Last weekend, I chatted with Dr. Amelia Case, the author of Princesses with a Twist— a book series that seeks to expand the traditional fairy tale narrative, with stories like Cinderella and the Glass Slipper Factory. In that particular story, Prince Charming’s mission to find Cinderella leads her to become an entrepreneur in which she creates jobs by opening up a glass slipper factory. The stories redefine the traditional plot line and teach girls (and boys) to “overcome obstacles in their lives, value themselves and… make the most of the resources they have.”
Tell me about the inspiration behind Princesses with a Twist.
Like all things, there are a few different lines of inspiration, but most importantly it’s my two daughters, Isabella and Sophia. The idea arose from all the princess paraphernalia coming into our home – whether my husband and I liked it or not. We were starting to be [consumed] by it which was a surprise for me. Not because I didn’t like the whole concept of pretty princesses, pretty dresses, handsome princes, big palaces, etc. But night after night, having the story be the same thing over and over again seemed incongruous from what my intentions were in terms of teaching my kids.
If I go back, my mom, who was 19 when I was born, was one of the girls who expected the princess story. She lived it. She’s so beautiful and my father was gorgeous. He was a great dancer and musician, so she expected her own princess story. And it didn’t happen [the way she imagined]. For many years, she had to reconcile reality with fantasy. So I lived it as a child of a woman who wanted that to happen and I realized you know, it’s just part of her growing up. She was also a product of the 50’s, and there was a big storyline where the princess archetype was reinforced. Those are the two main places where my inspiration converged.
What do you want a young girl who reads Princesses With A Twist to take away?
The idea that we humans use oral history to convey important life lessons is something I respect. Fairy tales have a place, and I don’t believe that they ought to be made to be real. I want my girls to be able to look at relationships in a way that’s not canned. The way fairy tales go is that the males are obliged to take care of the females, and the females expect them to do that. And it’s weird to eliminate a certain amount of sensitivity or even respect for diplomacy between two people. I want them to walk away from the stories seeing that a person is a whole person. And that’s a totally different, still fantastic fairy tale. But even a fairy tale can have elements that are wise and create a wholeness to a person.
Do you think that boys can benefit from reading the books as well?
I do. I don’t think it’ll be like the 9 or 10 year old boys who, according to my experience, are looking for a heck of a lot more action. But definitely the boys that are 4-8, who still play with girls a lot. Our daughter’s friends who are boys, have liked a lot of the books that are girl-centric. Especially if the prince played more of a role in the book, there’s something for the boys to identify with. So yeah I see how it’s relevant for boys. It’s significant for boys to see this story so that they don’t feel the weight or some sort of illusion that they’re supposed to be a prince and save the day, provide the palace and make somebody else live happily ever after. I mean, what a trip!
In your mind, what are some of the challenges that young women face growing up today?
For boys and girls the biggest problem that they all face right now is maintaining discipline to stay focused. It is a really tough thing to learn quiet time and centering and not being completely distracted by the continuous availability of information. That’s by far and away the challenge that I did not have. There just wasn’t this much exposure to information. And information is so tempting.
Specifically for girls, there’s something that’s quite significant right now– and that is a lot of women in the media are speaking out against bashing women because they’re not pretty enough or they’re too old or something. The common consensus is not just that the media shouldn’t be doing it, but nobody should be. And I just strongly disagree. I would rather work on raising children who can experience some criticism and still come out the next day finding that they’re worthy of love, instead of looking for a criticism free world or a criticism free press.
I really do want my children to experience criticism in a strong way so they can ask those questions and answer them. At the end of the day, they have to be able to say– yeah I suck at certain things or I’m not as pretty as talented as someone else and you know what, okay, I still love myself.
You mentioned in your press release that grownups are the custodians of knowledge. In your mind, what is the most important knowledge that parents pass on to their children?
That you are the person that decides how you feel and what your perspective is. Things are going to happen that to you as a child that you don’t know how to react to. For example, the other day our daughters Sophia and Isabella took a walk, and they saw a frog that had been crushed by a car. A car ran over it, and they could not stop talking about that frog, and all I could say was “how do you feel about it?” I gave them space to explore their feelings and get their own perspective. They both had completely different perspectives and there was no right or wrong to either perspective. It sounds like a small little thing– a frog being smushed in the road – but it’s the space to have their own perspective that gets cultivated in every moment. Even if it’s over a dead frog. The thing that we’re custodians of is showing them individuality, allowing them to have their own perspective and giving them space. Because not everything’s going to go their way, not everything’s going to be predictable and not everything is going to match up with our expectations.
As men, what are some small changes or actions to take to continue to help empower the female spirit?
A lot of men are going to end up being fathers so the main thing for men is to have a perspective of responsibility in every step of their life. For the men who don’t see themselves as fathers, they will most likely be in charge of other people at some point. To really be taken seriously, they should ask themselves, “what kind of man do I see myself being five, 10, 20 years from now?.” Just taking note of when another man does something that’s kind and saying “hey, that’s a strength” and asking “where does that lead?” is powerful. Ultimately, supporting the opposite gender pushes us all forward and we should all be mindful of improving our actions and interactions with others.
What do you think defines the next generation of youth, Gen Z, and what kind of legacy do you think they’ll leave behind?
I’m so glad you asked me that. I think that this new wave of people has the potential to be a lot more collaborative. I have never met such young people in my life who ask questions so openly. They have a certain confidence and maybe it’s all that information that’s surrounding them, that they feel like they’re part of the world sooner than I did when I was that age. They seem to see things in a matter of fact way and a freshness of youth seems to keep them in check. They ask questions in a way that I’ve not witnessed before, and I think they have the potential to do something really amazing with that curiosity. That can lead to something very beautiful.
I feel very good about that whole wave of children. I seek them out no matter where in the world I am. It doesn’t matter if it’s the UK, France, India or the United States. I’m always looking for little kids to play with or tutor or spend some time with. Even in the most southwest tip of India, I’ve tutored 6, 7 kids in the last two and a half years, and I observe the same things in them.
Any other thoughts you want to share about the Princesses With a Twist books?
Well, on a practical level, these are books but it’s not just about reading kids books. It’s about thinking forward in terms of self-esteem. We want to empower people. We launched this a Kickstarter campaign a little over three weeks ago in order to publish the books and spread that empowering message. And I think okay we’ve had some good contributors, we’re past our halfway mark, we’ll make the goal – I’m confident of that. But I would love to share this with more people. I’m hoping people will recognize that this isn’t just about providing a book and providing entertainment (even though I must say the books are entertaining, otherwise the kids wouldn’t pay any attention). My hope is that more people respond to the deeper message of the books and are compelled to be a part of the movement with a very different way of looking at classic fairy tale stories.
To support Amelia’s vision, go support their Kickstarter Campaign!