Don't Blame the Fluffy Dresses

Seven years ago, I got my principles hurt by a preschool Halloween party. This was my first preschool Halloween party, mind you, and my oldest daughter and I were gonna do this right. I carefully, diplomatically, expertly convinced her to go for something more unique than a princess dress. 


A little red electrical tape on her raincoat, some smudges to show she'd come straight from a rescue. I wanna squish those smudgy cheeks!

Then every other girl in the class showed up in the exact same princess costume. Yes, you heard me right. Not only were they all princesses, they were all wearing the EXACT same costume and by the end of the day, my little firefighter had tear streaks through her ash smudges. How dare the world crush her individuality? Look at her! She was adorable, and those darn fluffy dresses ruined everything. 

I went home and waxed poetic in protest. 

The original version of my poem let me vent my feelings about a world that tries to fit everyone into the same mold. But I didn't have it quite right. First of all, I've learned to let my kids pick their own costumes. If she wants to be a fluffy princess, for heaven's sake, let her be a fluffy princess. I was no better than the society I was ranting about, trying to convince her to be something she wasn't excited to be. I really needed to get off of Fluffy Dress's back. There's nothing wrong with a good, sparkly tiara, either, if that's your thing. 

So I rewrote the poem. 

But later I realized there was another reason my story wasn't quite right. I was only focused on the injustices against girls. It took several years, two sons, and a growing disgust with the portrayal of men as idiotic mess-makers in paper towel commercials, for me to realize that I didn't want my story to be about girl power. I don't like girl power. I like "You Power". Who cares if you are a boy or a girl. You have power. 

I feel uncomfortable when my sons are taught that girls are better, just like I feel uncomfortable when my daughters are taught that boys are better.

Point is, my boys feel pressure to become a certain type of person, too. They need a story about being an individual just as badly as my daughters.

So I rewrote the poem again and tucked it in to sleep for many more moons while I focused on other things. 

A while ago, I was asked to speak at an event for 8-11 year old girls. I was supposed to teach them, inspire them, entertain them! Oh crap, right? I remembered my poem, dusty and lonely in a forgotten file. I pulled it out, whipped up some pictures to display while I read it, and hoped that it wouldn't be a big fat fail. What if they don't laugh at the funny parts? What if they don't like my pictures? What if my fly's undone? 

Nearly one hundred girls came through my station in small groups, and I read them my story. Part of my target audience in a giant focus group--writer's dream come true! 

I watched their faces when they caught the message, and I caught the message, too. 

More than forty illustrations later, the result is, I hope, a story that is the summation of what I want for my kids. A message I'm trying to send them without their Boring Adult Advice radar going off.  Also, I want them to laugh at my dragons. And color them, actually. It's a coloring book, guys!

This is one of my favorite illustrations because it came straight from the moment that started the whole thing, and because this girl is putting out her own fire, not waiting to be rescued. 
Here's a sneak peak at the cover and story. 
Coming soon! Really soon! 

Kingly College Knight Classes
 and the 
Dainty Damsel University of Distress
A Royal Mess

The Kingdom of Locks is a fairy tale place, 
But the King and the Queen are ashamed. The disgrace!
No damsels in danger, no knights on white steeds.
Fear not! This Queen knows just what her kingdom needs.

A college for knights, a school for princesses!
Bright shining armor and huge, fluffy dresses!
It will be perfect, like love at first sight,
Except that her sons are refusing to fight.

They won't slay the dragons, they won't go to class.
Now girls are protesting their slippers of glass.
If you think you know how all fairy tales end,
I hope that this tale will surprise you, my friend.

P.S. "Color this book!" the front cover declares.
Don't be afraid, for the reader who dares
To color this novel will find they're elated
To own a fine book that they've co-illustrated. 

Coming soon: my release date, and my website with coloring pages, quizzes, and contests!