Books Fractured Fairytales Picture Books Reading Themes

Bobby for Beauty: Role Reversal in Will and Mary Pope Osborne’s Sleeping Bobby

Picture Book Challenge Update: 94 of 120

Sleeping Bobby, written by Will and Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter

A year later a baby boy was born to the royal couple. The child was so extraordinary and so delightful that the king and queen wanted him to have a very special name.
“How about Bob?” asked the queen.
“Bob shall he be!” replied the king.

I discovered Will and Mary Pope Osborne’s Sleeping Bobby while browsing through Logan Library’s  list of fractured fairy tales. I knew it had to be part of our bimonthly feature here at GatheringBooks. Role reversal is always delightful to see in any piece of literature, in my humble opinion. It is also such a thrill in my part to post this review after Prof Tuting Hernandez’s recently published beautiful piece, Done Kissing Frogs, in our Academic Nook.

Sleeping Bobby retains the basic plot of the original. (1) A king and a queen longed for a child. (2) They were blessed with a beautiful princess, and a feast was held for her birth. (3) Everyone was invited except one fairy who turned out to be the mean one. (4) On her sixteenth birthday, the princess would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. (5) But another fairy, unable to remove the curse, changed it to sleep instead of death. (6) The king announced a royal decree to have every spinning wheel in the kingdom destroyed. (7) A curse was a curse, however, and the princess pricked her finger and fell into a deep slumber, causing the rest of the kingdom to suffer the same fate. (8) A bold prince stumbled upon the castle, found the beautiful princess, and kissed the curse away.

The graceful and beautiful Princess Aurora
The noble and handsome Prince Philip
Three's a crowd! - Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather
Maleficent, most fashionable evil fairy I know

Variations in the Plot. The most obvious variation in Will and Mary Pope Osborne’s adaptation is the role reversal. A handsome young prince in place of Princess Aurora, and a daring young princess took the role of Prince Philip.

Prince Bobby
The brave princess

Other variations include:

(1) A talking frog announcing the birth of the royal prince

(2) The fairies were referred to as Wise Women

(3) The thirteenth Wise Woman was not invited mainly because the queen had only enough good china to serve twelve (which I find really funny)

A Dash of Social Psychology. While some readers found the story of Prince Bobby plain and boring (as seen through a few comments I’ve read in the Internet), I was genuinely amused by this picture book. It was the role reversal that did the trick for me. The thought did not cross my mind until I read Kate and the Beanstalk (review to follow), another creation of Mary Pope Osborne.

Elementary-wise, Sleeping Bobby offers a fresh alternative to the classic story of Princess Aurora that children had grown to love (a big thanks to Walt Disney for bringing it to life). On a deeper, more significant level this picture book somehow shatters overblown gender stereotypes. Most classic fairy tales follow the same pattern — a damsel in distress is rescued by a dashing prince. We seldom read about the beautiful maiden who is as fierce as a lion but as graceful as a dove.

From top to bottom: Prince Eric and Ariel, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, Belle and the Beast (Prince Adam), Prince Charming and Snow White, Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen, Prince Philip and Princess Aurora
Hua-Mulan, the warrior princess
Pocahontas and Parahunt from The New World (2005)
Danielle in Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Supported by several studies, gender roles have changed dramatically over the last half-century. Behavioral changes have also accompanied this attitude shift. Women take masculine roles and vice versa. Set during the times when huge banquets and spinning wheels were a trend, Sleeping Bobby entertains the possibility a distressed prince awaiting his savior princess — which is why I love, love, love this book. Girl power!

Much as I’d like to babble about this radical change in gender roles, I’d say we should stop here because this discussion can go on for hours. On the lighter side, it is always fun to read about curious, adventure-seeking girls such as the nameless young princess in our story.

Not that I’m biased or anything. ;D

Fats is the Assistant Manager for Circulation Services at the Wayne County Public Library in Wooster, Ohio. She considers herself a reader of all sorts, although she needs to work on her non-fiction reading. Fats likes a good mystery but is not too fond of thrillers. She takes book hoarding seriously and enjoys collecting bookmarks and tote bags. When she is not reading, Fats likes to shop pet apparel for her cat Penny (who absolutely loathes it).

6 comments on “Bobby for Beauty: Role Reversal in Will and Mary Pope Osborne’s Sleeping Bobby

  1. I enjoyed this post – and naturally you just couldn’t help yourself, you psych undergraduate you. Hahaha. 😉


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