From Cinderella and Snow White to Rapunzel and Aurora, the world’s most famous princesses have at least one thing in common—lavish dresses and gowns.
But even a princess has occasion for practical, comfortable, yet fashionable attire.
That’s part of the idea behind the new children’s book “Princesses Wear Pants,” written by “TODAY” co-host Savannah Guthrie and educator Allison Oppenheim.
The story follows a young girl called Princess Penelope Pineapple, who lives in a grand castle with her mom, dad, brother and quirky cat, Miss Fussywiggles. Penelope is envied for her collection of sparkling gowns and tiaras, but the pigtailed princess prefers to choose from her closet full of colorful pants when tending to her garden, hosting the kingdom's science fair or soaring through the sky as a pilot with the Pineapple Air Command. And when a mishap occurs at the royal ball, Penelope teaches the entire kingdom a valuable lesson when her versatile wardrobe helps save the day.
Brightly and beautifully illustrated by artist Eva Byrne, “Princesses Wear Pants” teaches kids that a princess is so much more than the often-extravagant clothes she wears.
I recently caught up with Guthrie and Oppenheim to talk about the new book. Check out the full interview below:
David Onda: Why was “Princesses Wear Pants” a story you wanted to tell?
Allison Oppenheim: We’re both moms of little girls, and it seemed like right out of the gate, both of our little girls had a strong affinity and attraction to things pink and sparkly and glittery. I was trying to get to the bottom of what does that really mean, and I was talking with my two 3-year-olds, “What is it that princesses do?” And she said, “They spin in the kingdom.” And I said, “That’s good and all, but what else can they do?” And she didn’t know. I said, “Do they help people? Do they take care of people? What can they be and do?” I started thinking about what her little 3-year-old idea of what women are, and how we can better represent that to them. I struck up a conversation with Savannah about our similar feelings on the topic.
Savannah Guthrie: And then Alli came out with the line of the century, I thought. We were just laughing about how our daughters are so attracted to that stuff, and she had to tell her daughter, Ayla, “You know, princesses even wear pants!” And when I heard Alli say that—we were just having dinner—I was like, “That’s a book! We could make a whole book out of that.” And that’s what started the process. It’s not anti-princess. Our princess has dresses and the whole first part of the book is all about her tiaras and her good shoes and all that stuff, but the pants are really just a way to talk about that princesses are more than what they wear, they’re what they do. And when you’re doing something important, whether it’s flying a helicopter or working in a garden for those in need, you’ve gotta wear pants! That was kind of the idea behind it. I’ve already had a lot of moms say, “I need this book because my little girl won’t wear anything but tutus!”
Onda: Are your kids at the age where they want to choose their own outfits, even if they don’t match?
Oppenheim: Yes, I’ve lost all control. But that happened, honestly, around 18 months. Mine is particularly opinionated. But she said to me this week—and I credit the book—she said, “Mommy, I actually do like pants.” And I said, “Yay!”
Guthrie: My daughter, she likes to try on different things, but she’s not that picky about what she wears. And it shows. [laughs]
Onda: How long did it take to actually write “Princesses Wear Pants,” and what was the collaborative process like between the two of you?
Oppenheim: It came so naturally from our dinner conversation; and it sprung up from there and we were just kind of passing back and forth passages and ideas and rhymes. It really evolved pretty naturally and pretty quickly for both of us.
Guthrie: It did. It was fun. We were just new friends, so it was such a delight to do this thing together and find that we really clicked as writers and storytellers, and then get to know each other through the process. Once we got the book published, we got to have the most fun of all, which was to find an illustrator and talk about our vision of what Penelope would look like. And we both had strong feelings. We wanted her to look a certain way and be cute and approachable and not perfect. We really love how she turned out.
Onda: Can you tell me more about Eva Byrne's illustrations? They're really beautiful. There's one image of a cat reading a book in bed that I thought was very cute.
Guthrie: Oh, that’s my favorite!
Oppenheim: We wanted her to be whoever she wants to be. We wanted her to be a little bit bold and brave, and definitely fun and maybe quirky, maybe a little different—definitely not what you would expect, per se. Like Savannah said, she’s a little girl and she has a closet that we all dream about. She’s a little bit of everything. I think the mix turned out great. It’s just how we imagined her. We want her to be someone inspirational for little girls.
Guthrie: And Eva was so special because she took this manuscript and not only did she create these beautiful illustrations, she added those little touches of humor. The little kitty cat, Miss Fussywiggles, just came alive in the pictures in a way that, I think, we were so delighted when we saw it. It kind of exceeded our own imagination. It was just a really fun, effortless, cool collaboration. The whole experience has been nothing but joy.
Onda: I think the average person believes it’s easy to write a children’s book, but I’m sure you discovered that is not the case at all, right?
Oppenheim: Yes, it was quite a learning curve for us. We just kind of whipped up this book and passed it around, saying, “Look what we did! We wrote this book!”
Guthrie: And little did we know that, in children’s books, they actually don’t love it when you rhyme. That was something we didn’t know, and here we’d written this rhyming book and we really loved the rhymes, so that was a whole thing. We really lucked out, because we hooked up with this great publisher and had a really great editor who believed in the book. She was the dream of what an editor could be, because she helped us make it better, but she never imposed her views on us. She’d just ask us questions that helped us advance the story. But I have to say, the rhyming thing … you do it and you like it, but it’s so challenging to tell your story when it has to rhyme. It’s actually quite difficult.
Onda: Would you say little boys will enjoy “Princesses Wear Pants” as well, and what will they learn from reading it?
Oppenheim: We both have little boys, so yes, indeed. I look at the way my son looks at me and his sisters, and it really matters to me. I feel like this book is speaking just as much to boys as it does to little girls.
Guthrie: I think so, too. How girls see themselves and how boys see girls is really important, but we also have a little boy character, Prince Philippe, and we have some adventure. I’m all about giving people what they want. I think the boys will tolerate this book, but I also think it’s a message with everybody, I hope.
Onda: Do you see this book becoming a series, and what might Penelope be up to next?
Guthrie: We’re so glad you asked! There will be another Penelope book. That’s what we’ve been working on all summer. She’s gonna have more adventures, and she’s sassier than ever. I don’t wanna give anything away.
Oppenheim: There’s a lot more fun to come. There’s more of her story to tell, for sure.
Onda: And she’s still embracing pants, I assume?
Guthrie: She is!
Oppenheim: There’s an array of outfits, including pants.
Guthrie: But she also, sometimes, wears skirts. Don’t forget.
“Princesses Wear Pants” is now available at bookstores and online retailers.