I wish I could remember where I heard about this book so I could offer credit where it is due. (I think it might have been from The Amelia Bloomer Project, but I'm not sure. Either way, I'm happy to give a shout out to a great blog.) The Apple Pip Princess, written and illustrated by Jane Ray, is a delightful story of a king who needs to decide which of his three daughters will rule his kingdom after he is gone. One of his daughters decided to build the tallest tower in the kingdom to impress her father and took all the townspeople's wood to do it. The second daughter, who was very vain, built a tower out of shiny metal, also collected from the villagers. The youngest daughter decided to use the treasures left to her by her late mother to recall the former beauty of the kingdom. I'm sure you can guess the rest, but if you can't I won't ruin it for you.
There are a couple of things that set this fairy tale apart from most of the others that I've read. One is that the girl does not play a damsel in distress but a strong, confident, wise and insightful protagonist of the story. The other is the illustrations. The princesses and their father all have dark skin and dark curly hair that suggests they are of African descent. The parched dry land of the kingdom and the ramshackle cottages of the people could easily be in Africa as well. The princess' efforts to restore the lush greenness of the land is reminiscent of the Green Belt Movement started by 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. I love that this story expands the diversity of characters and settings beyond what is traditionally found between the covers of most picture books.