CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005
Robert Munsch's reflective little rhyme on his first and most famous children's book, The Paper Bag Princess, is characteristically clever and succinct. Since its publication in 1980, the book has been reprinted 52 times, sold over three million copies and been translated into dozens of languages. This special 25th anniversary edition includes the original illustrated version of the story plus much, much more.
The book begins with a happy birthday message from Annick Press founders Rick Wilks and Anne Millyard describing how they fell in love with the Munsch story the first time they read it in 1979. What follows in this 25th anniversary edition is the story of how the original manuscript became a book and how The Paper Bag Princess went on to become a beloved and treasured story for millions of people.
In a short biography of the author's life, the reader learns that Munsch's path to literary fame began with seven years of study for the priesthood, then led to work with pre-school children where his gift for storytelling caught the attention of a boss who insisted he write his stories down.
Interesting facets of Michael Martchenko's artistic career, in particular his early love of comic books and his work for ad agencies, appear in a mini portrait of the artist.
The book's memorable features include a chapter with pictures of the "Real Elizabeth," (a four-year-old student at Munsch's preschool who provided inspiration for the heroine of The Paper Bag Princess), an illustrated chapter showing the seven stages a storybook goes through before it gets to the reader, and a section showing some of Martchenko's original illustrations and early sketches which (for some very interesting reasons) did not make it into the published version.
In a section entitled "And they lived happily ever after," Munsch notes that The Paper Bag Princess has crossed the generations and that today, adults who loved the book as kids are reading it to their own children. The author's comment on the book's popularity is both wise and humble: "This story is a success because it is real. There are no princes but there are a lot of bums, and you don't want to marry one."
A double page spread showing the covers of books translated into an assortment of different languages attests to the global appeal of the theme of The Paper Bag Princess and its feisty heroine. The following section zeroes in on "Paper Bag Spin-offs" from the best-seller which include stage versions, puppet plays, cartoons, cassettes, an Elizabeth doll, complete with a paper bag dress, and a Braille and tactile edition of the book for the visually impaired.
Happily, the editors have reserved space for words from young readers and devoted the penultimate double-spread pages to letters and drawings from a number of school children.
In both style and content, the text of the "story behind the story" part of this special anniversary edition is perfectly suited to early elementary readers. Fans of the artist will undoubtedly enjoy Martchenko's bright and cheeky drawings which enliven every page.
Educators should note that, as well as providing teachers, librarians and parents with a perfect opportunity to re-visit the well-loved story, The Paper Bag Princess: The Story Behind the Story is a wonderful enrichment resource for older students involved in book-making projects.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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