.


By making use of all the literary resources available to her, Potter creates a cohesive world that makes use of analogies, multifaceted characters, simple and relatable plot points, and a natural setting to set the tone. Her use of anthropomorphism sets up the rabbit as a canvas for her own experiences of rebellion and freedom, which she uses to inspire her readers. Her use of easygoing characters and coming-of-age plot points ground her stories in a relatable sphere for any child or adult who has had to pay for giving in to their curiosity. Finally, the natural aspect of the stories prevent from the collection aging terribly, giving the series a quaint, nostalgic appeal instead. By amalgamating all these concepts, she has created a world that keeps on giving with bildungsroman stories about a rabbit that humans can and will continue to relate to for as long as nature stays relevant.



Works Cited

  • Lambert, Megan Dowd. “That’s About the Size of It.” Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See, Charlesbridge, 2015, pp. 3–14.
  • Macdonald, Ruth K. “Why This Is Still 1893: The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter’s Manipulations of Time into Timelessness.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 4, 1986, pp. 185–187., doi:10.1353/chq.0.0594.
  • Mackey, Margaret. “Peter Rabbit: Potter’s Story.” The Case of Peter Rabbit: Changing Conditions of Literature for Children, Garland Publ., 1998, pp. 3–14.
  • Potter, Beatrix, 1866-1943 and Willis, Bess Goe, The Peter Rabbit Story Book, New York: The Platt & Munk Co. Inc., 1931, Children’s Literature Archive.
  • Robertson, Judith P., et al. “The Psychological Uses of Ruthlessness in a Children’s Fantasy Tale: Beatrix Potter and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” Changing English, vol. 7, no. 2, 2000, pp. 177–189., doi:10.1080/13586840050137946.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Sexist Morals in Andrew Lang’s The Grey Fairy Book

© Copyright 2017 Andrea Lackowicz Student, Ryerson University


H. J. Ford. “The Lizard Takes Charge of Renzolla.” The Grey Fairy Book, 1900. Public Domain.

The Grey Fairy Book  by Andrew Lang was originally published in 1900.  It consists of a compilation of 35 different fairy tales.  None of these fairy tales are related in any particular way save for the fact that they all contain some sort of fantastical aspect such as fairies and, like most fairy tales, teach a moral lesson.  The story “The Goat-faced Girl” is one of the stories Lang includes in The Grey Fairy Book that teaches a clear moral lesson.  It is about a girl named Renzolla who is given to a lizard lady after asking her father for his youngest daughter in exchange for a reward.  Since he was poor and had twelve daughters, he and his wife decided that they would agree to the exchange.   They were given enough money to marry off their other daughters and still have enough left over for themselves to live a comfortable life.  The lizard lady creates a palace for her and Renzolla to live in and she treats Renzolla like a princess.  When Renzolla grows older, the king gets lost in the forest and is invited to stay the night in the palace.  While there he falls in love with Renzolla and marries her.  The lizard lady reveals herself as a fairy and gives them money as a wedding gift.  Renzolla leaves to live in the king’s palace without thanking the fairy for all that she has done for her and as a punishment the fairy turns Renzolla’s beautiful face into a goat’s face.  Due to this she loses the king’s love and is forced to work.  Renzolla has to beg for the fairy’s forgiveness.  Upon accepting Renzolla’s apology the fairy not only turns her face back to its original beauty but also dresses her in a dazzling dress and the king helplessly falls in love with her again.  This story is clearly grounded in the moral teaching of always being thankful but it does so at the expense of sexist means.  This exhibit will be analyzing Andrew Lang’s story “The Goat-faced Girl” as a representative example to demonstrate how fairy tales use sexist means to teach moral lessons.

Female Heroines in Fairy tales

                Female heroines are extremely common in fairy tales but they are all presented in a similar stereotypical way.  The nineteenth century view of women was that they were born to serve men, which is reflected in women being stereotyped as domestic breeders in fairy tales.  Female heroines are generally described as beautiful, innocent maidens who are completely helpless.  This means that they have no real say in their own lives, and are totally reliant on men to dictate what should happen and make decisions for them.  Their value lies in their physical attractiveness, and their obedience.(Zipes)  In fact, the ultimate goal in many fairy tales is marriageability and send the message that if you imitate the behavior of the female heroines then you, as the reader, will achieve that goal.  All of this is present in “The Goat-faced Girl.”

Close Reading of Sexism in “The Goat-faced Girl”

H. J. Ford. “Renzolla Sees Her Face In the Mirror. The Grey Fairy Book, 1900. Public Domain.

Renzolla is a perfect example a female heroine who embodies patriarchal stereotypes of women.  Right from the beginning Renzolla’s life is decided for her by her father as he gives her to the lizard lady in exchange for money so that he can marry off his other daughters.  Not only does this show that Renzolla had no say in her life but it enforces the importance of marriage and the idea that marriage is the ultimate goal.  This goal is again enforced when Renzolla’s face is turned into a goat’s and the king locks her up and forces her to work.  This is shown in the image on the left.  Despite him doing this Renzolla is desperate to get back in his good graces.  When the king sees that her beauty has been granted back to her he accepts her as his wife once more and Renzolla does not hesitate in deciding to go back with him.  This instance not only shows Renzolla doing whatever she can to achieve marriageability but it also reveals the weight put on female physical attractiveness.  The king falls in love with Renzolla because of her beauty but once her beauty is taken away he completely dismisses her.  He only values her once more when she is again beautiful.  Therefore, showing that Renzolla embodies many of the female stereotypes present in fairy tales.

Moral Implications

                Through being exposed to stories like “The Goat-faced Girl” children develop ideas of what is socially and morally right and wrong.(Lester)  Although “The Goat-faced Girl” might teach children that they should be thankful for what they are given, it also teaches them that women should be valued for their beauty, women should be completely dependent on men, and that a woman’s ultimate goal is marriage.  Stories written in the 19th century were specifically designed to teach girls to conform to a specific set of gender norms.(Harries)  Since The Grey Fairy Book was published in 1900, right at the end of the 19th century these gender norms are very present.  Despite it no longer being 1900 the patriarchal morals, like the ones in “The Goat-faced Girl,” remain in the fairy tales children are exposed to in the 21st century.(DePalma)  Children do not yet have the critical skills to question or challenge what such stories present as to what it is to be female and what is to be male.(Lester)  This result is the sexist values presented in these fairy tales shaping the way children think and act.  Moreover, the patriarchal morals manifested in the fairy tales carry on with the children who read them into adulthood.(DePalma)  So, although stories like “The Goat-faced Girl” might teach a little girl who is reading it to be thankful and that lesson might stay with her for the rest of their life, so might the message that as a female she must be dependent on men to make decisions for her.


                Through the story of “The Goat-faced Girl” as a representative example, the sexist ways in which fairy tales convey a moral message is established.  The patriarchal female stereotypes of the 19th century are presented through the female heroine.  These values are then absorbed by the children who read the fairy tales and are carried with them into adulthood.  So, although fairy tales, like the ones in Andrew Lang’s The Grey Fairy Book teach moral lessons like always being thankful, they do this in sexist ways that instill patriarchal values in the children who read them.


Works Cited

  • DePalma, Renée. “Gay penguins, sissy ducklings… and beyond? Exploring gender and sexuality diversity through children’s literature” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37:6, 828-¬‐845, 2016.
  • Ford, H. J. (Illustrator), The Grey Fairy Book, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967, Children’s Literature Archive, accessed December 14, 2017,
  • Harries, Elizabeth W. The Invention of the Fairy Tale in Britain
  • Heatwole, Alexandra. “Disney Girlhood: Princess Generations and Once upon a Time.” Studies in the Humanities, vol. 43, no. 1/2, 2016, pp. 1.
  • Lester, Neal A. “(Un)Happily Ever After: Fairy Tale Morals, Moralities, and Heterosexism in Children’s Texts.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education, vol. 4, no. 2, 2007, pp. 55-74.
  • Zipes, Jack. The Irresistible Fairy Tale : The Cultural and Social History of a Genre, PrincetonUniversity Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Feminist or Fractured Fairytales? Comparing Perrault’s Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper and Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess

Copyright 2017 Keyola Welch-Rhooms, Ryerson University

Feminist Vs. Fractured Fairytales

Fairytales are often where children first look to learn lessons about the world and society around them. The ways in which women and men are presented in most classic fairytales often differ, and the roles that both genders presumably play are very different. In popular children’s folktales and fairytales rewritten by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, there is often an underlying idea that the female protagonist is weaker or less capable than her male counterpart. In Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper by Charles Perrault, Cinderella is incapable of saving herself and must rely on the prince to come and rescue her from her evil stepmother. In the article “We Said Feminist Fairy Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales!”, by Leslee Farish Kuykendal and Brian W. Sturm, there is a quote that accurately describes the two roles of a woman in popular tales like Cinderella: “there are two definitions of woman [in fairy tales]. There is the good woman. She is a victim. There is the bad woman. She must be destroyed. The good woman must be possessed. The bad woman must be killed, or punished. Both must be nullified” (Kuykendal and Sturm 39). Cinderella is the victim in this case and her stepmother is the so-called “bad woman.” Both roles are not nearly as favourable as the prince. Although he is not the protagonist, he is the one who saves Cinderella from her dreadful family, resulting in both the prince and Cinderella living happily ever after.

Perrault, Charles and Errol Le Cain. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, Faber and Faber Limited, 1972, London. Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archives. Public Domain.

In classic children’s fairytales like those of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, princesses are seen as dainty and almost clueless. They are expected to be enchanting yet still submissive to the male. In contrast to the classic damsel-in-distress tale, Princess Elizabeth, in The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, is responsible for saving her prince from the dragon. Unlike Cinderella and many other princesses in children’s literature, she saves the day. After she saves her prince, he decides that he no longer wants to marry her because of her appearance. Although a very simple story, this tale is an example of a female not only taking the lead role, but also being in a position of power and authority. It can be assumed that because certain gender norms have already been set in place, it is harder for a child to see Elizabeth as a true hero. According to Kuykendal and Sturm, in studies where children were asked about this particular story, the children “admired strong female protagonists, [but] these were not the characters they wished to emulate” (Kuykendal and Sturm 40). Parsons writes “In many traditional tales, being rewarded with the prince and the security of marriage is the result of the heroine’s submission and suffering, along with her beauty, rather than her agency” (Parsons 137). This ideology directly contrasts a book like The Paper Bag Princess where the heroine is not rewarded with a prince nor marriage. Instead she gains independence and self-sufficiency which by the end of the book proves to be more valuable.

Children Interacting With Feminist Fairytales

In a study done about feminist picture books in their relation to children, the children did not quite understand the significance of the books, but the young girls did appreciate the idea of a strong heroine as the protagonist (Bartholomaeus). Unlike popularized tales, feminist picture books for kids teach lessons, or “upside down” fairytales, that attempt to reinvent a child’s way of viewing a traditional tale. In her article, “Ella Evolving,” Linda T. Parsons makes the point that “we tend to accept the gendered discourse embedded in [fairy tale storylines] as natural, essential, and conclusive” (Parsons 136). Parsons is reinforcing the point that it has become acceptable for us to see male characters and dominant and female characters as submissive making it even harder to reimagine these roles.

Bartholomaeus studied how young girls identified with upside down fairytales in her study on six-year-olds to eleven-year-olds and feminist picture books. Her research in conjunction with the research of other scholars proposes that for both young girls and boys to avoid seeing traditional gender roles, the characters in these stories should be involved in activities that are not gender based. The books that Bartholomaeus chose to read to her participants, the children, to were visibly feminist books with titles such as Cinder Edna by Jackson and O’Malley, William’s Doll by Zolotow and Pène du Bois and A Fire Engine for Ruthie by Newman and Moore. For certain books like Cinder Edna, when it came to distinguishing between “girl” activities and “boy” activities, the children did not categorize the books based on gender but rather on how the characters in the books were treated or the qualities that were attributed to these characters. They described them as different or happier as opposed to being a boy or a girl. In the story of Cinder Edna, two princesses, Cinder Edna and Cinderella, marry two princes. Cinder Edna and her prince live happily ever after, presumably because Cinder Edna is more is less reliant on her husband and is interested in other non-domestic activities. The children were able to identify that Cinder Edna and her prince were happier than Cinderella and her prince (Bartholomaeus 940). In the case of the other books, where gender reversal was more evident, the children initially could not identify what gender each character was because they were not used to the reversal in gender roles like girls playing with ‘boy toys’ in A Fire Engine for Ruthie and boys playing with ‘girl toys’ in William’s Doll.

Cinderella pictured on page 4 of Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper doing housework which is expected of her. Found in the Ryerson University Children’s Literature Archives.

Feminist Fairytales Redefined

Parsons explains that “a feminist text deals with issues of freedom, choice, and expanding the subject positions available to women and men, and it makes visible the fact that the tales have functioned historically to reproduce social values” (Parsons 139). She references Jack Zipes study on the evolution of folktales. He uses the word contamination to describe the changes in the literature over the years and how it can be used for the betterment of the evolution of literature. Feminist folkloric texts in a sense are trying to contaminate historical literature and reorganize gender norms to create different ideas and reshape the way society views classic fairytales. Parson also brings up the point that fairytales for children have been retold and popularized by Perrault and The Brothers Grimm but actually belong to and are ruled by women seeing as most of the dominant characters, both princesses and villains, are women. The feminist re-visions of fairytales popularized by Perrault and The Brothers Grimm aim to break down the gender binaries that the favoured editions of these stories have constructed.

Princess Elizabeth and Cinderella represent two different views of what it means to be a true princess. From what the revised folktales tell us, princesses are expected to be saved by a prince and are only useful in domestic settings. When determining whet, it is important to note that the objective of feminist fairytales are not simply to switch gender roles. The protagonist should be empowered despite its gender. The Paper Bag Princess is an example of a typical damsel-in-distress story that turns into a feminist tale because by the end of the book the main female protagonist is empowered. Fractured fairytales slightly differ because their objective is not necessarily to prove what gender is dominant but is rather focused on simply reversing the plot or character roles to alter the story. Feminist fairytales and stories are very useful in constructing different ideas of gender and exposing readers to different views that can possibly change the way that male and female protagonists are seen.

Works Cited

Bartholomaeus, Clare. “‘Girls can Like Boy Toys’: Junior Primary School Children’s Understandings of Feminist Picture Books.” Gender and Education 28.7 (2016): 935-50. Web. 31 Oct. 2017.

Kuykendal, Leslee F. “We Said Feminist Fairy Tales, Not Fractured Fairy Tales!” Children and Libraries, 2007, pp. 38-41.

Parsons, Linda T. “Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 35, no. 2, 2004, pp. 135-154.

Perrault, Charles, and Errol Le Cain. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. Faber and Faber Limited, 1972.

Contribution of Toy Books to the Modern Day Picture Book

© Copyright 2017 Brianna Silva, Ryerson University



Movable toy books are an important part of children’s literature as they incorporate various elements to appeal to the sight and touch senses. Toy books can be defined as children’s picture book with features that allow readers to play with it as well as read it. These books are used to help children visualize what they are reading as they are reading it. The history of how toy books were created is a long and fascinating one that traces back to the Victorian era and the paper making process. It is important to focus on different means of communicating text such as using pop up visuals because not every reader is alike. Just like each person is unique, each person has a different way of learning and comprehending information. By using tactile, artistic elements, movable toy books are able to communicate literature in a different way to readers who are more visual and hands on. By looking at the history of the first movable toy books, we can understand how they adapted to become the present day children’s picture book.


The first movable toy books can be traced back to Medieval origins. The English Benedictine monk Matthew Paris (1200 ca. – 1259) used various paper elements to construct foldable maps in his text Chronica majora (Crupi, 2016). By using various folding techniques, Paris was able to create a “multi-sensory experience” for readers by allowing them to open and close parchment flaps, “thus through this performing action, the map became a dynamic space and an exercise in memory, in the eye of the reader offering the possibility to undertake an interior journey of meditation, a mental pilgrimage that could be remodulated, open to alternative itineraries” (Crupi, 2016). Matthew Paris is also reputed for creating the “volvella” which “consists of one or more paper or parchment discs, shaped and overlapping and fixed to the page with a pin (a string or a rivet), allowing each disc to be independently rotated around its central axis” (Crupi, 2016). By inventing this new mechanical device, Paris “modified the relationship between reader and text, introducing a new practice of reading through interactive processes, as in the case of the flaps, transforming the manual gesture into an intellectual experience, one of knowledge” (Crupi, 2016). By doing so, the reader now controls the book as well and becomes a part of how the information is interpreted. The rotating disc elements were created for entertainment purposes as a  means of “fortune telling” but also scientific purposes as they aided in understanding astrology and astronomy. The introduction of the volvellae was used as a teaching support to transmit “technical information in an interactive format” (Crupi, 2016). The art of using paper elements as a mode of learning became highly popular in the 15th and 16th centuries, “the technical ingenuity of paper flaps in fact demanded a full command of the graphic arts and extensive experience in three-dimensional design: without recourse to the expedient of optical illusion, sculptural paper shapes had to be created that communicated the sense of movement as well as depth. Not by chance, the greatest designers of paper instruments were also experts in the art of graphics and printing” (Crupi, 2016). A printer named John Day was the first to create the initial “pop-up” book to explain and demonstrate geometric solids to readers (Crupi, 2016).

Astronomical Volvelle, Astronomical and Medical Miscellany, late fourteenth century, The J. Paul Getty Museum

In the 18th century,  two English book publishers and sellers, John Newberry (1713-1767) and Robert Sayer (1725-1794), introduced a new literary genre, the children’s picture book (Crupi, 2016). The new genre of the children’s book became a commercial and literary success. The books that Sayer and Newberry created, incorporated elements of illustration, text and movement to create an ultimately unique new way of reading and learning for children. Their most famous books were the classified by the “harlequinade”, and which “was the first printed item for young readers that could be classified as a movable” (Crupi, 2016). These books allowed readers to take control of the scene before them. These artist-publishers of the 18th century “transformed the book into an enchanted toy, which opened before children’s eyes like a magic trick that they themselves could control. Books that were physically animated, like the stories they told..” (Crupi, 2016). In the 19th century the idea that an object could be both book and toy was a popular concept, “And readers, young readers no longer simply read, or rather, are not merely bound by the act of reading, but through reading can interpret other roles: magician, player, prophet or showman, depending on the type of book-object in hand” (Crupi, 2016).



Tab used in turning rotating discs to create kaleidoscope image. Magic Moments, Clifton Bingham and Florence Hardy, Ernest Nister, 1892, Ryerson Special Collections

Various adaptations throughout the 19th and 20th century later involved the disassembly of illustrations to communicate more artistic ways of thinking. In 1860 the first “theatre book” was created by Dean and Son. The “theatre book is a special type of movable book, the support of which can be transformed into a theatrical stage used to represent the narrated story; the characters (actors) may be still or, using mechanical elements, animated” (Sarlatto, 2016). The production of the movable book in the 19th and 20th century required many changes to the overall printing process, “this led many publishers to hire specialist craftsmen to oversee all the  hand performed activities involved in the production of the movable elements” (Sarlatto, 2016). The production of toy books was a careful and tedious process as elements needed to be handled with care so they were not damaged when the book was opened.

Ernest Nister

One of the most memorable contributors to the toy book phenomena of the 18th and 19th century was Ernest Nister (1842–1909). Nister was an author and publisher from Germany that supervised all phases that took place during the process of his book creations. His books were extremely popular in the Victorian era and were “easily identifiable by the high quality of the pictures and above all the ingenuity of the moving mechanisms

Magic Moments Clifton Bingham and Florence Hardy, Ernest Nister, London 1892, Ryerson Special Collections

used”(Sarlatto, 2016). During his life “Nister produced over 500 children’s books, but from 1890 onwards his production was mainly focuses on movable books” (Sarlatto, 2016). The illustrations that Nister used in his books were representative of his own ideas of an “ideal world” where wealthy children played in the English countryside in flower-filled meadows (Sarlatto, 2016). His books usually consisted of pastel illustrations and mechanical movements on one page with short simple rhymes on the accompanying page. Nister is most famous for his patent on the revolving picture mechanism. By using the previously discussed “volvella”, and adapting it to make it something entirely new and unique, Nister was able to create a “kaleidoscope” effect with picture illustrations. This revolving picture mechanism can be seen in his 1892 publication of “Magic Moments” which can be found in the Ryerson Special Collections. This book incorporates short stories and rhymes with illustrations of wealthy Victorian children and anthropomorphic characters. The rhymes and short stories often teach lessons and good morals to children. The kaleidoscope effect is a unique way to captivate readers and allow them to engage with the story in a different way.

Rotating discs turned to reveal another image underneath.
Magic Moments. Clifton Bingham and Florence Hardy, Ernest Nister, 1892, Ryerson Special Collections

Why Movables are Popular and Modern Day Picture Books

The creation of movable books was the first step into creating a different genre of popular visual culture. Research has been done to connect the relationship between word and image. In Eric Faden’s article “Movables, Movies, Mobility: Nineteenth‐century looking and reading”, Faden discusses how “picture books force readers to negotiate two different presentational modes: ‘The verbal text drives us to read on in a linear way, where the illustrations seduce us into stopping to look’” (2007). Picture books enormous success is also due to the fact that it was a mode of entertainment and pleasure for young children as it encouraged interactive engagement from readers. Readers are able to become involved in the story and the way it plays out, “Renowned contemporary pop-up artist and author Robert Sabuda notes pop-ups interactively engage the reader in a direct, physical way: ‘It’s a completely different book experience. There’s a different kind of engagement mechanism. … They come right out and touch you. I’ve seen people jump back and that’s a serious reaction, very visceral.’” (Faden, 2007).  Modern day picture books still incorporate elements from their historical relatives to encapture this reaction from their readers, surprise, entertainment and pleasure. Throughout the years many adaptations of movables have been created to incorporate other senses such as “scratch and sniff” elements and dress up. With recent advancements in technology, toy books have been adapted to be completely paperless and entirely electronic. With applications on phones and tablets, children are now able to engage with picture books at an electronic level with a swipe of their fingertips.


Beginner Book, Collection #1, Dr Seuss, Oceanhouse Media,

The history of toy books is extensive and can be traced back to medieval times. The influence that toy books have had on movable texts and interactive literature is prominent. Movable toy books allowed a new genre of books to be created for children about children. The unique way in which toy books have altered the way readers interpret a text has changed the platform for picture books. Children’s picture books are now more interactive than ever and appeal to several different senses. With new technology, the adaptations of movable picture books have now gone completely paperless and incorporate new ways of learning at the reader’s fingertips. The evolution of toy books has been an important aspect to children’s literature because it allows for visual learners to immerse themselves into a text with the ability to engage with visuals instead of just being able to look and read. Toy books will continue to be popular texts for children and readers of all ages because of their engaging qualities and teaching abilities.

Works Cited

Bingham, Clifton, and Florence Hardy. Magic Moments. Ernest Nister, 1892.

Crupi, Gianfranco. “”Mirabili Visioni”: From Movable Books to Movable Text.”, vol. 7, no. 1, 2016, pp. 25-87, SciTech Premium Collection,, doi:

Faden, Eric. “MOVABLES, MOVIES, MOBILITY: Nineteenth‐century looking and reading.” Early Popular Visual Culture, vol. 5, no. 1, 2007, pp. 71–89., doi:10.1080/17460650701269820.

Sarlatto, Mara. “Paper Engineers and Mechanical Devices of Movable Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.”, vol. 7, no. 1, 2016, pp. 89-112, SciTech Premium Collection,, doi:

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