As a film critic, I often lament that every winter theaters are inundated with biopics about white men overcoming adversity. These prestige flicks are prime Oscar bait, and the reason many know the stories of kings, dictators, presidents and male scientists. But where are the films about great women? Frustratingly few and far between. (But hey Hidden Figures!)
Incensed by the disparity in cinematic representation, I began uncovering little known or forgotten tales of incredible women for Mental Floss. And through my research found a curious blog called, Rejected Princesses. There, DreamWorks animator Jason Porath shares Disney-modeled drawings of warriors, innovators, and—yes—princesses, while unveiling their stories, which are often too dark, violent, or shocking for an actual Disney princess narrative. I’ve lost countless hours falling down the rabbit hole of his diverse collection of tales and heroines. And now you can too, and better yet, at bedtime.
Pictured: Nellie Bly and Elisabeth Bisland.
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics is a gorgeous hardback book, overflowing with amazing stories from across time and all over the world. Don’t get hung up on the “princesses” in the title. It’s not used literally, but more to draw a connection to the role model girls are most often offered. Within his book’s pages, you’ll find historical heroines you know like battlefield nurse Florence Nightingale, pirate queen Grace O’Malley, warrior Joan of Arc, and revolutionary Harriet Tubman, as well as many more you might not yet, like Khutulun, the wrestling princess from Mongolia, fashion icon/archeologist Jane Dieulafoy, brilliant Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and rebels Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, “the sisters who stomped China.” There’s also folk lore and fairy tales too tricky for Disney to tackle, like the Norwegian story of Tatterhood, the Spanish myth of Calfiia, and the Brazillian legend of Iara.
Each story offers a history lesson or lore with personality, thanks to Porath’s playful writing style and an accompanying portrait for each “princess.” Under the title/name of the tale’s heroine, Porath provides the years she lived and where, so you can easily hop from centuries and continents, discovering a long obscured legacy of female empowerment. But perhaps most important for parents, Porath provides ratings/warnings, so you’re not blindsided by reading a bedtime story that’ll traumatize a tot. There’s a maturity scale, running from 1 to 5, 1 being stories almost suitable for a Disney adaptation, 5 being tales that include the five other labels you might find on a page: Violence, Abuse, Sex, Rape, and Self-Harm.
There are stories here for a feminist of any age. And to be frank, with a Trump administration coming fast and blustering, girls could use a reminder of female power and resilience.
In his intro, Porath writes,
“This book is for any girl who ever felt she didn’t fit in. You are not alone. You come from a line of bold, strong, fearless women. Glory in that.”
With Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics, he provides the perfect tool for girls—and women—to do just that. Ideal for story time before tucking the kids in, or for that wind-down glass of wine, this pretty and powerful book is the perfect gift to give a feminist on your list. It’s a rousing read, a rallying cry, and a palpable source of inspiration.