Book editor Claire Mabey on Queen Elizabeth II – and other famous queens – in children’s literature.
My middle name is Elizabeth and when I was little I used to say I was named after the queen. Not at all true, but it seemed right to me at the time. I liked the idea of queens: in my books they were interesting, wore crowns, and in Roald Dahl’s BFG Queen Elizabeth II was cool. She helped Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant rid the world of the Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, and Bonecruncher.
The idea of a queen is anchored very early. Through Disney, through fairy tales, through books. When you’re little and an everyday kid, the princesses in the stories seem to lead exciting lives: they’re locked up in fantasy castles, threatened with death by jealous parents desperate for the throne, they have panties encrusted with jewels. These royals occupy the space of fantasy and allegory. They are either extremely good or extremely bad. The happiness of the people always depends on who is on this throne.
My favorite royals have always been the monarch children of Narnia: Susan, Lucy, Peter and Edmund. In The Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis magically escapes from a war-ravaged real world where children are displaced and helpless. To be a queen of Narnia was to be a guardian to the side of animals and magical creatures, fawns and dryads, all the good parts of a place.
I could never help but associate Queen Elizabeth II with these queens of my imagination. She lived in an unreal realm: on coins, on television, in paintings, in fiction. No matter how knotty reality got, how big the story grew, it seemed to exist perpetually in a castling and crowning world so far removed from our own. His life left much to the imagination.
Regardless of the inevitable talk that will follow over the next few weeks, months, or even years about the future of the monarchy, here is a list of children’s books about queens in honor of Queen Elizabeth II – her mystique, his service, his legendary life:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
The ultimate child-turned-guardian of a magical kingdom story. Complete with one of the best witches in literature and a complex discourse on religion, freedom and growth.
Roald Dahl’s BFG
In this novel, Queen Elizabeth II is portrayed as her typically stable self, calling for tea when orphan Sophie appears on her windowsill and informs her that there are giant child-munching looters. his kingdom at night.
Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem by Selina Tusitala Marsh
A book that bridges Aotearoa and Westminster through the inimitable style of Selina Tusitala Marsh. When Marsh is crowned the Poet of the Commonwealth, she is invited to perform for the Queen at Westminster Abbey. But when someone at work calls it a “betrayal”, Marsh begins to doubt herself. Can she stand with her people who fought against the queen…and still serve the queen?
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Queen of Hearts ! So vile, so forceful, so unbalanced.
Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman
From the legendary Australian writer, a powerful book about cancer and children’s hope…with a strong anti-royalist narrative.
The Queen’s Panties by Nicholas Allan
But how does a queen choose which panties to wear on which occasion? A little classic.
The Princess of the Paper Bag by Robert Munsch
A classic children’s book published in 1980 in which Princess Elizabeth tames a dragon and subverts expectations of how a princess is supposed to behave.
Aotearoa: The Story of New Zealand by Gavin Bishop
A typically stunning non-fiction contextualization of the Queen’s entry into Aotearoa…
The Queen’s Goat by Margaret Mahy
A young queen wants a goat. Too messy! Tell his staff. She ignores them. Carmen the goat gives the queen a wild old time.