So, unpopular opinion time: I hate Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I hate that the message of the story is that it’s totally fine and acceptable to make fun of and ostracize someone for being Different until you need them. People don’t need to be useful to be valuable. You don’t have to prove your worth to your friends.
This book is about two friends that do everything together. They enjoy each other’s company. Nugget is a minnow and Fang is a shark. Eventually, Nugget has to go to school, which separates the friends. (No idea why Fang doesn’t go to school too, even if a different, sharky one?) At school, Nugget learns that sharks are dangerous and untrustworthy and that he should be afraid of his friend. At first, Nugget defends sharks, but eventually he is convinced to abandon his friend Fang. Then there is a sequence of attempts by Fang to prove his love to Nugget, all in vain. Until Nugget and his classmates are caught in a fishing net, and only Fang’s giant teeth can save them. And now they all love Fang. Yaaay.
The reviews I’ve read of this book rave about the powerful message of “true friendship, peer pressure and non-judgement” which, yes, I love that message. This is not that book. Nugget caves to peer pressure to dump his friend and only comes around after Fang SAVES HIS LIFE. Fang is never threatening, in fact he goes out of his way to make himself smaller and demonstrate his good intentions. He is heart broken when Nugget dumps him for his new minnow friends. We don’t ever learn that judging is wrong, just that, in this case, the minnows were inaccurate in their judgement. Fang proves he is literally “one of the good ones”. Ugh.
The message is that FANG needs to change, to prove himself, needs to be less shark-like. And that does not even work. In the end, Fang is “forgiven” because it turns out to be useful for him to be a shark. It’s a gross message about erasing who you really are, and how to earn acceptability from the mainstream. I know this is a book for children, so some would say that I’m over-thinking the message. But when is it ever less important than in early childhood to teach that people have intrinsic worth for who they are, not what they can do for you? Children need clear messages, not stupid or easy ones. This book seems sweet but the real message is terrible and facile.
I will say that this is a beautifully illustrated and written book. The language dances, the pictures are colourful and fun. Up until the end, I hoped that they were going to have a message about how Nugget learned to be loyal, resist peer pressure and accept his friend for who he was. Nope. We learned that friendship is a constant battle to change yourself and prove that you are useful to have as a friend. It’s an ugly and transactional view. Ugh.
This is a book where I am glad the Squishies can’t read, since the pictures are very good but I don’t want them to absorb the message.