06 July 2012

+JMJ+

Reading Diary: Meet Molly: An American Girl by Valerie Tripp

Molly, Linda and Susan looked at each other and dissolved into giggles. It was crystal clear to them what Ricky's problem was. [He] had a crush on Dolores! The three girls started to chant:

"Ricky and Dolores up in a tree,
K-I-S-S-I-N-G!
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes Ricky with a baby carriage!"

Ricky threw the basketball at the girls. But they hopped up and out of the way, making loud, slurpy kissing noises. "Ricky has a crush!" they chanted. "Ricky loves Dolores!"

. . . Ricky jumped on his bike. As he sped past the girls he called, "You'll be sorry! You'll pay for this!"

Is there a more definitive way to say that a Philippine Literature Giveaway is over than to post an American Girl book review? If so, then let me know and I'll do it as soon as possible! LOL!

The last (and first) time I reviewed an American Girl story (See my Reading Diary entry for Meet Felicity!), I said that Meet Samantha would be next. And I really did have the second book all lined up . . . only to realise there was more to chew on in Meet Molly.

It seems appropriate that a children's story set during wartime would depict a mini "war" between three nine year old girls and a twelve year old boy who is brother to one of them. Predictably, the mother figure gets to set everything right and to teach everyone about peace, the father figure being away on war business. Yet as necessary as her moral intervention in the children's squabble is, her extrapolation of it to the greater conflict of World War II misses the mark by a mile . . .

"I suppose these tricks you've been playing on each other don't seem very serious to you. But they are mean, childish and wasteful. I'm disappointed in you, but more than that, I'm sad and discouraged. If we can't get along together, who can? . . .

. . . "This fighting
has to stop . . . This is exactly what starts wars--this meanness, anger and revenge. Two sides decide to get even and end up hurting each other. There's war and fighting enough in the world, and I won't have any more if it in our house . . ."

To Molly's mother, all fighting could be avoided if we just recognised that we are one big family--or at the very least, one big group of friends--and just try harder to get along. But while I see the appeal of such a view (because it presupposes peace as the natural state), I think that equating something as coldly destructive as war with the pettiness of a squabble between siblings is a huge mistake.

And I don't mean to be sexist or anything (Really!), but it seems that male writers tend to have a more accurate understanding of war. Let me now quote two men who actually experienced World War II.


a) Every war, when it comes or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.

b) All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. 

One of these quotes is from George Orwell, who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in part to combat the lies of Naziism. The other is Hermann Goering, a leading member of the Nazi party. I'm not telling you which man said which line . . . but the point is that it doesn't really matter. They are correct that war is a "patriotic" act of self-defense against an attacker perceived as "evil"--not merely the large-scale, bloody squabbles of basically good people who just can't get along. (But if I'm going to be fair, I must admit that at least one male writer--albeit one who did not live to comment on WWII--thought of war in both terms: in G.K. Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday, we have basically good "brothers in arms" who perceive each other as evil.)

Yes, there's a sense in which two sides decide "to get even." Joseph Goebbels, who was in charge of Nazi propaganda, insisted (and was able "to prove") that the Germans were fighting a defensive war. (All "ministers of propaganda," whatever they call themselves, are good at this. If your country happens to be at war and you happen to think it is perfectly justified, then I extend my compliments to your current minister.) But this sort of attempt to balance the scales is less about meanness and revenge than about a righteous desire to rid the world of "evil" without seeing any of the evil in oneself. This necessarily requires projecting all the evil onto another. Which is kind of what we did at a little place called Golgotha that you might have heard of . . . but now I digress.

I can see why such an understanding of war might be too complex or too dark for a children's story--especially one that was written to sell overpriced dolls. Yet is that really an excuse for dumbing things down for girls? (Of course, I really should review a modern "boy's book" to see if it actually gets any better in those . . .)

Image Sources: a) Meet Molly: An American Girl by Valerie Tripp, b) George Orwell, c) Hermann Goering

8 comments:

Jenny said...

You amuse me! I love how you can analyze a children's book. I remember looking through the catalogs with these American dolls. I liked them then but when they started making books and movies I was a little disgusted.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I discovered the dolls through the books (and later the movies), so I don't mind the multi-media marketing so much. As critical as I've been of the books on this blog, I do enjoy reading them. =) But I can see why someone who loved the dolls first would be really annoyed. It's all a bit too much, aye?

Fairday Morrow said...

I really don't know much about the whole American Dolls thing, except that my nieces were really into them. I think the parody between a war between children and a war between adults is interesting- either way it's silly and ultimately a waste of time. Glad I stopped by! Thanks : ) ~ Jess

mrsdarwin said...

My grandmother was Molly's age during WWII, so we've enjoyed reading the books and discussing that period with her.

I like your assessment of Molly's mother's tactics -- "Can't we all get along?" is actually never a winning technique in getting kids to settle down and stop arguing. Giving them all jobs to do does help, though, so Mom was on to something there.

I've never bought an American Girl doll because they cost a million dollars, but a kind friend gave us several so each girl could have one. The dolls have been rather loved, but in that respect they match every other toy in our house.

We did go to the American Girl store in NYC, and I was heartily disappointed. I'd hoped for something akin to a museum exploring each time period of the books, but instead it was simply a big merchandizing opportunity. It was disgusting, really.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Jess -- Thanks for your comment! =) "Parody" is definitely the right word for this set-up. We appreciate a good parody here ("Weird Al" Yankovic, anyone? LOL!), but in Valerie Tripp's case, it seems to be completely unintentional.

Mrs. Darwin -- My grandmother was around Molly's age during WWII as well, but she's not much of a storyteller. =S There are a couple of children's books by local writers that I tried to use as a springboard into deeper conversation and reminiscing with her, with very limited success. Oh, well!

Which American Girl dolls do your daughters have? =) It's too bad about that big store, though. =(

As as aside, what do you think of the Dear America books?

mrsdarwin said...

We now have Kit (missing some hair, and her arm needs to be reattached), Nellie (singed toe), Elizabeth, and an undetermined doll who came in a vaguely colonial dress but is neither Felicity nor Elizabeth. We've promised the girls we'll ship the dolls off to the Doll Hospital, but it hasn't taken on a great urgency yet.

I've only read a few Dear America books, but I've liked the ones I've seen.

amy said...

Ah Meet Molly... The books were part of the original marketing of the dolls (Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly) and came out simultaneous with them. The idea was to teach girls history though the stories and make history come alive with the dolls. And make some money too.

I was given Felicity and at a later date American Girl of Today. The dolls received a small beating... and will be serving a second generation in a few years. They are sturdy and well made. I lost interest in the company as they became more about girl power and marketing sales and less about history and stories. (Or maybe I outgrew them?)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I admit I love the yummy historical details in each story, even as I cringe a bit at the marketing tortilla they come wrapped up in. =P

It's good to hear that the dolls are so sturdy, though! They seem to be really expensive, so at least you get real value for your money. =)

The "Girl Power" angle was, I suppose, inevitable. =S The whole culture is tilting in that direction. A few months ago, someone asked me why I had stopped watching the Miss Universe pageant, when I had been so crazy about it as a kid. And I answered, surprising myself, "I lost interest when it stopped being about women's beauty and started being about women's empowerment."

I suppose there was already much to criticise about the original concept, but I personally found it more attractive than what we have now. Opposing opinions are welcome, of course! ;-)