Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Beloved Children's Books I Really Despise

I asked my friend/mentor Jane Yolen what she thought of yesterday's blog post, and she obligingly wrote a comment, which mostly says two things:
1) All reviewers are slanted.
2) If you want to believe your good reviews, you have to also believe the bad.

Of course all reviewers are slanted.  We can't help that.  I'm a sucker for character-driven period pieces, known to many of my friends as "boring."  (My book club still hasn't gotten over my making them read Mansfield Park.  You'd have thought they were high schoolers and I was forcing them to read Tolstoy.)  Writers who are chronically, even racistly, historically inaccurate are very high on my personal shit list (Ann Rinaldi, I'm talkin' to you!).  I'm also offended by any horse book other than The Black Stallion in which any child rides or befriends a stallion.  Because there aren't that many stallions, people.  We cut the nuts early, for good reason.  I'm sure I have other idiosyncracies, too. 

And, yes, if, say, a "good" reviewer, by which I mean someone with at least modest credentials (a librarian, a teacher who reads a lot of your type of literature, a national reviewer) says something negative about your book, there's at least some chance that it's true.  If a lot of not-as-credible reviewers (random people on Goodreads, Amazon pundits) all say the same thing, you might want to start believing that, too.  But if a schoolchild says, "This is the most boring book ever, I HATE spy stories," and gives you one star, you don't need to pay a whole lot of attention to that, no more than you do to the glowing Amazon reviews written by your family members and best friends.

Jane Yolen also said she could give fifteen minutes to her dislike, not to say vehement hatred, of the best-selling children's books "Love you Forever," "The Giving Tree," and "The Rainbow Fish."  To which I say:  preach it, Sister.

"Love You Forever" has a cute cover of a baby shredding toilet paper.  The premise is that the mother loves her baby forever even when he makes a mess--though of course she should be supervising him better so that he doesn't drown in that open toilet.   Sounds cute, but it's creepy.  The mom can only tell her baby/little boy/teenager/GROWN SON that she loves him when he's asleep and she's rocking him in her special chair.  So she crawls into his room at night, heaves him onto her lap, and sings.  Then, once he's an adult, she ties a ladder to her car, drives across town, climbs through his second-story window, hauls him unconscious onto her lap, and sings to him.  WHAT?  The book ends with the man (there are no spouses shown for either character) holding a baby girl on his lap and singing to her.  Which leaves one with the icky feeling that when his daughter is sixteen he's going to be sneaking into her bedroom.  There is nothing remotely right about this book.  I've never understood its appeal.

I hated "The Giving Tree" the first time it was read to me, in kindergarten.  I mean, I hated it.  Maybe people who didn't grow up having their boundaries violated don't see it the same way, but why on earth should the tree be sacrificed so the rotten whining boy could do whatever he pleased?  Why was his search for happiness more important that the tree's integrity?  Sure she could give apples, shade--and then take a big stick and whap him upside the head.  Hate, hate, hate this book.

"The Rainbow Fish" is just such a mess.  The translation (from the original German) is clunky, so the language isn't great.  The shiny fish at the beginning acts annoying, and then the solution--everyone will love you only if you give up everything that makes you unique, and try to be exactly like them--well, isn't that a lovely lesson for our kiddies to learn?  I think this one became popular because of the shiny paper.  And because sharing.  You know.  Everyone should share.  Always, all the time, everything.  The end.

I'm off now to read some more of my book club book.  I only started it yesterday, and book club is tonight (hooray for Kindle versions!).  It's called "Breakfast with Buddha," I'm really enjoying it, and I never would have picked it up on my own.  Just so you know--I do mostly keep an open mind.