A while back I wrote about a Kickstarter for a great book -- Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom, by Sheena McFeely and Casie Trace.
Shay and Ivy have discovered that the princess culture might seem glamorous at first, but usually tends to become a bit uncomfortable when it won't let you do science experiments or travel into space.Recently I received a digital copy to review. I was pretty sure going in I was going to love this book based on what I already know about it from writing about their Kickstarter, but I was still excited about seeing the book for myself.
The first book is about Shay & Ivy and their friends, at an imaginary ball in their bedroom, dreaming of being princesses. They all dreamt of riding horses, owning closets full of gowns, and dancing in royal castles. All girls, but Shay felt out of place. How was she to royally fit in if she did not want to be a princess anymore?
Determined as ever, Shay was going to find the answer. Shay & Ivy soon find out that their dreams go beyond a kingdom. The sisters began to visualize themselves as fearless pilots riding planes, scientists owning labs to perform experiments, and astronauts dancing among the stars.
As it turns out, there are several reasons why I love this book, though. Obviously, I love the idea of making sure girls know they can be "more than a princess." To be sure, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a princess. I'd be the last person to say that. But one can be a princess while also being so much more. And the more times we tell girls that, the better chance we have of it sticking!
I also love the artwork. I love that they've taken the standard issue princess colors (pink, purple, teal, etc.) and incorporated them into this book. It feels subversive in a way. And the illustrations are beautifully drawn. No detail about the girls' room or dreams is left out.
But, most importantly, I love that there are little girls of all colors and backgrounds in this book. It's so easy to forget to be inclusive, and so important to recognize when an artist has made a point to expand representation.
As soon as I was done reading through Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom for something like the sixth time, I decided I wanted to know more about the creators and their inspiration. Fortunately, Sheena McFeely was happy to answer some of my questions about her background and how she came up with the story.
SRPS: I love Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom! Where did the idea for this book come from?
SM: It all started with my two very own daughters. There is a sea of Princess-related stuff for our little girls. I could not let them be exposed to ONLY that. There are many women out there I've met who are lawyers, doctors, business owners, and artists. Where are they in media such as TV, books, and movies? Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom is not only about exploring what's more than being a princess, but knowing there is a huge world out there just waiting to be found. Explore, be curious, and from there you'll discover who you really are.
SRPS: I love that the girls visiting for the party are of different racial backgrounds. It's still pretty rare to see non-white kids in children's books. What inspired you to include them? Do I spy some sign-language in the images?
SM: I come from a minority group - the Deaf community - so I know exactly what it feels like to be "forgotten" or not be represented well. I grew up in Los Angeles - a very diverse city - so I became close with people coming from different racial backgrounds. I am part Asian. All of those experiences prompted me to include those wonderful characters into my book. I love #WeNeedDiverseBooks and their vision. They are spot-on for aiming to include more diversity in books especially children's books. And YES, there are some sign language involved since the family is Deaf and communicates in ASL on a daily basis.
SRPS: The pages with the girls dreaming about all the possibilities is probably my most favorite. How fun is it as an adult reading this book to children and listening to them add their own ideas?
SM: I know! It's stunning and realistic at the same time. Like you, I hope parents add their ideas or even encourage their kids to come up with their own. It should be everyone's goal to not only read, but expand from there -- after all, we want our children to expand their critical thinking skills!
SRPS: Finally, of course, I have to say I love the line "I want to be more than a princess." That's what the Self-Rescuing Princess Society is all about, of course. How has Princess Culture affected your daughters' world? How would you suggest a parent or caring adult help the girls in their lives be "more than a princess?"
SM: I won't stop my girls or anyone from wanting to dress up as a princess. But like you pointed out, the volume is ridiculously large and does not reflect the world we live in. The formula is really simple: Expose them to things outside of the princess box. Although there are not enough toys or media to support that, we can print out pictures of different women doing their own things. Be it a pilot, doctor, lawyer, and so forth. Many think they cannot do it at a very young age, but there are ways around that. It can be a simple photograph with the word saying 'woman pilot' to build on their vocabulary then introduce more advanced stuff as they get older. Create your own path as it's more important to be unique than the same!
If you have a little girl in your life who could do with a reminder they can be "more than a princess," I highly recommend you get your own copy of Shay & Ivy: Beyond the Kingdom. It's an enchanting story, even for a mostly-grown-up like me. It's perfect for the little ones in your life. I look forward to future editions in the Shay & Ivy story line.