So it struck me as kind of funny that on our latest trip to the public library, we picked up two books that disappointed me. They're both children's books, which I don't usually mention here, but they got me thinking so I'm going to write about them.
The first is a step-into-reading book with a Barbie theme. Now, I rarely ever censor my daughter's reading choices. Whatever she chooses at the library that she wants to read, I'll read it to her, even if I think it's silly. But the kid books based on cartoon episodes and movies can really annoy me. Usually the story is chopped up so much to fit into a book format that it makes an unsatisfying story. Barbie in A Mermaid Tale is based on a full-length animated movie (which I haven't seen). It's a book aimed at beginning readers, so the sentences are very short and simple. It begins like this (each line here is one page of text):
Merliah loves to surf. She is the best surfer in Malibu.
Merliah's hair turns pink! She dives into the water. She can breathe!
Merliah meets Zuma. Zuma is a dolphin. Zuma talks!
Zuma tells Merliah about her past. Merliah is half mermaid!So... the story goes on to reveal that Merliah's mother, the rightful queen, has been imprisoned and her wicked aunt Eris taken over the undersea kingdom. Merliah gets a fake tail to swim, the help of some animal and mermaid friends, and goes on a quest to save her mother. She has to do three three things: find a magic comb and a special fish (dreamfish), and get the necklace her aunt wears. Here is where the story starts disintegrating. I'm assuming the comb and dreamfish are to help Merliah finish her quest and confront Eris, but there's no explanation of how they do that. After finding the dreamfish and getting his promise of help, the rest of the story reads like this:
Merliah has a plan. She grabs the necklace! Eris is angry.
Eris traps Merliah in a whirlpool.
Merliah accepts that she is a mermaid. She gets a real mermaid tail!
Merliah escapes! Eris is trapped in the whirlpool instead. Oceana is saved!Then Merliah meets her mother, and there's a happy ending.
Uh... what happened here? The pictures give a little more information, but not much. It looks like Merliah is dancing to distract Eris, but then she just swims up and snatches the necklace? that's a plan? how did the dreamfish help? And the statement about accepting she's a mermaid seemed out of the blue. I'm guessing that's what enabled her to escape from the whirlpool, but again, no explanation. Both my daughter and I were left kind of scratching our heads at the end. She had a bunch of questions, and I just had to shrug. I don't know the story in its full context. Silly perhaps to get annoyed over a little kid's book like this, but why can't they make it just a bit more complete? Only two more pages would have fleshed out the story a bit more. I know the plug is to get kids interested in reading by publishing books on themes and characters they're already fans of, but do they have to make it inane?
Needless to say, my daughter likes the book anyway because it has mermaids, and the pictures are all very pretty, pink and sparkly. She doesn't care that the story has holes.
The text of What the Sea Saw by Stephanie St. Pierre, starts out like this:
What the sea saw was sky above. / What the sky saw was sea below... / The sky saw soft, white-feathered wings dip into the foaming sea. / The gull saw fish in the sea swimming in schools, scales shimmering silver. / The fish saw light on the waves weaving into the deep.Here the book abruptly changes tone. Instead of continuing the thread of what-something-saw (which I was rather enjoying) it becomes prose describing things:
Sandpipers ran across the wet sand leaving a trail of three-pronged footprints. / The gull screeched and flew through the heavy sky.Then shows the events of an approaching storm and rainfall. Still very lovely, but I was thrown off at the change of rhythm. Then it goes back into the sea saw/ the sky saw thread, until the book closes with nightfall. I was puzzled again. I wanted to love this book. The illustrations are wonderful, and both the what-something-saw thread and the description of how seashore creatures experience the rainstorm are nice. But they don't seem to fit together. I would have enjoyed a book that just described the animals and events of the day on the seashore, or a book that linked everything together by showing what each animal saw. But put together it makes a jump in the middle that made me like it less.
So, this is a case of me not liking one book because I thought it was poorly written, and the other because it didn't quite meet my expectations. Maybe I'm being really picky, about not liking these kid books. If I had to give them ratings, I'd give the barbie book a 1, and the seashore book a 2. For a balance of opinion, do read some of the reviews linked to below.
What the Sea Saw at:
Wild About Nature
Wild Rose Reader