Monday, August 3, 2009

Children's Chapter Books, Subplots, and the AMERICAN OBSESSION with WINNING.

Now before I get into this, let me put out a disclaimer: This book isn't GAY at all. Nope. Not G, or L, or B, or T, or Q... Though it includes Fairies, they're the tiny kind with wings, and there's absolutely no sense of irony in the use of the word.

But I have to blog about it anyway. And give you a spoiler alert. I'm gonna talk about what happens.

So I’m reading, with my kid, the second book of this "Rainbow Magic" chapter book "Joy, The Summer Vacation Fairy." They’re written by what I suspect is a collective of writers all writing under the pen-name “Daisy Meadows” (because, really – what parent would be THAT cruel?) and I get completely upset.

No, I’m not upset that Rachel and Kirsty help Joy the Summer Vacation Fairy get back one of the magical seashells from that mean ol' Jack Frost just in time to magically restore the stolen wind and thus save the sailboat regatta.

What pisses me off is the subplot. Rachel and Kirsty’s Dads rented a sailboat to enter the regatta. And the girls don’t want their families (and everyone else) to be disappointed if, on account of there being no wind, the race is canceled.

So, after Rachel and Kirsty and Joy the Summer Vacation Fairy successfully get the magic seashell back and – in the nick of time – restore the winds to the harbor so that the regatta isn’t canceled after all, the race begins.

The girls are standing there with their mothers, watching their Dads race in the same boat, and they’re cheering them on. And it looks like their Dads are in the lead... And then, they WIN!

Hurray, everyone cheers, cue the happy ending.


WHY did the Dads have to WIN? Wasn’t it happy enough that the race happened? That everyone had a good time?

We already HAD the happy ending of the girls succeeding in their mission.

Their families are on vacation. They fathers have to RENT a boat. They’ve never discussed sailing before. It’s not like they’re professionals at this.

NOTHING would have been lost if the book had ended with the race just being FUN for everyone. We know very little about the parents in this series, and I promise you their sailing abilities are completely unimportant to the plot of this book, or even the arc of the entire series (this is the 16th "Rainbow Magic" book I’ve read with my kid.)

But it’s so illustrative of our culture's obsession with winning. And I think it’s a horrible set-up for our kids. Okay, yes, they should beat mean Jack Frost and get the magic seashell back. I like a happy ending.

Yet in a way this subplot is saying that you can't have fun unless you win. That's a terrible theme.

What better life lessons might have been expressed if the fathers hadn’t won, yet been good sports and had a great time anyway?

I know subplots don’t often get a lot of attention, but this time, I wished I had a magic fairy wand, so "Daisy Meadows" could see the lost opportunity she made in writing this one.

And now, back to reading about Kirsty and Rachel's quest to help Joy the Summer Vacation Fairy in book three, "The Magic Scallop Shell." Oh, no! I see a "Seagull ex machina" coming toward us...




Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the natural end to the book was as the regatta began. Unfortunately, committees don't have half the brains of an orangutan. I'm kind of amazed that you can read those books aloud, Lee, they must be better than the Dora and Barbie books that my daughter forces upon me, I always need a good shot of Madeleine L'Engle or at least Dr. Seuss and an insulin injection after I read those. (Also, she knows them as "bookstore books," as in, they never come into our house, but may be read at the bookstore.) I haven't encountered Daisy Meadows' fairy books yet, but I'll have my eye open for them now -- at the bookstore! ;-)

ReadWriteGo said...

I hate those books. My 7 year-old daughter loves them, and I've been forced to read many of the fairy "adventures". I try to steer her towards better-written fare, but, alas, she wants the junk food.

A series I do recommend (because the writing is solid, funny, and the messages worth sharing with kids) is the Franny K. Stein series. The story of a little-girl mad scientist is empowering for girls and gross-out enough to keep boys interested. Since reading the series my daughter decided to dress as Franny for Halloween this year - last year she wanted to be Hannah Montana. I take that as a positive leap forward.

melanie hope greenberg said...

Could it be the trickle down from the reality show mentality that subjugates humans if they are not up to stuff? Winning is the only thing that matters on these shows. Gladiator mentality permeates our media culture. Now, I must say my little mermaid character wins a trophy at the end of my book. But it's a surprise and not a goal. (mermaids love sea shell adventures btw ;)

Can't all be first in line at the same time.

Doret said...

The Franny K Stein books are a lot of fun. I also suggest Fairy School Dropout and Araminta Spookie.

kathleen duey said...

Lee, I agree!!!

And it even steals some of the protagonist's good-intent residue...

The story could have ended sooner or let the dads come in, oh, say, fourth.

When I talk to elementary age kids in schools and ask what they want to do when they are older, I get more and more who say they want to be famous.


web said...

I was just thinking about these books and my son, when he walked by and called out, "you win!" I am not making that up.

He is obsessed with winning, to the point that teaching him to be a good sport is a highly difficult and extremely necessary endeavor. Perhaps why he likes these books. He would love that ending.

I really miss the days when we played all games cooperatively and winning meant nothing to him.