When a Book isn’t a Book

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We are big book people at our house. Tom and I met doing our Masters in literature and he’s chasing the PhD. Books represent the bulk cost of our move to Plattsburgh from St. John’s (and we purged majorly beforehand!). You’ll find books on shelves, night stands, end tables…basically any flat surface around our house and so it’s no surprise that Violet has already cultivated a library of her own. This deep interest in books brings a certain level of expectation on the authors we invite to live in our home and reside with our family. My taste is not refined to the level of some (I read The Da Vinci Code, I confess!) but I try to spend my reading time, albeit limited nowadays, consuming meaningful and well-crafted texts (you won’t find 50 shades of anything at our house).  

Children’s books can be beautiful. Sometimes the messages and writing are so simple you wonder why we bother with complex storylines at all. In other cases, the books unravel complicated feelings within me. And this rewarding and delicious reading experience usually happens alongside colourful and stimulating illustrations that reflect the story you’re reading as well as infinite other plotlines. 

And then there are Disney books.

Hashtag Eff Em El Niño! 

I’m not exclusively anti-Disney. In fact, I find it very interesting that the massive Disney machine manages to embody both the best and the worst of humanity. A visit to a Disney park forces you to suspend disbelief and trust magic, resist evil and take the higher road. Yet, as most of us know, Disney prioritizes finding romance over self-satisfaction and glamorizes heterosexual relationships as the only true “happy ending.” As important as it is to note all of that negativity, it is already well-documented and I won’t add to it here. 

Instead, I’m going to rant about a book Violet has called Super Cute. This book was given to her and I’ll confess that I have no idea by whom so I apologize if it was you. I’m assuming you had no idea what lay within these cardboard pages. 

Every spread of this book makes me urge. The first page simply asks, “Who’s super cute?” To which a dolled-up Daisy Duck says, “Yoo-Hoo!” This page is only mildly irritating but it bothers me for being so self-congratulating on Daisy’s part. I read the underlying message on this page as, “Be super cute and make no apologies. Cuteness is important.”

Turn the page. Maybe things will get better, right? 

On this page Minnie and Daisy are having tea together, tucking in to eat an entire tower of cupcakes. That’s what females do after all. They get together and stress eat sugar. I’m serious. Women often do this (I have), but maybe let’s strive to not pass our wildly unhealthy relationship with food on to the next generation. 

I assume the next page will be set in a bathroom where Minnie and Daisy continue their conversation while purging their cupcakes. I’m wrong but it’s not much better.

Minnie and Daisy’s cupcake date, which I’ll admit could be interpreted innocently enough, has turned into a gossip session. The dialogue reads, “Did You know?” “Do tell!” A cloud of cartoon hearts fills the air between the two comments and Daisy and Minnie’s little anthropomorphized faces are devilish with the glee they are experiencing as their conversation no doubt continues, “Did you know Bobby’s back on the market? He totally dumped Mary.” “She deserves it for not keeping her eyebrows under control!” 

Underlying message to children here? Gossiping is a completely acceptable – and fun! – activity to engage in! 

The final two pages are really where I conclude that this book should be used as kindling. 

“Something new!” Minnie exclaims over her outfit.  And, to the books credit (ha!), it returns to the theme outlined in the title and first page. Daisy affirms, “Totally cute!” 

Underlying message here? New! Buy! Consume! Settle for nothing less than new! It is newness that makes you super cute and (consult page 1!) cute is important!

Right now many of you are rolling your eyes at me, pursing your lips to say, “It’s just a kids’ book!”

It is an offence to the word ‘book’ that this collection of words and pictures on cotton fibre be called as such. Books are food for the soul. Books transport you. Books belong in the hands of children. This is not a book.

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