Friday, September 4, 2009

Gritty realism of New Zealand life?

"Mummy! Read it again!"

"Do I have to? Siiiigggghhhhh. OK, then."

The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister (A bath book)
"Rainbow Fish was the most beautiful fish in the sea. One day, a little blue fish asked for just one of his beautiful shining scales.  'Never!' said Rainbow Fish.
After that, the other fish swam away from him. Rainbow Fish was all alone.
He went to ask the octopus for help.  The octopus said, 'Give away your shining scales.  You won't be as beautiful, but you will be happy.' '
I can't do that!' cried the Rainbow Fish.
Suddenly the little blue fish was back.'Please,' he said.  'Could I have a scale?'  Well, thought Rainbow Fish, maybe just one tiny little scale.  The little blue fish was so pleased, it made Rainbow Fish feel happy.
So Rainbow Fish gave each of the fish a shining scale, until he had only one left.  But now he had friends, and as he swam off to play with them, he was the happiest fish in the sea.
Well. What to say after that? Where to start? I read this, and my brain nerve endings seem to taser themselves, lapsing my brain into a vegetative state. I stare dully at the bathroom floor.

I hate to think what it's doing to my children's brains.

"Read it again, mummy!" yell the boys, as the rot spreads to my brain stem.

The boys have had this book for about 4 years now. I did spend the first 2 years trying to paraphrase - it was a brilliant paraphrasing, involving taxmen, Helen Clark, welfare cycles and expectations of getting something for nothing, but then the boys started kindergarten, and the truth came out, through a teacher who had been interrogated on this "different version to my one at home.

I did also try my best to lose the book, but somehow it always seemed to return from the depths of the wheelie bin. I've never worked out how.

If I can shake my brain out of its stupor, I suppose I could see that this book is teaching my boys the reality of life in New Zealand. But as someone who is routinely told that I am raising New Zealand's future, it would be irresponsible of me to continue the cycle of "give me something for nothing".

I am horrified that this book is so popular among children and their teachers.  The popularity of The Rainbow Fish seems to supersede all efforts of mine to raise children who understand and respect personal property and who know how to put a value on this.  I feel a sense of quiet pride when I hear my boys barter their toys in an effort to have the last biscuit, for example:

"If you let me have that last biscuit, I'll let you play with my sandpit digger."
"I'll let you have the biscuit if you let me play with your sandpit digger AND your dump truck."
"Oh. I can't do that. I can only let you play with my digger. Half each, and you let me play with your hot wheels?"

They are demonstrating that the biscuit has some value to them, and they are prepared to spend something to get it, toys being a form of currency when you are aged  3 and 4 years old.  If I ever heard my boys say "I want that last biscuit that you've got.  Give it to me or I won't be your friend," there would be some harsh lessons from me.

And yet, I let everyone down every night by caving into their demands to "read it again."  And again.  And again.  I know the message is supposed to be something along the lines of "it's good to share, and people will be your friend if you share".  And that's fair enough - when there's a whole table of lego, it's good to see children working together on something to achieve a common goal, or even working alone but adapting their design if their particular piece is not available, and not upsetting the lego table if a piece is already in a construction

But I abhor the message that it's acceptable to ask - and the expectation is that you will get -  something of value to someone else.  I would feel differently if the other fish accepted Rainbow Fish's wish that he kept his beautiful scales, and they loved him anyway.  But, instead, there is a caveat - you give me your scales or I will shun you.  I'm told with some authority by Mr 4 that the message is just because someone has shiny scales, it does not make them a good fish; it makes them a greedy fish.

And so the socialist brainwashing begins.

This evening, I left the poor child pondering my response (sharp retort?) that wanting something for nothing is being greedy.  The scales belong to Rainbow Fish, so it is up to him to decide if he is happy to give a scale away, or if he wants to sell them.  But that is Rainbow Fish's decision to make and a real fish friend will respect that.  Just because Rainbow Fish may not want to give away a scale does not make him a bad fish.  If the other fish can't accept that, perhaps Rainbow Fish needs to find better fish friends who won't judge him on what he has and what they don't have.

The back of the bath book assures me that it is non-toxic.  I presume they mean the materials, rather than the content?


Oswald Bastable said...

I had a serious dislike for that one too.

Fortunatly, my boys had no interest in it.

Instead I got to memorise most of Hairy Mcairy's adventures...

Heine said...

Talk about indoctrination!

Oi said...

Whatever happened to Spot?

libertyscott said...

Sounds like room for a good article on philosophically despicable kids' books. It would have made more sense for Rainbow Fish to have died due to an illness caught from giving away his scales.

How about a kids' book where a little girl cuts off her hair, cuts off her arms and legs and in fact donates all her organs so "she can be happy".

I'm so appalled

Sus said...

"It would have made more sense for RF to have died, etc ... "

Laughed out loud at that!