In her debut book, LillyBelle: A Damsel NOT in Distress (Boyd’s Mill Press), author Joana Pastro weaves the heartwarming tale of LillyBelle, a student at Lady Frilly’s School for Damsels. LillyBelle takes classes in baking, music and manners — but it’s the most important lesson she has the most trouble with. Try as she might, LillyBelle just can’t figure out how to be a damsel in distress!

From Disney movies to children’s toys, our society is very familiar with the image of a princess in peril. Pastro takes this classic trope and spins it on its head.

At Lady Frilly’s School for Damsels, young damsels learn how to act in a proper fairytale manner. During music lessons, the girls should sing with the daintiest of voices, and in manners class, they should learn to perform the perfect curtsey. And it seems that at this school, young damsels are expected to be in distress.

“Lady Frilly insisted, ‘A damsel in distress must be captured by a villain, never attempt to escape, and wait patiently for rescue.’”

A DAMSEL SAVES HERSELF

LillyBelle, however, takes her own approach to these lessons. She blares rock n’ roll on her electric guitar and prefers shaking hands when greeting someone. Her behavior may ruffle some feathers at Lady Frilly’s School, but children will love Jhon Ortiz’s dynamic illustrations of LillyBelle’s antics.

Not only does LillyBelle express her individuality, but she also encourages other girls to take matters into their own hands. When LillyBelle finds herself captured by a series of ghastly creatures, she doesn’t wait around for rescue. Instead, she decides to do the unthinkable and save herself.

Along with her self-determination, LillyBelle also inspires kids to solve problems by thinking outside the box. Each of LillyBelle’s challenges drives her to use the skills she’s learned at school in unexpected new ways. From teaching a giant to sing, to helping an ogre prepare for his date by brushing up on some manners, LillyBelle uses creativity and quick thinking to turn her troubles around.

A NEW CURRICULUM

Perhaps the best lesson of all is when LillyBelle returns to Lady Frilly’s School for Damsels. While Lady Frilly wasn’t so sure of LillyBelle’s ideas at first, she’s since come around to the new way of thinking. Thanks to LillyBelle, the School for Damsels will no longer teach their students to wait around for rescue. Instead, Lady Frilly will be approving a new curriculum that teaches damsels how to help themselves — and LillyBelle will be leading the class!

At a time where issues of gendered societal roles and biases in education are being recognized and discussed, children are noticing the shift in conversation. LillyBelle: A Damsel NOT in Distress shows a world where a young girl rises against expectations and is able to change the rules to create a freer future for herself and her peers. With witty humor and a lot of heart, this book encourages children to take control of their own destiny, and reminds them to never let anyone put limits on what young girls are capable of.

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Joana Pastro is the author of the children’s book LillyBelle: A Damsel NOT in Distress and the upcoming Bisa’s Carnaval. Born in Brazil, she moved to Florida and worked as an architect before publishing her first children’s book. Pastro is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).