E.B. Bartels

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Category: Babysitting Book Reviews

Review of Yet Another Damn Fairy Book: Polly the Party Fun Fairy

The Pet Fairies were bad enough. Then I made the mistake of taking the Babysitting Charge to the library, where she discovered that not only is there a Pet Fairies series, but there is also a Music Fairies series and an Ocean Fairies series and a Jewel Fairies series and a Petal Fairies series and just LOOK AT THIS LIST IT GOES ON FOREVER.

And, naturally, the library has all of them. Thanks for nothing, Cambridge Public Library.

So, I’ve been reading these damn fairy books out loud now for months, and here is my review of Polly: The Party Fun Fairy:

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NOPE.

Review of Barbie of Swan Lake Which I Don’t Even Know What To Do With

My apologies. I haven’t written a Babysitting Book Review in a while because I have been sitting on this one, totally baffled, as, honestly, I just don’t know what to make of it.

Okay, let's get this over with.

Okay, let’s get this over with.

Enter: Barbie of Swan Lake. Let’s start by setting aside the fact that I feel pretty weird about these Barbie books in the first place. Barbie is bad enough in real life with her high-heel-shaped feet and totally impossible proportions and the whitest and blondest of white people features, but does she really have to invade books too? Why do we have to suffer through commercial reinterpretations of classic fairy tales featuring Barbie as the protagonist? Aren’t fairy tales already misogynistic/racist/classist/heteronormative/terrible enough without having everyone’s favorite sex-doll-turned-toy get in the mix?

In general, I try to keep an open mind when I read to the Babysitting Charge. (Please note here that one thing I love about kids is their total inability to have any sense of “taste” when it comes to books––whatever that means. A “trashy” Barbie fairy tale is just as satisfying to them as a “classic” masterpiece by Roald Dahl, and, at the end of the day, if a story gets a kid into reading, as the great Donalyn Miller encourages, who cares what they read?) Besides, I love the story of Swan Lake. As a Russian Language & Literature major in college, I spent a year living in St. Petersburg, which included several viewings of the Swan Lake ballet at the famous Mariinsky Theatre. Tchaikovsky is my boy.

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Something feels wrong here.

Then I turned to the first page. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Odette. She was sweet and kind…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then I blinked.

Wait, hold on.

Wait, hold on.

Certain I was hallucinating, I turned to the second page.

Yes. That is a unicorn.

Yes. That is a unicorn.

Nope. Still there. Yes, you are seeing exactly what you think you are seeing––a giant purple unicorn. I’m all for artistic license or whatever, and I know there have been a fair number of adaptations of the classic Swan Lake tale, but last time I checked, none involved a unicorn. “She watched as the unicorn tapped its glowing horn on a rock near a waterfall.”

And then my head exploded.

I read on in disbelief––about an enchanted crystal and some Magic Fairy Queen and a Book of Forest Lore and Odette’s internal struggle to be brave. I quickly realized that the only thing Barbie of Swan Lake has in common with the original is the names: Odette, Odile, and Rothbart. The end. Yeah there is a curse and Odette gets turned into a swan, but that was about it.

Who is this fairy lady?

Who is this fairy lady?

Is that a troll?!?

Is that a troll?!?

Yes, definitely a troll.

Yes, definitely a troll.

I FEEL LIKE I AM TAKING CRAZY PILLS HERE

I FEEL LIKE I AM TAKING CRAZY PILLS HERE

By far the highlight of the story was that apparently the illustrator had used Cyndi Lauper for the model of Odile.

That Odile, what a B.

Cyndi, is that you???

Cyndi, is that you???

When the troll appeared, I actually started chuckling to myself, and the Babysitting Charge looked at me like I had lost my mind. “A wise unicorn told me that I was braver than I thought,” says Odette at the end of the story, a line that I choked out through suppressed laughter.

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Thank GOD.

I had never been happier to reach the end of a children’s story before. I quickly closed the book and thought about where I could hide it so I would never have to read it out loud again. Meanwhile, the Babysitting Charge sighed happily.

“I love that story,” she said dreamily.

“Oh…” I replied. “I’m so…. glad…”

“And guess what?”

“What?”

“This weekend I am going to get to see Swan Lake the ballet with my mom! I can’t wait for the unicorn. She’s my favorite part.”

The poor kid. She is going to be so disappointed.

Partial Review of Junie B., First Grader: Shipwrecked Which I Can’t Fully Review Because the Babysitting Charge Won’t Let Me Finish It

The other day I was in a yoga class, and I found myself wondering how the Christopher Columbus play turns out in Junie B., First Grader: Shipwrecked by Barbara Park.

Yes, this is what it has come down to: I think about the plot structure of Junie B. Jones books in my free time.

How does this book end? Will I ever know?

How does this book end? Will I ever know?

You see, I haven’t been able to finish the book yet, because the Babysitting Charge really doesn’t care about the ending. The beginning of the book goes like this: Junie B. Jones is in first grade and for the upcoming Parents’ Night, the class is going to put on a play that they created themselves using facts about Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day. (On a side note, this is not an old book. It was published in 2005, when I thought we’d already all agreed that Columbus was an evil psychopath. Barbara Park has some explaining to do regarding her portrayal of Columbus as a national hero, but that’s the subject of another essay.) To write the play, every kid in the class has to bring in as many Columbus facts as she can, and whoever has the most facts, will get to pick her part in the play first. Junie B. brings in eighteen facts, tying with her friend José, and so they get to pick their parts before anyone else: José wants to be Columbus, and Junie B. wants to be the Pinta, because it was the fastest ship, and she thinks, therefore, she will “win” the race a.k.a. the play.

Junie B. clearly has some things to process in terms of understanding how plays work.

But do I know if Junie B. “wins” the play, whatever that means? Do I know how her Pinta costume turns out? Do I know if her parents are proud? Do I know if she somehow royally fucks up her role as a ship? Do I know if Barbara Park has some huge take down of Columbus at the end of the book where she explains to children everywhere that he was a bad, bad man, and you can’t just swoop in a steal land that belonged to other people for millennia?

Do I know any of these things???

NO.

I could recite the beginning of the book now by memory, because the Babysitting Charge loves that opening drama so much – creating the play! finding the facts! choosing the parts! – and doesn’t give a damn about the resolution. Every time we hit the end of chapter five, she loses interest and wanders off, only to return later and ask for me to start reading the book again.

“Oh,” I say, naively, “shall we pick up at chapter six, where we left off?”

“Nah,” she says. “Let’s start at the beginning.”

In particular, she loves the chapter where Junie B. brings in her eighteen facts and co-wins the fact-finding competition in class. I’ve read this specific chapter out loud more than any other part of the book, and it mostly involves me yelling “EIGHTEEN FACTS I FOUND EIGHTEEN FACTS EIGHTEEN!” over and over again while in my heart of hearts I just want to know does the play go well???

It seems I will never know.

Or maybe I’ll just finish the end of the book on my own when the Babysitting Charge is watching Disney Junior one night. I’ll let you know what happens.

Review of Even Superheroes Get Diabetes Which I Read Out Loud While Quietly Weeping to Myself as My Heart of Ice and Stone Melted

Sorry, I can’t write, I’m too busy crying.

Oh god look at his little juice box I'm already losing it.

Oh god look at his little juice box I’m already losing it.

The Babysitting Charge asked me to read this book out loud to her twice in one afternoon, and both times I barely managed to keep it together. Even Superheroes Get Diabetes by Sue Ganz-Schmitt for the win.

Have a kid with diabetes? Know one? Does your kid have a friend with diabetes? Know an adult with diabetes? Hell, are you a person existing in this world where lots of people have diabetes? Then buy this book. It’s great. It explains diabetes in straightforward, simple terms, and it puts a kid with diabetes as the hero of his own story.

A boy, named Kelvin, has a rough day feeling really sick like he has the flu and his parents take him to the hospital. There, Kelvin learns that he has diabetes. The story focuses primarily on Kelvin learning how to adjust to life with diabetes.

IT'S OK KELVIN SOME DAYS I DON'T FEEL BRAVE EITHER

IT’S OK KELVIN SOME DAYS I DON’T FEEL BRAVE EITHER

But then one day, Kelvin goes to a special doctor to get an insulin pump and also learns that he has a unique strain of diabetes called – get this – Fly-A-Betes, which allows him to fly as a side effect of the insulin. So, Kelvin becomes Super K, and as a superhero, he works with Captain Fly-A-Betes to deliver insulin and help out kids with diabetes all over the globe. Lots of kids need insulin! Lots of kids have parents who obsessively count how many carbohydrates they eat! Lots of kids have to get their fingers pricked to test their blood sugar! This book makes it no big deal.

Insulin for everyone!

Insulin for everyone!

Five out of five stars for moving me to tears because as anyone who knows me knows I do not easily cry since apparently I have a large old boulder where my heart should be. I am obsessed with this Insulin Comics series.

Good work, Ms. Ganz-Schmitt.

Review of Harriet the Hamster Fairy Which I Have Now Had to Read Out Loud Every Afternoon for Almost a Full Week

Yes. This book.

Yes. This book.

I have been forced, because the Babysitting Charge demands it, to read the book Harriet the Hamster Fairy out loud, every afternoon, while the Charge eats her snack, for the better part of a week, and let me just say, Harriet, it’s time to get your shit together.

This hamster fairy book – I mean, first let’s just pause and think about that phrase, hamster fairy – is part of a series called, appropriately, Pet Fairies. The concept is that in the fairy world, owners don’t choose their pets, the pets choose their owners, and so each fairy in the series – there are seven, which is way too many in my opinion – has been magically chosen by a special animal. So everyone in the fairyland has an animal except poor mean old Jack Frost. All he wants is a pet of his own, but the fairy pets are snobs and only want to be owned by fairies, and so instead of resigning to a pet-less existence and getting really into pruning bonsai trees, he kidnaps – sorry, petnaps – all of the animals. But, luckily, the pets escape into the human world and protagonist Kirsty Tate and her BFF Rachel Walker must help the pet fairies rescue their pets before Jack Frost has his nasty old green goblins get to the fairy pets first. Got it? It’s ok, I don’t get it either. I mean, why does Jack Frost have goblins? Is that a thing? Also, isn’t being a fairy hard enough without having to worry about taking care a pet? I mean, come on, one of the pet fairies has a pet horse. Don’t fairies fly? Why would she need to ride a horse? Let alone the fact that I can’t wrap my head around the fairy vs. human world space/time dimensions, but that seems more of a problem for an astro-physicist than for me, your local babysitter.

So, here we are, the Charge eating peanut butter off a spoon, and me reading Harriet the Hamster Fairy and wondering who the hell writes this stuff. The author of this series is named Daisy Meadows, which is the pen name for a series of ghostwriters who I can only assume are too ashamed to have their real names associated with the Pet Fairies series. But couldn’t they have picked a better name? Daisy Meadows sounds like someone was raised on a commune in California or moonlights as a stripper. Also, a note to the publisher: are you really using Curlz MT for all the chapter titles? Isn’t it 2014? Shouldn’t we have moved on by now?

Curlz MT? Really? I didn't know it was still 1997.

Curlz MT? I didn’t know it was still 1997.

Diving into the plot: it’s weak. The action takes place all in one busy morning, when Kirsty and Rachel go over to their buddy Jamie’s house to feed his pet hamster, Nibbles, while Jamie is out of town on some boring mandatory family vacation. Naturally, when they arrive, the hamster cage is open, Nibbles is nowhere to be found, and they must go on a mission to locate him. They encounter some of Jack Frost’s goblins along the way and find out they – those assholes – let Nibbles loose to lure the fairy hamster to rescue him, and, lo and behold, the fairy hamster shows up and like an idiot she gets captured by the goblins, and then Harriet shows up and is all like come on what the hell give me back my hamster, but, of course, spoiler alert, Kirsty and Rachel find the fairy hamster and get her back to Harriet no problem and then also find Nibbles because what’s easier than finding one hamster but finding two. Yeah, how many times does that happen in real life? What usually happens to hamsters when they escape? They get eaten by the cat or trapped inside a pipe in a wall or vacuumed up by an unsuspecting but well-meaning parent. As soon as Kirsty and Rachael saw that the cage door was open, they should have assumed Nibbles was Dead with a capital D and written off their friendship with Jamie and headed over to the mall to buy earrings at Claire’s for some retail therapy.

That hamster is D-E-A-D dead.

That hamster is D-E-A-D dead.

And while we are on the subject of unrealistic expectations, let’s talk about the climax of the book. This is how Kirsty and Rachel finally rescue the fairy hamster: they tickle the goblin’s feet until he can’t handle it anymore and he asks them, politely of course, to stop please, and he will give back the hamster. Yes. Tickling. Ok, sure, manners are important and I guess it’s good that there is no violence in this book or whatever, but, kid, if a goblin captures your pet hamster in real life, you are going to have to smash that guy on the head to get back your little rodent. If the goblin hasn’t already eaten said hamster. See: Dead with a capital D.

Last, let’s take a look at the author’s use of language. Did you know there are many synonyms out there for the word “grin”? I guess this writer did not, because Kirsty and Rachel and Harriet grin at everything – at each other, at the hamster, at the goblins which is totally insane because they should be frowning angrily at the goblins because the goblins are being jerks running around trying to steal hamsters, but no, everyone is always doing everything with a grin or grinning excitedly or winking and grinning at the same time. If I did a shot for every time I had to read the word grin out loud, I would be in late stage liver failure and the book is only sixty-seven pages long. Why can’t anyone smile or smirk or beam? And don’t get me started on how much they giggle. Why can’t anyone laugh or chuckle or cackle? Everyone is giggling all the damn time in this book. Be more creative, people/fairies/hamsters/goblins.

GRINNING ALL THE TIME.

GRINNING ALL THE TIME.

In the end, I give Harriet the Hamster Fairy one out of five stars because, at least you can make the goblins sound like angry New York cab drivers when reading out loud, and the end of the book leaves the reader with a strong message that one should always clean up any mess that has been made in the living room, even if you, Rachel and Kirsty, didn’t do it and it was all the dumb hamster fairy’s fault that there are wood chip shavings and sunflower seeds all over the place. So enough talk, kids, and go clean up your messes.

Let’s hope Molly the Goldfish Fairy is a step up.

AllisonandAJontheAT

Together hiking the Appalachian Trail from April to October, 2015!

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