"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rainbow Magic, How I Loathe Thee

I love books. The fact that my kids love books is, for me, a big shmear of icing on this not-always-sweet cake of parenting. I loved looking at board books with them when they were but wee babes in my arms; introducing them to the magical worlds that exist within the pages of every book.

I even loved reading picture books to them as toddlers, when each page took ten minutes to get through because "Yes! I see the cow, too! Good noticing! Yes! The cow says Moo! Yes! It would be fun to go to a farm. Yes, horsies also live on a farm. Can I keep reading? Okay. Yes, pigs live there, too. Yes, you're right, pigs do say Oink. Let's read the next page, okay? Yes! I DO see the tractor!"

But the best kind of Reading With Kids of all is when your child is ready for Chapter Books. The plot! The character development! The continuation of a storyline from one night to the next! I love reading chapter books with my kids.

Until we read the 40th book in The Magic Tree House series, that is. Now, don't get me wrong: There is a sweet spot in a child's life for The Magic Tree House, during which the stories are compelling, a little dangerous, even, and full of fascinating-to-a-5-year-old facts and information. By the time you've read three, however, you realize that you're reading a formula. Nightly reading time becomes an exercise in self-control as you read through each mind-numbingly predictable storyline without hurling the book across the room.

To a child in the sweet spot, though, each book in The Magic Tree House series is a new and exciting adventure. You continue through the endless series (while occasionally, sneakily, introducing a book in a new series or genre) because you’re just thrilled that your child is excited about reading.

Thankfully, the sweet spot comes to a close as quickly as it began, when suddenly, your little kid reading buddy turns into a Big Kid Independent Reader. It happens almost overnight, so you might miss it, but don’t be sad...this is a Good Change. One day, you'll find him alone in his room reading The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and you'll wipe that my-baby’s-growing-up tear from your eye because THIS is a book you can get excited about reading!

You'll spend the next few months devouring everything that Rick Riordan has ever written with your Big Kid reader who, by the way, is now reading silently along as you read aloud (and is sneaking in one more chapter after you've kissed him goodnight). You'll have Real Conversations with him about what you’ve read. You'll discuss good vs. evil, tests of morality, complexities of friendships, and the importance of Being Yourself. You'll swing by your local bookstore every few weeks to pick up the next title in the series because the library just won’t do now: These books are For Keeps.

But before you know it, your second child is entering that early chapter book sweet spot and you know what that means. You’re at the library, in The Magic Tree House section, gritting your teeth as you reach for a book, when another series, new to you, catches your eye. Rainbow Magic? Hmmm.... You browse through the titles and flip through the pages, piecing together the series storyline: Kirsty and her best friend Rachel share a magical secret: They’re friends with the fairies! They are called upon (again and again...and again) to solve the problems that Jack Frost and his Goblins create. Friendship? Fairies? Magic? Danger? Courage? GIRL POWER?! Yes, yes, and YES! See ya, Jack and Annie, we're making plans with Kirsty and Rachel!

After the first book, your child, of course, is hooked. Together, you read the three books you picked up from the library and find yourself going back for more. After a few more books, your heart sinks as you make an unnerving discovery: Rainbow Magic books are even more formulaic than The Magic Tree House books.

But it's not just that these books follow a plot formula: there are entire sentences that can be found in nearly every book. In every book, Kirsty and Rachel (who always seem to be vacationing together) are visited by a Fairy in trouble. The girls have to find the Fairy's missing item before havoc is wreaked in both the fairy world AND the human world! They sprinkle themselves with Fairy Dust (which they keep in special lockets that were given to them by the fairies) to turn themselves into fairies in order to solve the problem (just in the nick of time, by the way). At the end, they are thanked profusely by King Oberon and Queen Titania, the (clearly incompetent) rulers of Fairyland. In each book, one of the girls says something “thoughtfully.” In each book, someone has a “determined look” on her face. In each book, some damn fairy "waves her wand in a complicated pattern" and I want to magic that damn book straight into the trash.

It gets worse. The titles seem to multiply. There's a Sneak Peek “bonus chapter” at the end of each book, introducing you to a new fairy in need of rescuing. Each fairy is part of a set of seven fairies: the Color Fairies, the Weather Fairies, the Ocean Fairies, the Baby Animal Rescue Fairies, the Superstar Fairies, the Fashion Fairies, the Party Fairies, the Fun Day Fairies, the Magical Crafts Fairies--what the hell does that even mean?! The list goes on and on...and on. Every fairy has her very own chapter book. There are also Special Edition books, double-length holiday and special occasion-themed books that, of course, your child just Has To Have. Then, your child orders the Rainbow Magic Fairy Guide from the Scholastic Book Club Flyer and you discover, to your horror, that THERE ARE OVER 200 RAINBOW MAGIC FAIRIES.

You start to sweat. You feel faint. Your child looks at you with twinkly eyes and says, "Can we go to the library, Mommy, PLEASE?"

"Of course," you reply, regaining your composure, “because there’s a really great book series there that I think you’ll love! It's about a spunky little girl named Annie and her big brother, Jack, and they discover this amazing, magical tree house….”

Lesson Learned:
Don't get me wrong, I know that this Recycled Text issue is not a problem with Rainbow Magic books exclusively. I remember realizing the same thing after reading through the entire Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series as a kid. This is how these content-mill chapter books are generated in such vast quantities. And I also see the Bigger Picture: my kids want to read! Hooray! But ohmygod, if Max brings one more damn fairy into this house, I'm going to lose my shit.


  1. When losing your shit, always remember to flush afterwards.

    Sounds like we could write a computer program to come up with crap to read to our children. Better yet, we could use text-to-speech to make the tablet read random sentences to them and we can relax with a cold beer and a warm fire.

    My ten year old is looking for something next having just finished Harry Potter. I'll look out for Rick Riordan. Thanks for the tip.

    1. That plan, henceforth to be known as The Cold Beer Plan, is brilliant.

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