As well as my adoration for anything published by Persephone books and my annual binge on George Elliot, I do have some very low-brow tastes. I occasionally buy Grazia magazine. I have watched Take Me Out. I always reach for the magazine of any weekend paper before reading the news. So I tried to show Dulcie a bit of sympathy in the library this week when she picked a book that frankly appalled me.
The library is a dangerous place yet we are drawn there at least twice a week. I find it financially draining, as I break my resolve to take out one book at a time and leave with armfuls, which I obviously can’t read within the allotted time and end up with nasty fines. Himself the Elf can make anywhere dangerous. He pulls and wobbles and is drawn to sharp corners on tables and unstable chairs. He has learnt this week to throw. Not just letting go of things or flinging them, but to properly HURL. It fills him with glee and he winds himself up into a frenzy of exhilaration, and of course, the library provides many, many missiles. I find shelves empty faster than I can refill them and order is swiftly, and loudly, replaced with chaos as he ricochets around, hands always busy.
Strangely, I find this easier to cope with than the dangers the library presents for Dulcie, who cannot resist the carousels of DVDs which we are not getting out, we are just here to look at books, yes, you may look at the DVD cases, and yes, I know they have Barbie and the Magic of the Crystal Rainbow Castle or whatever it is you are clutching but we are not getting it. Because I haven’t got any money with me. Well, yes, obviously I have some money with me because yes, we did get change in the supermarket, you’re right, but it isn’t for taking out DVDs etc. etc.
So in light of the constant film refusals and the occasional tears that are shed as a consequence, I always try to be as accepting as possible when she suggests books, however dreadful I think they look. Which brings me to Nina Fairy Ballerina: New Girl. Or That God-awful Book Dulcie Got From the Library, to give it the full title.
Nina Fairy Ballerina: New Girl by Anna Wilson
It appears from the cover of this, that a publisher has decided to create a franchise by shoving as many terms that are pleasing to little girls as possible onto a pink cover with sparkly writing, and hoping for the best, rather than deciding on a plot or an original idea or anything that makes for a pleasing reading experience. I’m just amazed that the hapless Nina isn’t a princess pony fairy ballerina, but maybe that’s the sequel or a spin off. Nina’s Pony Princess. Quick, call Macmillan who have published this dross and see if they’d like to commission me to write it.
We open with poor, glum Nina moping around because she hasn’t got into the Royal Academy of Fairy Ballet, shoe-horning in some references to her setting her dandelion clock for 6am and introducing some of her fairy friends, who appear for one page and then are never heard of again. But, what is this? Ah, it is a plot twist so transparent that my three year old was able to predict what was coming. ‘But Nina does get to go to the ballet school, doesn’t she?’ Yes, my sweet. Of course she does. What other possible outcome could there be? Nina is now happy and is going to go shopping. Long live feminism!
There follows page upon excruciating page of shopping for her school uniform, which is all tutus and performance dresses and beribboned ballet shoes. There’s a small, half-hearted effort by the author to create a semblance of credible fairy land, where fairies travel by dragonfly because of congestion and there are stations called things like Hornbeamster Central, but one gets the feeling she’d seen the success of Harry Potter and was trying to grab herself a bit of the action, without actually trying to come up with a) a new idea or b) executing the rip-off with any more effort than I’d put in to blowing my nose. We are supposed to be interested or amused or something by the bickering between Nina and her little sister Poppy, who – please, hold your sides, ladies and gentlemen – called each other ‘Meanie’ and ‘Soppy’ (I know! It must have taken simply ages to come up with such witty word play!), yet I found myself constantly wondering why Nina’s younger sister was hanging round with her on her first day at a new boarding school and why none of the teachers found it strange.
However, I digress. This book is so undeniably terrible that it almost feels unfair to critique it. I suspect Dulcie persisted in having all 70 of the dreadful, cliché-drenched pages read to her to save face because she didn’t once object to the book being stopped. I know that we are supposed to encourage our children to read anything to reinforce the idea that books are ‘good’ and that reading is always, always desirable. But do you know what? If this is what is being read, then I genuinely believe watching something decent on CBeebies is far more beneficial. This sort of inane rubbish makes a mockery of the joys of reading and losing yourself in a beautifully created world. This is lazy and unforgivable. It is a waste of paper. And to add insult to injury, I’ve just discovered that there are hundreds of the blasted things in the series, plus merchandise.
Here you go, Himself the Elf. Here’s one book that is only suitable for chucking across a room. Give it your best shot.