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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.

 

 

Book Review: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 3.46.36 PMCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White

5/5 stars

Ellie likes read alouds–she likes picture books, and she’ll sit in for her sister’s board books.  But over the past year and a half, we’ve slowly started to introduce chapter books into the read aloud repertoire.  This past week we finished “Charlotte’s Web.”

First I’ll let Elanor talk to you about the book.  This is a longer video than the past two have been, and I provided more scaffolding.  Given the length and complexity of the book, Ellie needed support.

In reading chapter books to Elanor, I’ve had the opportunity to look back at my childhood.  Some books like Fantastic Mr. Fox are much scarier, others are badly written (see my snarking nostalgia column), and some books–like Beezus and Ramona–are just boring.

Charlotte’s Web is sadder.  So. Much. Sadder. than I remembered it being.  Reading it as an adult, and knowing what’s coming makes you so much more alert to nuance.  More than once, I felt choked up or found myself blinking back tears.  Prepare yourself accordingly.

As a child, I don’t know that I appreciated the richness of the language that White uses throughout the book. Words like salutations, injustice, and languishing are a welcome change.  You won’t find overuse of the word “said” as you do in other children’s literature.  It is a joy to read.

I remember appreciating that he didn’t dumb the book’s vocabulary down just because kids were going to read it–or the subject matter.

Wilbur’s life is in danger from the first chapter, and the reader knows that Wilbur may actually end up on someone’s plate.  Few expect Charlotte to die.  I’m relatively sure that this is the first book I read in which I lost a beloved character.  Some kids will need preparation–others may surprise you.  I was a bit concerned about reading it aloud to Elanor–she’s a really sensitive little girl–but she was fine while I was tearing up during Charlotte’s death scene.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to show Ellie the animated and live action versions of Charlotte’s Web so that she can give you her opinion about which she liked best.  I’ll introduce the idea of faithful adaptation so that she can evaluated if they are faithful.  I don’t really remember if the cartoon is terribly faithful, but I do remember loving the music.  I’ve never seen the live version so I have no idea what I’m in for.

I think five is about as young an age where this is a good real aloud.  The upper limit of the age depends on the purpose for which you’re reading it.  This is a book that belongs on any bookcase, whether you have children or not.