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Problematic Harry Potter

A friend and I were recently talking about Harry Potter. She, like me, is reading book one to her almost seven year old. I’m also reading book five with my almost ten year old.

Harry Potter is twenty years old. And in some ways, it’s showing its age.

There is a ton of fatphobia that might or might not be okay today. I say might or might not as fat phobia is alive and well today. What do I mean by fat phobia? Many of the villainous people in the books are described as fat as shorthand for lazy, greedy, mean, and evil. The Dursleys, Aunt Petunia, and Delores Umbridge are some of the characters described this way.

The racial representation is…not good. You have the Patels, Lee Jordan, Cho Chang, and a few other background characters are people of color. Ron, Harry, and Hermione are all white, canonically. Yes, a black actress played Hermione in Cursed Child, but that’s colorblind casting, not a sudden reversal of cannon. The movies are even worse, as you can see below. Just over six minutes of speaking time for people of color in eight movies.

Hermione is a white savior. She never asks or listens to the House Elves. She just decides she knows what’s best, and starts S.P.E.W., or the Society for the Prevention of Elvish Welfare. In book five, she even leaves hats and socks around the Gryffindor common room so that an elf might pick it up and be freed. The Hogwarts House Elves are, in fact, so angry about this that they refuse to clean the common room, and the only reason that it gets cleaned is because Dobby does it out of love for Harry Potter. Yes, there is abuse–Dobby and Kreacher are both victims of abuse. But it’s problematic when someone decides that they know what’s best for a class of people without consulting them–sort of what men are doing to women’s reproductive health.

Hermione does so much emotional labor for Harry and Ron. For the love of god, boys, do your own fucking homework for a change, for one. Y’all would be dead without Hermione.

There is still a LOT of good in the HP books, and I identify as a Ravenclaw. But it’s inappropriate to give something a pass just because you like it.

ARC Review–A Dreadful Fairy Book by Jon Etter

Pre-order A Dreadful Fairy Book by Jon Etter

3/5*

Publication–November 6, 2018

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My oldest daughter, Elanor, is in fifth grade and loves fantasy, so I read A Dreadful Fairy Book with her in mind. Is this something she would like? Is this something I would like her to read/would like to read aloud with her? Is it something I would recommend my school library stock? The answer to all of these questions is complex and why I had to drop my rating from a 4/5 to a 3/5.

A Dreadful Fairy Book uses the same sort of overarching theme of ominous narration employed in the Series of Unfortunate Events books, wherein a narrator pops up throughout the story to add commentary and to caution you to turn back because it’s not a happy story. It opens with a forward from Quentin Q. Quacksworth, our narrator, telling you that this will be a dreadful fairy book, and that the reader should turn back just as Lemony Snicket does. This is used throughout the book, and if your child likes that sort of device, they will enjoy that.

Shade, the main character of the book is one most children will relate to–she feels too different from everyone else in her village. In this story it’s because she’s a reader like her parents, and the village looks down on this literacy, even though it’s saved them many times (no you can’t turn the water pink which will kill all the fishes and make the water poison because it would look pretty). In fact, the book opens with Shade in a fury because the village had bought some “harmless” fireworks and accidentally burned down Shade’s house. So Shade tells them she’s leaving, and she takes the only book to survive the conflagration to go seek a new home with as many books as possible.

Along her way, Shade encounters all sorts of fairy creatures–a bridge troll who doesn’t like to get dirty, an Anthony of the Wisp who doesn’t want to lead people to their doom, as well as some with more menacing creatures. Shade acquires some allies–Ginch, a talkative Brownie who cheats at cards, and The Professor, a silent pixie whose pockets carry an improbable number of items. A witch gives them directions to a library on the Marble Cliffs, which becomes a quest for Shade. Ginch and The Professor end up joining her on the quest after some villagers with torches start to chase them.

The issues that parents may have with the book are the faux swearing that happens with high frequency and the verbal dialects given to the characters lean heavily on ethnic stereotypes. I don’t particularly care about the former, but the latter is a big problem for me.

What do I mean by the ethnic stereotype dialects?

“It’s-a the sad story, mine: the woeful tale of the Rigolleto Ginch, the devoted servant in-a the big, big manse of Fuseli Cavatappi, the Basta of Pasta, who was-a brought-a low…” and “Ey, paisan! You know-a the moth girl” among thousands of others from Ginch.

“Vy boss vant kinders?”

“‘Course it’s good youse mooks!” the little man replied in a deep raspy voice.

“‘Course oi can see ye,” she snorted. “Drank a glass o’ milk backwards after refusin’ to do me chore first thing on Sain Bartleby the Unwillin’s Day when oi were ten.”

“Oui, mon petit chou,” the gargoyle said as they entered, pointing at the map with his free hand, “but ze middle of ze land–“

Ginch is the only main character with a dialect (the Professor is either silent or stutters when speaking), but it’s a near constant stream. He doesn’t speak without word-a-ing something. It gets grating fast. As does the fact that Shade is almost the only person who speaks properly–it feels like Etter was throwing pins at a map of Europe and then assigning stereotypes. How will an Italian/Italian American child feel reading a book where their ethnicity is used as a punchline?

This bothered me enough that I took the rating from 4 stars to 3. Dialects aren’t bad (although using ones with blinding red flags are), but they need only be used sparingly because otherwise they become irritating.

So how do I feel about those questions I kept in mind while reading this. I don’t think it’s surprising that “No, I don’t really want my daughter reading this,” and “No, I won’t be recommending this book to my school library,” and “No, I won’t recommend this book to parents of other similarly aged children,” are where I come down.

 

 

Kid Vid Review–The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

4/5*

Published Sept 2014

This week it’s Rhi’s turn and she picked one of her favorite books to have read to her–The Book with No Pictures. As a heads up, if you can’t read with expression and make silly noises, this is not for you. It can also get a little tiresome if you have read it every day for an extended period of time. BUT if you are comfortable being silly, your kids will LOVE this book. Rhi might give it a 5*, but I’d say it’s a 4*–enjoyable, worth rereading, definitely a book for the home library, but not something you might look forward to reading with them, especially after the first 100 or so times.

The Book with No Pictures is best for the pre-K to grade 2 set, but my fifth grader almost always shows up if we are reading it, and she laughs her head off, too, although I don’t think she’s ever bothered to read it on her own. It’s the experience of a parent/adult being silly that makes them both lose their minds.

Kid Vid Review—Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jim Benton

Buy Dear Dumb Diary #1: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

4.5*/5*

Published August 2013

 

I interviewed my older daughter about a book she recently read and really liked. Here are her thoughts… (she’s quiet so you will want to turn up your volume)

 

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-Sitters Club #4 Mary Anne Saves the Day

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Mary Anne Saves the Day

Ann M. Martin

Originally Published February 1987

 

If you recall, book 3’s co-plot (along with Stacey’s DIABETES) was about how the Baby-Sitter’s Agency honed in on the BSC’s turf and they had to throw down?  That the BSC proved that they were the superior sitters because of how awesome they were?  Even though they were younger, they were more mature?

Well, screw that.

BSC 4 is basically one long fight between the sitters so that Mary Anne can become friends with Dawn.  Without a massive war, she’s so timid that she would never do so otherwise.  There’s also all kinds of slut shaming patriarchal bullshit with her Victorian era Dad, but we’ll get to that later.

The book opens with exposition about the club and how it works as Kristy and Mary Anne walk across the street and are greeted by Mimi’s pleasant Japanese accented voice.  I’m starting to think we need an ongoing counter of how many times Mimi is referred to quickly followed by the words Japanese, quiet, soft, and accent.  Mimi asks Mary Anne how the scarf is coming along because of course Mary Anne knits like all good little girls on the prairie.  (Sidebar, this was before the hipsters claimed knitting for themselves–it’s supposed to be emblematic of how repressed and old fashioned Mary Anne is.)  Blah blah blah Kristy’s parents are divorced and her mom is engaged to a MILLIONAIRE.  Blah blah blah Claudia is an artist with flawless skin and a junk food addiction.  Stacey is from NEW YORK CITY and has diabetes.  It’s like BSC Bingo.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.02.09 amHere, I made a BSC bingo card for you

Why the book-long fight?  It’s all that bitch Mrs. Newton’s fault for having a baby.

“Yes,” Kristy was saying.  “Yes…  Oh, Jaime and Lucy.”  (Claudia and Stacey and I squealed with delight.)  “Friday…six till eight…  Of course.  I’ll be there.  Great.  See you.”  She hung up.

From there it devolves to Claudia is a job-hog (not like it’s her phone line and she has to do extra work or anything), Stacey has plenty of friends back in NYC and doesn’t need them, Mary Anne is a big baby, Kristy tells Mary Anne to shut up and she yells back at Kristy, Stacey’s diabetes are called dumb, and Mary Anne loses her shit on everyone.

Maybe I am shy,” I said loudly, edging toward the door.  “And maybe I am quiet, but you guys cannot step all over me.  You want to know what I think?  I think you, Stacey, are a conceited snob; and you, Claudia are a stuck-up job-hog; and you, Kristin Amanda Thomas, are the biggest, bossiest know-it-all in the world, and I don’t care if I never see you again!”

The rest of their argument is various retreads of this.  Book 4–have you read books 1-3?  A huge fight was also part of the plot of book 1.  There are over 100 books left to go–let’s not retread plots already.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.18.02 amWithout the introduction of Dawn’s mom, this would have been Mary Anne’s future.

As has been well established, Mary Anne’s mother is DEAD.  Of what?  Who cares!  We do find out that her name was Alma, though, which fits with the weird time-warp parenting style of Mary Anne’s father, Richard.  Since he acts like one, we’re just going to call Richard “Dick” for my own amusement.

Dick, having been left to raise this freakishly female creature, has decided that his worth as a father is to turn out the perfect Victorian/Edwardian era daughter.  Christian Grey had fewer rules for Anastasia—Life with Dick is 50 Shades of Patriarchal Bullshit.

  • She must wear braids at all times
  • She must dress well for dinner
  • She mustn’t say naughty words like gross, hey, and “a long list of other words”
  • Must have perfect table manners
  • Her room is pink and white, which are appropriate girl colors
  • The only picture in her room is Mary Anne and her parents on her Christening Day
  • The only artwork in her room is Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Wonderland prints

The relationship between Mary Anne and her father is so disturbing on so many levels.  Clearly, Mary Anne is supposed to be filling in for the “woman of the house.”  She cooks, cleans, is supposed to be dressed nicely for dinner and ask her father about his day.  She’s supposed to know what cases her dad is involved in at court and care about them deeply.

We also see the first mention of religion in the books.  Apparently, Dick asks God to watch over Alma before every single meal, which even Mary Anne thinks is overkill.  She mentions praying at night.  I’m not sure if the super strict is supposed to be tied in with religion, but it’s all kinds of Lurlene McDaniel’s level religiosity and appropriate female behavior (6 months to live review is here).

What does Mary Anne want in life?  To sometimes wear her hair differently, and to have a kitten poster and an NYC poster in her yellow and navy colored bedroom.  Also, to babysit a bit later, sometimes.  UNREASONABLE.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.36.27 amEnter Dawn

Since Mary Anne is fighting with her friends, she needs to find a seat in the cafeteria.  She sits down next to some other friendless loser, who turns out to be Dawn who is new in town.  Because Dawn is from California, she is blonde and health conscious.  She’s also a pretentious hippie and future vegan who shames the rest of us, but that develops over future books.

Mary Anne decides to befriend Dawn to get back at Kristy.  As they’re talking, Kristy looks over and is jealous, so Mary Anne really builds is up, going so far as to agree to hang out at Dawn’s house the next day after school.

Dawn’s mom Sharon is a flake.  She puts shoes in the freezer and can’t focus on a task for more than 5 seconds.  She’s like the polar opposite of Mary Anne’s Dad.  Gee, that’s interesting.

Dawn tells Mary Anne that they moved to Stoneybrooke because her parents divorced and her mom grew up here.  Hey, so did Dick!  What are the odds that they knew each other?  Is anyone thinking of that movie Parent Trap?  If not, Dawn and Mary Anne actually sit down and WATCH THE PARENT TRAP to get it into your mind.  Gee, I wonder what Martin is telegraphing here.  Maybe they could watch The Odd Couple next?

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 11.54.30 amI don’t think this is the kitty poster Mary Anne had in mind

BSC meeting, y’all.  Said meeting is hostile, lots of sticking out of tongues, hostility, blah blah blah.  Except Kristy isn’t there!  She blew off HER club.  When confronted about it, she suggested that the four of them take turns on phone duty during club meetings and the rest are at their homes.  Each girl can take whatever jobs she can handle offered to her during her shift and then has to call the others to find a sitter for the ones she’s not.  I wonder how well that will work?

On Mary Anne’s first day as the sole representative of the BSC she lines up a job with the Prezzioso’s–possible the only family in Stoneybrook that is more uptight and formal than hers.  For an afternoon at home, Jenny Prezzioso is wearing “a frilly white dress trimmed with yards of lavender lace and ribbon, matching lavender socks, and shiny black patent leather Mary Janes.  her hair had been curled, and was pulled back form either side of her face by barrettes from which long streamers flowed.”  Her parents call her Angel.  Yes, she IS a spoiled brat, how did you guess?

Mary Anne’s Dad loses a case, so obviously Marry Anne picks that moment to push for later baby sitting times, no braids, etc.  Dick shuts her down.  She’s emo because now she’s fighting with him, too.  Mary Anne goes to Mimi for soft spoken accented advice.  At some point in the conversation Mimi calls Mary Anne “My Mary Anne.”  I gasp at the outrageous faux pas.  Claudia overhears this and goes ballistic (AS WELL SHE SHOULD.  WTF, MIMI????).

The next time Mary Anne is the BSC, Claudia stays in her room and plays her music super loud.  Like I said, as they proved in Book 3, the BSC is a totes professional organization.  Then a series of phone calls come in forcing Mary Anne to call Kristy multiple times, culminating in the arranging of a joint babysitting job at the Pikes for herself and Kristy.

I’ll spare you the details but the Pike sitting job boils down to Kristy and Mary Anne only communicating via a passed message through all the Pike kids.

Mary Anne gets back from the Pikes five minutes late, and asks her dad for a later sitting time so she wouldn’t be late.   SHOCKER–Dick says no.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 12.13.16 pmGet to the point about Sharon and Dick

 

Dawn and Mary Anne go through Dick’s old yearbooks.  Not only did Dick and Sharon know each other, they were involved.   They find Sharon’s yearbook and Dick’s note to her.  Wow, if only things had been different, they’d be sisters!

That weekend Mary Anne babysits bratty Jenny Prezzioso, who morphs into high fever Jenny.  As this is the pre-cell era, Mary Anne has to call around, but can’t track down the parents.  After trying everything, she calls Dawn and then 911.  An ambulance comes to take Jenny to the hospital with Mary Anne.  Dawn is going to call and leave messages for Jenny’s parents (because again, no cell phone to call from while in the ambulance or while at the hospital).  The doctors are caring for Jenny when the parents arrive with the mom in hysterics for her ANGEL.  Mr. P gives Dawn and Mary Anne major cash for doing such a great job and drops them off at Mary Anne’s house.  What the hell did we do before cell phones?

Mary Anne and Dawn are looking at pictures in Dick’s albums.  They are magically seated such that Kristy looks over and sees them together.  Mary Anne puts her arm around Dawn and sticks out her tongue at Kristy.  Dawn catches her in the act and storms out when she realizes that Mary Anne has been using her to get back at Kristy.

Mr P calls Dick and tells her how awesome and mature Mary Anne is.  Mary Anne brings up those small things she wants and gets a later sitting time, the agreement that she can sometimes wear her hair down, AND that she can put up a poster on her wall.  Drunk with maturity, she writes Dawn and Kristy apologies for being such a bitch for the past 13 chapters.

Before the sitters can come back together, they have to ruin Jamie Newton’s birthday party.  Which serves his mom right for provoking the fight in the first place.  In fact, Mrs. Newton has been nothing but trouble since book 1 with her pregnancy and her spawning and her looking for responsible older sitters.  She dares to ask “one of them” to go check on the baby–which NATCH starts a fight.  Things escalate until punch is everywhere.  Way to prove that vaunted maturity, ladies. After the party Mary Anne orders everyone over to Claudia’s house and forces everyone to make up.

That night Mary Anne asks her dad about Dawn’s mom.  It’s all Romeo and Juliet–they were in love, her family didn’t approve, blah blah blah

Chapter 16–SIXTEEN!!!  WHAT BLASPHEMY!!!—Dick and Sharon finally meet again when she drops Dawn off at the house.  Stares and starry eyes, and he asks her out.  Mary Anne introduces Dawn to everyone and she is inducted into the BSC

And Tango makes a banned book

I’m crossposting this from my expat blog because the subject of book banning is worth addressing more than once.

Expat Bostonians

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Dear parents who challenge this book

I too, am a parent.  I too have had my children bring over books that I am not comfortable with them reading at their current ages.  The difference between you and I is that I tell my children to put the book back because it’s not right for our family,  while you choose to tell ALL children that they may not read the book.  Your family’s “just right” books don’t trump mine.

You argue that it is oppositional to your faith.  I would counter that all religious texts are oppositional to mine.  Yet I am not asking the library to remove children’s Bibles because they have no place in my faith.  Your faith does not trump mine.

You say that this book promotes a “homosexual agenda.”

  • Firstly I am curious what you think a homosexual agenda is.  I’ll let you in on a non-secret–I’m…

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