Tessa Strickland

Tessa Strickland

Tessa Strickland is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Barefoot Books. In and around her professional responsibilities, she writes (sometimes as Stella Blackstone), reads and goes travelling. She also loves to dream and draw and drink wine with good friends and dig in her garden. She has two sons and a daughter, all in their twenties. Her home is in rural Somerset, which is also where she most likes to write. So these posts come from her garden bench in summer, and from her fireside in winter.


Join the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot Books

There have been some lively exchanges at Home Office lately about the need for spirited and dynamic heroines in our stories, rather than ‘limp-wristed blondes’ (I quote our esteemed senior editor, Kate De Palma, who has a different hair colour). Being quite a feminist bunch, we are on our guard to avoid storylines where the message seems to be ‘just lie around looking beautiful and a man will come along and solve your problems’.

So where does this leave stories like ’The Sleeping Beauty’? This question has preoccupied me, as I have reviewed my midwinter entertainment options and realised that what I most want to see is Matthew Bourne’s super-famous production of this ballet, which will return to Sadler’s Wells in London for the festive season.

Am I betraying my feminist principles by making this choice?

I don’t think so. Here’s why.

First, there is a quite particular dynamic in the set-up of this story that sets the context for Aurora’s fate. The king makes a serious mistake by failing to invite the thirteenth fairy, Carabosse. Perhaps it’s because he’s so overwhelmed with joy at the birth of a much longed-for baby girl that he simply forgets. Perhaps it is an intentional slight. Perhaps, as Angelina Jolie suggests in Maleficent there is an even darker backstory. Whatever way you look at it, though, this is a wounding of the feminine principle (Carabosse is a woman; only twelve fairies are on the godmother guest list and the number thirteen is the number of moon cycles in a year, driven out by more recent Western cultural traditions).

And this is the wound that sets the story in motion.

Join the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot Books

From The Barefoot Book of Fairy Tales, retold by Malachy Doyle and illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

At the baby Aurora’s christening, there is a compelling power struggle between the death-giving anger of Carabosse and life-giving power of the Lilac fairy, both of them super-strong female presences. The outcome of this, as we all know, is that Aurora is saved from death, but destined to fall into a deep sleep when she pricks her finger on a spindle. So now we have an impasse—the life-death/good-bad wishes of these two magical women have created a situation which needs masculine agency to come into play for another shift to occur.

This can only happen at the right time, though—plenty of princes try at the wrong time and don’t get through the thicket of thorns to the palace. Florimund, the prince who is lucky enough to be successful, is a young man whose name strongly suggests that he is in touch with his inner feminine (his name translates ‘Flower World,’ after all). For him, the thickets bloom into rose bushes and part. To me, this speaks to that aspect of feminism which seeks to value and support feminine qualities in boys and men. Florimund does not need to be a sword-wielding hero; what he does need is the courage to step into a vast, surreal and eerie series of rooms where everyone appears to be dead—not an easy task and one which, I would suggest, can only be met by someone who cares about what has happened and is not afraid to step into a death-like space to find out.

A word too about Aurora before she pricks her finger. This girl is lucky enough to be blessed with many qualities from her twelve fairy godmothers, all of them ones which I think any mother wishes for her daughter. However, the godmothers cannot give this child a trouble-free journey through life any more than we can for ours. Aurora is also given to be curious  and independent—she is not a goody two-shoes who just hangs out at her sixteenth birthday party lapping up the compliments of local gallants; at the earliest opportunity, she slips off to do some exploring (uh-oh).

For me, there is something satisfyingly complete about the shape of this story: the feminine principle is wounded by a king’s careless act so it must be rectified by the loving gesture of a next-generation hero.

And it is.

What do you think? Is ‘Sleeping Beauty’ feminist? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Join the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot Books

…by the way, I think Tchaikovksy’s music for this ballet is wonderful. It’s no wonder to me
that ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is the world’s longest-running ballet production. I am booking my tickets today!

Join the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot Books

If you’d like a refresher on the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story before deciding for yourself, you will find three versions of it in this season’s catalogue, in The Barefoot Book of Fairy Tales, The Barefoot Book of Princesses and The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories:

Join the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot BooksJoin the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot BooksJoin the Conversation: Is Sleeping Beauty Feminist? | Barefoot Books







The major themes of the story are the same in each retelling, so you can take your pick! 

What’s the difference between sharing a story on-screen with your toddler and sitting down to share a picture book? In June of this year, the American Pediatric Association recommended that parents share books with their babies from birth, and limit screen time for children aged 2 and over to less than 2 hours a day. This weekend, Douglas Quenqua reported in The New York Times that, according to recent studies, ‘reading to a child from an electronic device undercuts the dynamic that drives language development.’

Of all the fairy tale characters, that of the princess has a special potency for girls. Taken symbolically, the princess archetype is not about material privilege or social status — it’s about self-esteem and personal power. The little girl who is in touch with her inner princess has a head start in life — always providing that this inner princess models the qualities that she needs as she moves from the protection and safety of home to navigate the complexities and challenges of the wider world.

I love the way books travel; the way they crop up in quite unexpected places. But when I went over to New Zealand last month to tread in my grandmothers’ footsteps, I never expected to encounter our very own Barefoot bear! You can probably imagine my surprise and delight when I learnt that Bear on a Bike was the very favourite book of two three-year-old twins whose Mum works with my cousin Jeremy Jones in Blenheim. Here are the twins, Isabel and Alice, with me and their grandmother and of course, Bear!


Debbie Harter Barefoot Books

Debbie Harter, illustrator of Barefoot Books classics such as The Animal Boogie and the Bear series, talks about her art, her family and her love of storytelling! Debbie is a much-loved Barefoot artist who lives in Falmouth, England.

Jackie drawing Barefoot Books blog beach farm house

Illustration by Jackie Morris

Everyone knows that the best ideas happen in the kitchen. The kitchen at Beach Farm House saw lots of action. It was a cosy, narrow room with a small, electric cooker, a stainless steel sink and  a fridge running along one side. Above these ran a long, narrow storage shelf.  On the opposite wall was an electric storage heater, around which Francis, Rollo and Zoë would jostle for heat between meals. Unless the wood-burning stove in the sitting room was alight, the kitchen was the warmest room in the house, so this is where my meetings with interesting artists and writers took place. Here you can see the kitchen rendered in blue ink by Jackie Morris, the fantastic illustrator of The Greatest Gift,  Classic Poems and Starlight Sailor.

I have been wondering about picture books lately. I have been wondering what it is that attracts me to this very particular art form. What was the impulse that led to the founding of Barefoot Books — to twenty years of shaping and sharing stories with words and pictures? The child in me has one way of exploring this question, the adult another.

‘It’s easy to master the body; it’s far more difficult to master the mind.’

These words from one of my yoga teachers still live with me, thirty years on. I started practising yoga as a teenager, following a long-term illness which excluded me from team sports at school. I didn’t really study it properly until I was an undergraduate, and then I was hooked.


marty house barefoot booksIn the beginning, there was a farmhouse. Here you see it beautifully rendered in coloured crayon by Nancy’s husband, Marty (as you can see, Marty is a skillful draughtsman, though he is less well known for this gift than for his superlative cooking skills). This is Beach Farm House, home for nine years to the Barefoot Books editorial, production and foreign rights departments.

Book of the Month The Prince's Bedtime August 2013

With a new heir to the throne in England, how could we not choose The Prince’s Bedtime as our book of the month? Our prince was created by Joanne Oppenheim of New York City and Miriam Latimer of Braunton, North Devon. It was Miriam’s first project with us – I had spotted her in a ‘new graduates’ feature in Illustration magazine and I was enchanted by her quirky characters and her sense of humour. I also loved reading Joanne’s text out loud – the way it rollicks along and you know your audience will guess the final word of every couplet if you give them the chance.