As I mentioned earlier, with today’s craze over fairytale retellings, such as ABC’s Once Upon A Time or Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I wonder that certain children’s books are not more popular. Books like Ella Enchanted were huge when I was in elementary school, many but not too many years ago. Maybe these books are just as popular and I don’t realize, but the interest in fairytales is not as new as everyone thinks. Books like Ella Enchanted have been around for a good amount of time, and if I might say so, many of these re-imaginings are even better than more current ones.
One of these books is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Shannon Hale was one of the biggest authors when I was in elementary school, and The Goose Girl was one of those books that everyone in the fourth grade had read, at least all of the girls. Or all of the girls who liked to read. It’s a retelling of a fairytale by the Grimm Brothers. Hale’s version features Princess Ani. Ani spent most of her childhood with her aunt, who taught her how to communicate with animals like horses and geese. But as the crown princess, Ani must also learn to be a lady. The social requirements and constant adherence to decorum weigh on Ani, who prefers to spend time outside with animals, but she tries very hard to become a good queen. Then, after her father’s death, she finds out that she will not be queen of her home country, but is to marry the prince of a neighboring country in order to secure peace.
Distraught but obedient, Ani journeys with her guard and her lady in waiting, Selia, through the forest to reach this new country. However, on the way, Ani finds herself betrayed by Selia, whom she thought was a friend. Selia, in conspiracy with half the guard, attempts to kill Ani and replace her, pretending to be the princess so that she can marry the prince and be queen. Ani barely escapes with her life, and must live in hiding until she can find a way to prove that she is the real princess. She takes up work as a goose girl, and learns many valuable things as she makes new friends and develops into a girl more fit to be queen.
One of the reasons why I like this book, and why I think books like this are important for elementary school girls (and boys) to read, is that Ani grows up through the course of the story. In the beginning, she is not a terrible person, but her rich upbringing makes her blind to the concerns and plights of others. As a goose girl, Ani learns to feel empathy for other people–their situations, feelings, and rights. She learns to see things beyond herself. She realizes how certain people live under unfair conditions, she learns how to think of other people besides herself, and she gains the courage to stand up for herself and others.
Ani is a good role model for young girls, not because she is perfect but because she has flaws–flaws that are not uncommon with young girls. It’s good for readers to see that we don’t need to start off as who need to be–in Ani’s case a queen–but that if we try, we can learn and grow into the person we need to be. The Goose Girl reminds us to look outside ourselves, to see the world beyond our own limited sphere. We need to see other people, what they need and how we can help them. We need sympathy, and more importantly empathy, in order to become the people we need to be. It’s an important message, especially for boys and girls as they grow up.
The Goose Girl is a fun story, with magical elements, fun characters, and a lovely romance. It’s a great novel, and a great retelling of a fairytale, for literary reasons, but it’s message is its most important feature. The moral of The Goose Girl is universal, and that’s what makes it as good today as when I first read it many years ago.