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Top 100 Picture Books #86: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

#86 The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (1980)
23 points

This is deeply satisfying to the children I read it to, and to me as an adult as well. She’s clever, she’s brave and she refuses to subordinate herself. The well placed use of the word “bum” adds a nice bit of levity to the ending. – Emily Myhr

#70 last time.

Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature referred to The Paper Bag Princess as a “feminist fairy tale” (prefigured by The Practical Princess by Jay Williams, actually).  There are many books that join it in this respect.  The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet, etc.  But in terms of sheer love… sheer devotion of the readership… I don’t think anyone holds a candle to this tale.  It has even done so well that there was a 25th anniversary edition telling “the story behind the story.”

Of the various descriptions I’ve seen of the plot, probably summed it up best: “Elizabeth, a beautiful princess, lives in a castle and wears fancy clothes. Just when she is about to marry Prince Ronald, a dragon smashes her castle, burns her clothes with his fiery breath, and prince-naps her dear Ronald. Undaunted and presumably unclad, she dons a large paper bag and sets off to find the dragon and her cherished prince. Once she’s tracked down the rascally reptile, she flatters him into performing all sorts of dragonly stunts that eventually exhaust him, allowing her to rescue Prince Ronald. But what does Prince Not-So-Charming say when he sees her? “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.” (At least he has the courtesy not to mention that the princess’s crown resembles a dying sea anemone.) In any case, let’s just say that Princess Elizabeth and Prince Ronald do not, under any circumstances, live happily ever after.”

I just like the “dying sea anemone” line.

Though Mr. Munsch has written countless picture books for kids, his two best known works are this and Love You Forever (and did that book make this list?  Only time will tell . . . )

Want a laugh?  Look at what comes up when you go to  Oh, irony.  Want another laugh?  Note the Paper Bag Princess photo shoot.  But my personal favorite was this school photography project.  At least somebody got it right.

The National Post called it, “A feminist manifesto in children’s book form, and even at six, I was enchanted… kick-ass story.”

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Why can’t I find The Princess Who Stood on her Own Two Feet at the NYPL OR on Amazon?!?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh that book has LONG been out of print, I’m afraid. Your best bet is to grab a copy of Phil Nel’s Tales for Little Rebels where he includes the full text and some of the pictures. Unless a miracle happens that book will ne’er see the light of day. Too bad about not being on Amazon. Try Alibris maybe?

  2. Elle Librarian says

    This one was on my top 10, so obviously I’m over-joyed to see it make the list. I am young enough that this book was popular when I was a child. And now my six-year-old niece is going through a phase where she will just sit and read this book over and over and over and over! Thankfully, it is also one of the books featured on Tumblebooks (though it does part ways in some respects with the original), so my niece can also listen to it for hours if she’d like!