It's no secret that many of the fairy tales we loved as kids could use a serious overhaul when it comes to their handling of gender roles and sexuality. Thankfully, there are now a small number of children's books, like " Paper Bag Princess" (which features a princess who saves the prince from a dragon) that are doing an admirable job of living up to that challenge.
"The Royal Heart," a new kid's book about a transgender prince who changes herself into a princess just in time for her 16th birthday, goes above and beyond flipping that tired old princess-script in ways that will warm even the coldest and deadest hearts. MTV News caught up with the book's author, Greg McGoon, to learn what inspired him to create such an innovative new take on happily-ever-after.
"Fairy tales often have moments of transformation, whether it’s rags to gowns, or fins to legs, or person to frog," McGoon told MTV News. "I wanted to look at transformation from a personal acknowledgement of self."
"In 'The Royal Heart,'" McGoon continued, "the main character transitions from boy to girl to become the fully realized version of who they are, uniting mind, body and spirit, and recognizing the power of that. She embraces her identity at that point in the book and represents herself accordingly, because that is her truth."
McGoon explained that he grew up loving Disney movies and fairy tales, and that once he got older, he discovered that there's even more to fairy tales than meets the eye. "I discovered how rich they are with symbols, meaning, morals and lessons that go far beyond the love stories," he said. "It’s fascinating."
He went on to point out that usually in traditional fairy tales (and Disney films), transformations are fueled by external circumstances, like meeting a love interest or having a curse placed upon you, but that he wanted to instead focus on a transformation that came from within.
"What does personal responsibility to oneself mean?" he asked. "That question alone elicits feelings of fear, liberation, doubt and excitement. Those aspects thrive in fairy tales."
"Unfortunately society continues to ridicule that [kind of] acknowledgment of self," McGoon continued. "This story does not. The ending of the Royal Heart for some is still unrealistic, but I want to believe that parents loving their children for who they are can be achieved. It's sickening and disheartening to know that’s not a reality for many."
He added that for people experiencing that kind of hardship, "it's crucial we let it be known they can still find love and family. I want everyone to feel like they can have their own 'Once upon a time.'"
As important as it is for trans and LGBT kids to have book like The Royal Heart, McGoon suggested that it's equally critical for non-LGBT kids.
"The Royal Heart is incredibly valuable for non-LGBT children," he said, "so they can have a positive introduction to a dialogue about gender, and even what it means to speak their truth. It's never too early to teach children about acceptance."
McGoon explained that the most important part of The Royal Heart, for him, lies in the parents' response to the princess's transformation.
"That is where the true magic lives -- [in] 'we love you,' he said. "How incredible would it be that any person would be able to share themselves with the people they love, and hear 'We love you. We are proud of you?'"
McGoon also told MTV News that he's currently in the process of writing a full series of fairy tales featuring LGBT characters -- and that his next book will feature a gay prince character who he identifies with strongly.
"However, no one in the story actually cares that the prince is gay," McGoon explained. "I want children to experience these characters not focusing on sexual orientation, [but] connecting with them on their talent, creativity, intelligence, passion and compassion...How amazing would it be if I could travel back in time and give my childhood self that story?"
McGoon noted that he's also currently working on another, non-fairy-tale children's book that touches on topics of depression, anxiety and self-worth.
"My next book, which is soon to be released, has helped me tremendously as an adult...it's a tangible way of sorting through and acknowledging the chaos that sometimes clutter our minds and make us feel less than," McGoon said. "I actually started writing stories as a way to handle depression and anxiety...Writing these stories helped me stay a float, amidst the periodic bouts of splashing."
"Most importantly," he continued, "they've helped me discover some of the magic that I thought I lost as a child...I hope the people who read my stories can also find a little bit of that magic in their own lives."