Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The worst kids' book ever?

Northern Rainbowfish
Photo by Wikimedia Commons via Flickr

I hosted the Wayward Cat Publishing table at the UCF Book Festival this past weekend. Our booth was very near the children's section. They really did the kid's place right. There was an entire Scholastic bookstore inside it, an archaeological dig (the kids dug through wads of paper looking for stuff) and a seating area where all the kids got to listen to stories.

But, as soon as we walked in, we were struck by the people dressed as jelly fish. It was cute. They had umbrella hats on and shiny streamers dangling from them. They really gave me that undersea vibe. As it turns out, however, they were dressed for a reading of that beloved children's book The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.

I was disgusted. I hate that book. I really do. When I hear people rave over it, and when I see it celebrated at these children's functions, I feel like I'm surrounded by zombies. I mean, are these people not hearing the same story I am?

First, a brief synopsis: There's a beautiful fish. Actually, he's the most beautiful fish ever. He's got shiny, rainbow-colored scales. He's haughty and proud. And rude. When a little fish asks him for a scale, he's all like, how dare you! And because of that, all the other fish don't like him anymore. Not that they really liked him before that. He never played with them or anything. So, now, apparently, even though before he was just fine with it, he's the "loneliest fish in the ocean."

So, he ends up going to this octopus who tells him he has to give each of the other fish one of his scales. He won't be the most beautiful anymore, but he'll be happy. So he does. And he is.

And I'm like...wha? Are you serious?

First of all, why is it that the most beautiful fish are always portrayed as rude and snotty?

I've never been a big fan of the pretty girls, mind you. I've never quite gotten over being born not beautiful. But for Pete's sake, they can't help it if they fit into society's accepted standard of fabulously beautiful. How is it that we worship beauty in celebrities, but tell our children that it's best not to be prettier than anyone else?

That's what The Rainbow Fish is all about.

It's controversial already. But the complaints about the book usually revolve around its inherent socialism. It's bad that one fish has beautiful scales and good that he shares them. At the end, all the fish are of equal beauty.

I see what they're talking about, but for me it's so much more insidious.

Think about it. The most beautiful fish is fine. Until the others start being mean to him. And then, in the hope that they will like him, he literally gives away pieces of himself. And we're not talking figuratively. We're not saying, smile. You give someone else a smile and still have yours, right? No. He takes pieces off himself and is diminished each time, until he is no longer beautiful. He is no longer himself!

To have friends, you're telling your daughters, you have to not be prettier than they are. Worse, to have friends, don't be special. Don't be different.

It's sick and twisted. And it won awards!

The funniest thing about it, is the description at Wikipedia:
The book is best known for its morals about the value of being an individual...

I'm sorry...what? Who wrote that? This book is not about being an individual. It's exactly the opposite. What is it that is blinding people to that fact?

In the book's description on Amazon, the publishers try to tell us that it's about being arrogant about one's own beauty. Okay, fine! But teach the dang fish to not be so into his own scales. Don't have him make himself less beautiful in order to have friends.

What are people thinking?