Sofia the First

The book I’ve chosen is Sofia the First, written by Catherine Hapka and illustrated by Grace Lee. As it is published by Disney Press, it contains the expected level of high quality illustrations and a sweet faced heroine. Published in 2012, it is the first in a series of children’s books about Sofia, a newly minted princess in the kingdom of Enchancia.

The story begins as Sofia is living with her mother, who is a single parent. Soon, the mother marries King Roland and Sofia becomes a princess. She struggles with learning what’s required of the Royal Family and is especially scared of dancing with her new stepfather (the King) at the Royal Ball, to be thrown in her honor. She doesn’t know how to dance and is afraid of embarrassing herself and the rest of the family. Her new stepsister, Princess Amber, pretends to be her friend by offering her a special pair of dancing shoes. To her surprise, Sofia finds the shoes to be under a magical spell that prevents the wearer from dancing at all!

There’s no time for dance lessons as the ball is tonight. She decides to ask the King’s sorcerer for magic words to help her dance. He complies and gives her an enchantment to recite when she enters the ballroom. Once she says the magic words, instead of dancing beautifully, Sofia realizes she has put everyone to sleep. Troubled by what she’s done, she seeks help, but there is no one awake who knows the counter spell. She rubs her new amulet, a gift from the King, and instantly Cinderella appears. Whenever a princess is in trouble, another will come to her aid. Cinderella tells her there is another who can help – her stepsister Amber. Sofia goes to ask for her help and discovers the only reason she was mean to her was she thought everyone in the Kingdom would like the new princess better than her. They embrace and together go to find the counter spell in the sorcerer’s library. Right before uttering the magic words, Amber teaches Sofia to dance.

When everyone awakens, Sofia and King Roland dance perfectly. Sofia asks the King why he’s known as King Roland II, and he tells her there was another with the same name previously. She then declares, “Well, I guess that makes me Sofia the First!”

This book embraces the typical little girl idea of becoming a princess in a fantastical story far removed from reality. The language is accessible for children readers aged five to seven and is set in a larger font for easy reading.

A very common situation, children in single parent homes could fall victim to the notion that their lives are less than enchanted and only by the parent or guardian marrying a King or Queen could they have an acceptable life.

Interestingly, in Locke’s Concerning Education, Part IV, Section 67, he advocates for the idea of teaching children to dance as a way to promote correct behavior. “And since nothing appears to me to give children so much becoming confidence and behaviour, and so to raise them to the conversation of those above their age, as dancing, I think they should be taught to dance as soon as they are capable of learning it. For tho’ this consist only in outward gracefulness of motion, yet, I know not how, it gives children manly thoughts and carriage, more than any thing.” The central dilemma of Sofia’s story is the Royal Ball and her need to dance in front of the Kingdom.  By Locke’s standards, learning the art of dancing is an appropriate and noble pursuit for a child of Sofia’s age. By gaining the skill of dance, she would thereby gain self confidence and feel more comfortable performing her duties as a member of the royal family.

By contrast, Gray’s work from the mid-1700s, “Ode Upon a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” paints a darker picture of childhood than any created by Disney, Incorporated. The innocence of childhood is fleeting, but not in the prepackaged, homogenized world of Sofia the First.

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