Princess Pink isn’t a princess, nor is she a fan of the color pink. In defiance of her frothy moniker, Princess prefers “dirty sneakers, giant bugs, mud puddles, and cheesy pizza” over fairies, ballerinas, and the princess dresses her mother attempts to foist upon her. Unsurprisingly, the magical world Princess stumbles upon through her refrigerator door one night isn’t a Narnia, an Oz, or even a sideways Wonderland. Instead, the Land of Fake-Believe is a shared fairy-tale universe gone amok, with an oddball cast of subverted characters such as the green-haired Moldylocks (of Three Beards fame—”much scarier than bears”), The Three Pugs, a kleptomaniac fowl named Little Red Quacking Hood, and, perhaps oddest of all, the Tunacorn, a kind of unicorn with a tuna fish for a horn.
I’ve never been a fan of the term “girl power.” Despite its ’90s riot grrrl origins—the “grrr stood for growling,” according to feminist scholar Anita Harris—girl power has become less an expression of feminine empowerment than a form of prepackaged consumerism masquerading as dumbed-down ideology. Get over the patronizing attitude, however, and My First Book of Girl Power is a pretty decent Who’s Who of DC Comics’ female pantheon for the board-book set. Just don’t expect a whole lot of depth—or diversity.
Set against the rolling hills of pseudo-medieval France, Giants Beware! is the story of Claudette, a pint-size rapscallion who wears her hair short and her temper shorter. The daughter of the village blacksmith, Claudette has a singular ambition: to snuff out the neighborhood baby-feet-eating giant and destroy it. There are a few kinks in the would-be giant slayer’s plans, however. Her father, who was maimed fighting a dragon, makes light of her quest, considering it a child’s idle fancy. She also has to rally a pair of reluctant squires—an aspiring princess named Marie and her timorous younger brother, Gaston—to her cause, which she succeeds through some light chicanery.
Watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time, my 6-year-old daughter immediately glommed onto the character of Princess Leia. This wasn’t surprising in the least—I did pretty much the same when I was her age. But with the exception of a Golden Book, published in 1997 and now heinously out of print, children’s books featuring the Alderaan royal are few and far between. While Star Wars: Escape From Darth Vader doesn’t mend the gap per se, it’s one of the rare stories to cast Leia as the central human protagonist. Part of Disney Publishing’s “World of Reading” series, the book retells the opening scenes of Episode IV, just before Leia is captured by “mean and scary” Darth Vader’s forces.
Zita is a pretty typical 10-year-old who spends her time doing average 10-year-old things. Unlike her more reticent best friend, Joseph, Zita revels in leaping before looking. So when the duo stumbles upon a smoking crater with a strange-looking device, Zita’s impulses get the better of her and she pushes the big, red button in the center. Before she can say “oops,” a portal materializes out of thin air, pulling Joseph into its embrace before winking out of existence once more.
Her immediate response is one even grownups are familiar with: to run, panicked, in the other direction. But then a different sort of emotion kicks in. Recovering the device, Zita reactivates the portal, plunging headfirst into the breach. When she finally comes to on the other side, it’s on a brave new planet, one that shares more in common with Tatooine than Oz or Narnia.
Like the shadows that flicker in the corner of your eye, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things doesn’t fill you with outright terror—at least, not at first. Far more frightening is its creeping sense of dread, the nagging feeling that something is unutterably, irretrievably wrong.
Courtney’s tale, like most cracking ghost stories, begins with a spooky old mansion. “Do you know that one house, the most talked-about house in the whole neighborhood?” asks the omniscient narrator. “It is well known that terrible things happen there. And that Old Man Crumrin is madder than a Victorian hatmaker.”
It’s also the house that Courtney and her tedious, social-climbing parents would soon call home.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade is less about a 12-year-old adjusting to life as a superhero than it is about a superhero figuring out how to be 12 years old. Gawky, insecure, and a complete fish out of water, Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones’s Kara Zor-el is the antithesis of her broodier, more volatile “New 52” counterpart.
Granted, it helps that this iteration of the Last Daughter of Krypton didn’t witness the destruction of her home planet in a cataclysmic explosion. In this alternate canon, Argo City survives after the force of the blast shunts it into a pocket reality known as Quasi-Space, where. Kara, like most preteens, engages her parents in a constant battle of wills. That is, until an impulsive decision sends her careening to Earth on an interdimensional rocket, with no hope of return in sight.
Still think that Wonder Woman’s Greek myth origins are “too complicated” for the silver screen, movie execs? I Can Read: I Am Wonder Woman gets down to the brass tacks, explaining Diana’s story so cogently even a five-year-old could follow. (Mine certainly did.)
The early reader covers the basics: Paradise Island, princess, Amazons, Gods-given powers. But it also throws in the magic truth-inducing magic lasso, Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, her civilian identity, and even her friendship with Superman and Batman—all in fewer than 32 pages, most comprising pithy sentences.
Eight-year-old Grace Gibson is the new girl in the town of Catastrophe, a disaster-prone locale where volcanoes erupt, giant robots run amok, meteors plummet from the skies, and escaped inmates from the Asylum for Crafty Criminals plot world domination on a near-daily basis. Grace has trouble fitting in at school, where her father’s the headmaster, until a chemistry experiment gone awry leads her to brew an arsenal of bubblegum with superpower-imbuing properties.
Determined to bring order to the chaos around her, Grace adopts the crime-fighting guise of Gum Girl. Along with Billy Fisher, her classmate-turned-best friend with a knack for getting into scrapes, Grace metes out justice with humor, optimism, and unflagging joie de vivre. Gum Girl may be pink and bubbly, but she also has brains, gumption, and gum to spare—plenty useful when the adults around you are as clueless as they are incompetent.
Princess at Midnight is the story of Holly Crescent, a preadolescent girl who lives a cloistered existence in a narrow townhouse somewhere in England. By day, she’s homeschooled by an overprotective father alongside her twin brother, Henry. At night, she’s magically transported to another plane of existence, where she reigns as princess of Castle Waxing. Instead of squaring off in the classroom with Henry, Holly engages in a land dispute with her kingdom’s sworn enemy, the Horrible Horde.
Princess Holly isn’t a milquetoast regent—she’s brash, irascible, and frequently unsympathetic; more Boudica than Belle. When ogres from the Horde attack her favorite picnic spot, Holly declares war. Her chancellor, a dragon, suggests drawing up a treaty to declare the area common property, but the princess will not be persuaded. “Share?” she barks. “I’m a princess, I don’t do sharing.” Someone fetch the smelling salts!