Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Snowfairy and The Spaceman

When J picked this book at the local library I did not think twice about it. Glanced at the title and the front cover illustration - looked quite charming. J enjoys the feeling of empowerment that comes from being allowed to select her own books. Though her choices are fairly random, we have gone through a quite a few different genres in children's literature in the past year.

So at dinner time as I read aloud to her as has been our ritual, this book and particularly it's reception by J left a bad taste in the mouth. J like many other children her age, identifies with the underdog in a story. They root for them. This time round she did not and most adamantly so.

The story is about a little girl who is having a costume party for her birthday. The guests are dressed as lion, alligator, sunflower et al. The misfit at the party is this shy, small boy dressed a spaceman. He does not enjoy the hullabaloo and is close to tears. He wants Mommy to come get him. He escapes into the backyard to be alone. Soon snow fairy the birthday girl comes there to hide in the tree house (the kids are playing hide and seek).

Snow fairy breaks the rules of the game. The backyard was out of bounds. Her wings get stuck in the branches of the tree and she is helped down by spaceman. He is rewarded by a kiss on his helmet and soon becomes the star of the party. When her other friends ask her where she was hiding she does not tell (note the lack of disclosure. If I were paranoid I would read that as a Martha Stewart in the making) He is happy and she is happy.

I had to quiz J about why she liked the story. That did not yield much. Next I asked her who she liked best among all the characters. Snow fairy was the prompt answer. By her standard definitions of "good" and "yucky" it should have been the spaceman. I was surprised a little at that. Upon further questioning it turned out Snow fairy was the hero because she was dressed pretty and it was her birthday. Falling back to classical definitions of hero, J had assumed she could do no evil. I was stumped.

Is this J's first rite of passage ? The distinctions between good and yucky are turning blurred to match with what she sees around her world. At some level she is also interpreting looking good to be the same as being good a problem that is fairly adult in nature. The cute little misfit spaceman gains instant social acceptance with a kiss from the snow fairy. Girl power is good but I am not sure this is how I would like it flaunted.

Until we read this book, I had assumed that all children's literature was absolute good. The writer, editor, librarian and everyone else in that food chain had done their part to ensure that the message received by their impressionable reader was a positive, reaffirming one. I am not sure anymore. While I do not want to strip J off her right to choose her books, I will be forced to screen them now. I mourn J's lost freedom. There is a time for realism and magic realism in literature. I believe a three year old is too young for either. Where is the myth, parable and fable ?

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