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Breaking the mold with a full-figured princess

Princess Leilani UC Riverside

Credit: UC Riverside

Princess Leilani is the young, full-figured heroine of the fifth book of the Guardian Princesses series called “Princess Leilani and the Lanu Tree.”

She’s a full-figured princess, and she’s here to provide a new, positive representation for young children. Princess Leilani is the young heroine of the fifth book of the Guardian Princesses series called “Princess Leilani and the Lanu Tree.”

The Guardian Princess Alliance (GPA) is known for its inclusive racial and gender representation. It is the creation of Setsu Shigematsu, professor in the media and cultural studies department at the University of California, Riverside.

By creating a full-figured princess for children, “Princess Leilani and the Lanu Tree” promotes a different kind of diversity – body type; Princess Leilani is a Pacific Islander and guardian of the Healing Forest.

Shigematsu wrote the first Guardian Princesses book as a birthday gift for her daughter, as a way of transforming the traditional princess culture into a racially diverse model of an independent, strong, environmentally conscious superheroine and leader. The GPA is committed to educating and empowering children to make a difference in the world, she said. “Princess Terra” was so popular with children and parents who attended her daughter’s fifth birthday party that the scholar began working with artists, educators, UC Riverside students, and alumni to develop a series of stories featuring seven diverse princesses.

“It has been three years since that birthday, and we have released four books and have received national and international media attention. We are very excited to announce the release of our fifth book, which I think is a paradigm-shifting story in many ways,” Shigematsu said.

“Princess Leilani and the Lanu Tree,” is co-authored by Juliann Anesi and Genielysse Reyes. Anesi is a Samoan scholar-activist, and a University of California President’s postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. Reyes is a Filipina, UC Riverside alumna who double-majored in creative writing and psychology. The story features a young heroine who struggles with a disability while learning to become a healer. When Leilani’s world is shattered by the loss of a loved one, she must learn how to overcome her grief and heal herself. This story teaches readers about Pacific Islander culture, the damage caused by greed, and the importance of forgiveness.

The story is a response to the dominant media representation of ideal femininity as “white and thin,” and the epidemic of eating disorders among girls and women. Guardian Princess stories encourage environmental consciousness and feature diverse princesses who work together to protect people and the planet, demonstrating the interdependence between humans and nature.

A launch event for “Princess Leilani and the Lanu Tree,” is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 9, from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens; it is free and open to the public. Another launch party will be held on Dec. 10 at the Pacific Island Ethnic and Art Museum, at 695 Alamitos Ave, Long Beach, CA. For more information, email: setsus@ucr.edu or guardianprincesses@gmail.com.