Sunday, October 3, 2010

Books Bought and Borrowed: English Roses

Much to my surprise, Charley and her chums seem to be enjoying the 1993 English Roses series of books written by Madonna and illlustrated by Jeffrey Fulvimari.  She makes a bee-line for them at the local library.  However, they did receive rather scathing reviews in the British press and by other children's authors.  

"This story has an arc but no characters, a development but no detail. Most oddly, given Madonna's claim to fame, she seems entirely unable to make words sing for her. They lie as flat on the page as a failed pudding." says the Telegraph. 

The illustrations are "sub-Warholian, which is to say, highly decorative and distinctly perverse. The girls, all apparently suffering from anorexia, are dressed like mini-skirted fashion models, and their otherwise wholly featureless faces all have gaping eyes and rosebud lips." says the London Evening Standard.
According to Wikipedia, the book debuted at number one on the New York Times Bestsellers List for children's picture books and remained there for an impressive eighteen weeks. The English Roses received the widest launch in publication history as it was released in over a hundred countries on the same day; it also debuted in thirty languages. It is now available in 40 languages and in more than 110 countries worldwide.

The English Roses is a story of rivalry and friendship among schoolgirls in contemporary London. Four little girls-Nicole, Amy, Charlotte, and Grace-are eleven years old and the very best of friends. They have sleepovers, picnics and ice-skating parties that exclude Binah, a beautiful girl whose seemingly perfect life makes them "green with envy." However, when a feisty, pumpernickel-loving fairy godmother takes them on a magical journey, they learn to their great surprise that Binah's life is not nearly as enviable as it had seemed.

They seem to be the Bratz dolls of kidlit.  Should I also be worried that she loves and reads over and over again the Captain Underpants and Dumb Bunnies collections and the Naughtiest Schoolgirl series by Enid Blyton?  I can see her fascination for books with a clear and fast-paced narrative and short, realistic dialogue.  She likes stories that are funny and entertaining, rather than overly descriptive or moralising. She's in that transitional space between picture books and teen fiction.  For the moment, if it keeps her reading enthusiastically, superficial is fine.  What I don't like are the contemporary tweenie books, particularly those for boys, which make a virtue of being the troublesome child and the under-achiever, and those which focus on grubby humour - all snot and spew.  I can see the motivation and the possible appeal to some children - many are immensely popular and written by well-regarded authors, but if I am to act as chief censor while I can, these are the ones to avoid. 


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