Monday, December 04, 2006

Surprising Source of Woman-Friendly Kid's Fiction


If your house is anything like the Ragtime house, there is the eternal struggle between "Reading is a good thing!" and "That thing you have chosen to read is mindless drivel and the literary equivalent of crack cocaine."

For bedtime stories for the Ragkids (3 young girls), I am always on the lookout for mind-nurturning literature. The girls, on the other hand, are on the lookout for yet another iteration of "The Magic Fairy Princess Saves the Unicorn and Is Kissed By the Prince." Blech.

Happy Day, then, to find a Kids Book Series that BOTH fits into the Magic Fairy Princess etc . genre, and yet, doesn't suck.

So, are you ready for it?

Disney Fairies.

Yep. I saw the titles ("The Trouble with Tink", "The Great Berry Battle", etc.) and the Disney Fairy animation, and I thought this would be no different from "Pixie Tricks" (vapid), Fairy Realm (dull), The Unicorn's Secret (unreadable), or The Rainbow Fairies (insipid). And yet, well, let's just get to it . . .

1. Female Centered Naming Conventions. The creatures that live in The Home Tree are called "Fairies" -- They are made up of two kinds, the males (called "Sparrow Men") and the females (called "Fairies"). Note that the Generic term is identical to the Female term.

2. Gender Division. There is no explicit statement of the breakdown of genders, but among the characters who show up in a representative book, they are about 75-80% Fairies, and 20-25% Sparrow Men. There is also a Queen. The world is Female-Centered without being either all-female or male-repressive. The Sparrow Men are there and apparently equals. They're just not really that important to the flow of the story.

3. Cool Jobs. Every Fairy has a special talent. Tinkerbell, star of the first book ("The Trouble With Tink") is a pots-and-pans-talent fairy. She loves to spend all day sitting alone in her workshop with her hammer, repairing pots and pans for the other Fairies. And it hits me. Brilliant! She's a Tinker! What the heck else should she be with a name like Tinkerbell! Once you work from the assumption that people should have jobs and not just flit around sprinkling fairy dust all day, of COURSE she's a tinker!

Other fairies have a wide variety of talents, that span the range of both traditionally male and female jobs. The "Waste Metal Recovery Fairy" was my personal favorite. The Sparrow Men get some good jobs, too, like Crown Construction, but just enough to show that the males aren't being subjugated here.

4. Interesting Tasks. Vidia, who is a loner and generally anti-social, is accused of stealing the Queen's crown when it goes missing. Even though she's generally unliked by the other fairies, she gets to be the protagonists of her own book, and goes though an elaborate series of problem solving tasks along with her assistant (also female) in order uncover the truth of the missing crown. Beck, as an Animal-Talent Fairy, assumes the job of arbitrator between the warring hummingbirds and chipmunks. The tasks never involved "Getting The Boy". The closest it comes is when Tink loses her Tinkering hammer and doesn't want to go get her spare that she left at Peter Pan's house when they were dating. Bringing a friend for moral support, she gets the hammer, and realizes that she will now have the courage to face Peter again without fear, and that she no longer has any romantic interest in him.

5. The Cute Factor. The illustrations are definitely classic Disney, and are thus very cutesy. The characters, though, never focus on appearances, get catty, primp, or whatever. They just go do their jobs.

The Ragkids, of course, don't see any difference between Disney Fairies and any other more-or-less insipid "Disney Princesses" creation. This is one series, though, that I am happy to recommend.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Tintin said...

This is sooooo cute! I love the designs, I love their job descriptions, and I love that Tink finally dumps Peter for good (that two-timer!). I wasn't expecting to find anything for me in this series, but your descriptions make me want to pick it up right away (and spare copies for younger female fans).

4:48 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

That Tinkerbell was a tinker was one of the great joys I had in reading BarrieĀ“s original book. It was also when reading Barrie that I fell in love with Tinkerbell.

As I sometimes tell my friends, I love Tink, but I don't understand why anyone else does. The "Flirt!" and "Brat!" image that she's given in so much merchandise peeves me to no end, because there is some great character potential there. I'm thrilled to hear that it's being explored!

I will check these books out. Thanks for the heads-up.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Tintin,

I agree, although it wasn't just the fact that she "dumps Peter for good", but that she essentially dumps the emotional baggage of Peter. She went from "I'm mad" to "I'm essentially ambivalent", which is a healthy approach, and one you don't generally see in these books unless the dumpee has found a replacement man.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Sara,

Obviously, I have been outed as having not read the original book! Tinkerbell's "job" was certainly not clear in the Disney movie. What WAS clear that she was a lot worse than a flirt or a brat, turning Wendy over the Captain Hook.

To the extent that the Disney Fairies series re-incorporates more of these positive elements, that will be a good thing.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Tansy said...

Thanks for this- I will hunt them down!

The new Australian TV series "The Fairies" does some similar things - a female centred world where the male characters are outnumbered by the female without being oppressed, and where the female characters are not only central, but the most knowledgeable and heroic. Plus, the boys dance and cook. :)

3:42 PM  

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