Tag: fairy tale

The Little White Horse | Elizabeth Goudge

“I absolutely adored The Little White Horse.” —J.K. Rowling

That sentence alone persuaded me to purchase The Little White Horse, a book I knew nothing else about by an author I’d never heard of. If this story fed the imagination of young J.K. Rowling, I wanted to save our family a seat at the feast.

I have read The Little White Horse at least four times—more times than I have read many other excellent books—and yet, I’ve never reviewed it for this blog. Perhaps I put it off because the story is so difficult to describe. Or because I wanted to do things like hold it to my chest and smile dreamily at clouds rather than attempt to pinpoint its magic, its mystery, its loveliness. Like The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and The Wingfeather Saga, this book left me brimming with joy and fumbling with words: “You have to read it; you’ll love it” was all I could think to say.

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

But Story Warren gave me an opportunity to review The Little White Horse, and I leapt at it. It took a few days of dreamy re-reading and a few weeks of fumbling with words, but I finally finished, and the post is up on the Story Warren site today. I hope you enjoy it, but better still, I hope you read The Little White Horse. You have to. You’ll love it.

Read the review here.


The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

Beyond the Ballgown: 9 Unusual Books About Princesses

When a friend asked for advice about raising daughters (he and his wife were expecting their first), all I came up with was, “Expect to find baby dolls in strange places. And there will be glitter all over your house, but you won’t know where it came from.” In retrospect, I’d like to add: “People will buy you princess things—so many princess things. Even when they know that you don’t want princess things in your house.”

Also, I’d probably say something about daughters being a gift from the Lord, and it being such a joy to raise them. And so on.

I’ve written before about our family’s approach to princesses, and have meant, for a good long time, to revisit that topic with a list of the books that our girls have fallen in love with—books that do a little, at least, to combat the pull of the Disney franchise by portraying princesses and queens in a courageous, wise, and truly beautiful (not weirdly-animated beautiful) light.

9 Unusual Books About Princesses | Little Book, Big Story

Some of these leading ladies aren’t technically princesses, but you’ll find queens in the mix and ladies and little girls who display beautifully what true princess-ness means. Here are some unusual books about princesses:

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis | Little Book, Big Story

Every good book list ought to open with these books, I think. And any list of books about strong leading ladies who are loving, empathetic and brave ought to open with Lucy Pevensie. (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

This book is old and wonderful: the story of Princess Irene, the miner Curdie, and Irene’s great-great-grandmother gives a great illustration of what it looks like to be a princess during the good times and the bad, in safety and in danger. (Read the full review.)

THE ORDINARY PRINCESS, by M.M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

When a cantankerous fairy bestows not the gift of grace, beauty or charm on the infant princess Amethyst, but instead gives her the gift of ordinariness, the story of Princess Amy, thoroughly ordinary in every way, begins. This book takes a good look at what makes us truly beautiful and how to recognize those that appreciate those qualities. (Read the full review.)

THE STORY OF ESTHER, by Eric Kimmel

The Story of Esther | Little Book, Big Story

What better picture of royal courage can we pull from Scripture than that of Esther? Though married to King Artaxerxes against her will, Queen Esther serves the Lord where she is placed and through her obedience, saves his people. She’s beautiful, faithful, and brave! (Read the full review.)

I’D BE YOUR PRINCESS, by Kathryn O’Brien

I'd Be Your Princess | Little Book, Big Story

This sweet picture book follows the conversation between a father and a daughter as she imagines what it would be like if he was a king and she was a princess. Her father ties her vision gently back to Scripture and encourages his daughter to cultivate the qualities that Scripture emphasizes. (Read the full review.)

A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Though not a literal princess, Sara Crewe lives like one: pampered by her beloved papa and treated as royalty by the headmistress of her boarding school, she enjoys life’s luxuries—until a plot twist takes them all (every last one) away. But she determines to go on living like a princess in all the right ways all the same. (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE KISSby Jennie Bishop

The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop | Little Book, Big Story

Jennie Bishop’s fable about a princess who is given a gift at birth meant only for the man she marries gives a lovely picture for young girls of marriage and purity—even answering gently, at one point, the question, “What if he isn’t out there for me?” This is a book that I appreciate for the way it helps shape our daughters’ views on marriage and sexuality while telling a story about a royal family who knows what to truly value.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, Maid Marian isn’t technically a princess, but she does rub elbows with royalty, wear lovely gowns (sometimes, at least), and marry her true love at the (almost) end of the story. But she’s also fearless and loyal, willing to stand her ground against injustice and to fight for good alongside her fiance. There are many retellings of Robin Hood’s adventures, but Maid Marian’s character in this one makes it my favorite. (Read the full review.)

THE KING’S EQUAL, by Katherine Paterson

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

Katherine Paterson, author of The Bridge to Terebithia and many, many other books, puts a beautiful twist on those stories that marry off princesses as prizes for killing dragons and so on. When the king dies, he leaves his kingdom to his proud and quite unlikeable son on the stipulation that he finds a wife that is truly his equal. The search for such a woman leads to lovely and unexpected results—and no one is more surprised by them than the prince. (Read the full review.)

What are your favorite books about princesses?

The Ordinary Princess | MM Kaye

What if a princess was not golden-haired and willowy, with eyes like sapphire and so on, but was—in every way—perfectly ordinary?

This is the question that struck author MM Kaye after rereading her favorite fairy tales from childhood: what if an ordinary child was born into a fairy tale family? And so the story of the Ordinary Princess began. Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne—called Amy—was born the seventh daughter of a king and queen, and being the seventh, she was even more beautiful and serene than her sisters. She was, that is, until the Fairy Crustacea declared at her christening that she should be Ordinary.

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

And just like that, her golden ringlets turned mouse-brown; her serene, rosebud mouth screwed into a baby-like howl, and Amy became a baby like any other non-royal baby.

This is a slender chapter book, and it’s enchanting. I loved Kaye’s unusual approach to the usual stories, and was especially smitten Amy’s disposition: though her family considers her ordinariness a Great Problem, Amy hardly seems to notice it. She enjoys life at the palace as best she can, sneaking out into the woods to play with squirrels and peasant children, until her father comes up with a dramatic plan to fool an unsuspecting prince into marrying her. Then things take a turn.

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

I haven’t read this one to the girls yet, but it’s next on our list after we finish Twig. Of all the reinterpretations of fairy tales out there, The Ordinary Princess is quite possibly my favorite: the heroine is strong and humble and hard-working. She’s content with her lot and entirely likable. And she’s ordinary—quite a few of us with mouse-brown hair can relate to that.


The Ordinary Princess
MM Kaye (2002)

The King’s Equal | Katherine Paterson

Almost a year ago, Mitch and I cancelled our Facebook accounts. This is not a good conversation starter: “So, we cancelled our Facebook accounts.” People get shifty-eyed when you say something like that. They tend to greet that news with polite nods and then silence and then a subject change, and I don’t blame them for not asking, “Why?”, but instead bringing up the weather or asking about my kids. You can practically hear the rant lurking behind that sentence, just waiting for that one word to unleash it.

But now that we’re not checking our news feeds, drafting witty status updates and so on, what do we do with ourselves? Well, we do highly profitable things like watch 30 Rock episodes back to back and not clean the house. And we do moderately profitable things like fantasize about built-in bookshelves and then take actual steps toward making them a reality. Or we obsessively sort our books in the hope of reducing our collection to a more manageable size, before moving them onto those invisible bookshelves. (By “we,” I mean “me.” I am the obsessive sorter in our home.)

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

That last one’s the sort of exercise that unearths gems, both in the books that have fallen behind the other books in the shelves and in the new books that one gets with trade credit at the used bookstore when one arrives with boxes and bags of books in hand. The King’s Equal was one of the former: a book that I’d purchased at a library book sale a year ago, read to Lydia once and then lost among the books at the back of the bookshelf, only to find it recently while rummaging through our ever-expanding collection of books.

Paterson has turned up on this blog before, as the author of The Light of the Worldbut her second appearance here is for a very different sort of book: it is a fairy tale in the old style, but with a twist, as the prince is an arrogant punk who no one—not even his ailing father—wants running the country. Just before his father dies, he declares that his son cannot wear his crown until he finds a wife who is his equal. The prince sees that as in impossibility, for who could ever be his equal? But he wants that crown, so he begins a search that takes the him down a path peopled with rich characters, transformative events and talking wolves.

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

The King’s Equal is available as both a long picture book or a short chapter book, which makes it easy to find a version that will appeal to your child’s interest level. And it’s a good one for both girls and boys, given the presence of both a prince and a lovely lady named Rosamund, neither of whom are the bland stereotypes sometimes present in fairy tales.

Lydia spent a long while camped out on the couch with it after our copy emerged from the recesses of our bookshelves. When I asked her how she liked it on this read-through, she said, “Good.” And that was it. But the way she bent over the page intently, reading the text and absorbing the illustrations without fidgeting once, assured me that I’d better share this book with you quick. It’s a keeper.


The King’s Equal
Katherine Paterson (1999)

Writing Stories for Your Children

This post has been updated and relocated! You can read the new and improved post, “Writing Stories for Your Children (It’s Easier Than You Think!), here.

Writing Stories for Your Children (It's Easier Than You Think) | Little Book, Big Story

For the first time in years, I have a writing desk. It is little and white and looks like a dresser when closed, but once opened, that desk is a tiny work space in a house full of daughters and cats and wing back chairs and one very patient husband. That tiny space is mine and I don’t have to share.

Until now, I’ve written at the dining room table, on the couch, or in the aforementioned wing back chairs. When I can, I write in coffee shops or at my favorite bar. But now, I have a desk. It is glorious. . . .

Read on.

The Princess and the Goblin | George MacDonald

One of my preferred methods for finding new authors involves reading the footnotes of my favorite books. This is spectacularly nerdy, I know, but sometimes there are gems tucked away in that tiny print, little citations that spur me on to explore a new author, an essay, a book. Perhaps a particular name sounds again and again through works I respect and I finally catch on that, hey, I should listen to that. I should find that book and read it.

Occasionally, an author makes this very easy for me and, like C.S. Lewis, refers to another author as his “master.” When dealing with someone as masterful as C.S. Lewis, that’s a statement that commands attention. Of George MacDonald, Lewis has this to say:

 I have never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master, indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.

Those words sent me on a mission to find all the MacDonald I could and, having read most of his works for children, I can say that The Princess and the Goblin rises to the top of his collected works like the very best cream. MacDonald’s skill lies in his images, and some of his best images lie in this story, so distinct and perfectly apt that you’ve probably heard them cited in other works. The great-grandmother’s fire of roses or Irene’s guiding thread are enchanting enough within the context of the story, but they stick with you and give you much to ponder long after the book is closed.

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

The Princess and the Goblin concerns certain events surrounding a little girl named Irene,  a princess, who lives in a house—part farmhouse, part palace—that is built into the side of a mountain. Now, you already know how I feel about princesses. Irene is absolutely one of those princesses of merit who keeps her promises, serves others and has better things to do than woo princes (a relief, as she’s only eight).

But if there are little boys in your life who cringe at the word “princess,” never fear: the story has two principle characters. The other is a boy named Curdie, who is no vapid Prince Charming, but a brave and chivalrous miner’s son whose own series of adventures overlaps those of the Princess Irene. There are also goblins, men-at-arms and the princess’s marvelous king-papa.

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

But as I said, MacDonald’s skill lies beyond the written story itself. In his introduction to MacDonald’s Phantastes (which is also worth reading), Lewis struggles to classify the sort of genius MacDonald exhibits, saying finally:

It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties until all questions are reopened and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.

The Princess and the Goblin does exactly that.


The Princess and the Goblin
George MacDonald (1872)

The Book of Virtues | William J. Bennett

Based on the title alone, one might assume that The Book of Virtues is a dusty, half-forgotten classic chock full of words like “assuage.” But one would be sorely mistaken.

The Book of Virtues was published in 1993, when William Bennett, a former Secretary of Education, noticed that many children were growing up with a moral deficiency: concepts like loyalty were difficult for these children to identify, let alone put into practice, because they didn’t see them lived out in the lives of parents and peers. Many had lost contact with the wealth of literature that once trained children to value things like compassion, honesty and perseverance.

To meet this need, Bennett looked back  at our existing literature and history:

Every American child ought to know at least some of the stories and poems in this book. Every American parent and teacher should be familiar with some of them, too. I know that some of these stories will strike some contemporary sensibilities as too simple, too corny, too old-fashioned. But they will not seem so to the child…And I believe that if adults take this book and read it in a quiet place, alone, away from distorting standards, they will find themselves enjoying some of this old, simple ‘corny’ stuff.

And so, Mr. Bennett set out to compile some of the classic moral stories into a format meant for browsing. Within longer chapters with titles like “Responsibility,” “Friendship” or “Courage,” he ordered the content from nursery rhymes to more challenging pieces by Aristotle, say, or Cicero. Everything else fits neatly in between, so there’s something in every chapter for every age.

The Book of Virtues | Little Book, Big Story

I passed over a few selections–gruesome fairy tales, or old poems in which a child misbehaves/is selfish/slams the door and promptly dies–but most of them are wonderful: stories by Tolstoy and Oscar Wilde that brought me to tears; fairy tales told so beautifully that they bear little resemblance (sadly) to the simplified versions told today; poems with meat on their bones and blood in their veins.

Bennett includes beautifully written biographies on figures like Harriet Tubman, the Wright Brothers and Clara Barton. A letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter (quote: “Don’t worry about flies. Don’t worry about insects in general . . . Don’t worry about boys.”) Re-tellings of passages of the Bible, as well as excerpts from The Odyssey, Roman history, Greek myth and Shakespeare.

One can’t help but feel well read as one reads on.

Though Bennett states that this book is not meant to be read cover to cover, I couldn’t restrain myself: I took page markers along with me and marked my favorites as I read, and now I can pull out a poem to illustrate a point, or a story to fit a theme on any given day. (These classic stories make great fodder for storytelling, too, when book isn’t handy.)

We also have a children’s edition of The Book of Virtues, complete with color illustrations, but it just doesn’t get better than the simply illustrated original: this is a book that will grow with our family for years to come, and I look forward to leaving it out for my children to find and explore on their own.


The Book of Virtues
William J. Bennett (1996)