Jun 2, 2011

#TheList, No. 171: The Ugly Duckling

This weekend is the concert pairing of my lifetime: NKOTBSB, which I realize loosely translates to New Kids on the Backstreet Boys.  I've been obsessed with the New Kids since I was 2 and, after a brief fling with Hanson, proclaimed the BSB to be my second favorite boyband at age 10.  I've kept these loves strong.  Only Harry Potter and B.Spears give them any competition. 
So in honor of this blast from the past (although technically the New Kids have been back now since 2008 and contrary to popular belief, the BSB have never left), I thought I'd write about my favorite book from childhood.  Unfortunately, I knew that the Ultimate Visual Dictionary would not be on The List.  No lie, that was my favorite.  Ask my Mom if you don't believe me. 

Seriously, one of my favorite
 books ever.
So then I scanned The List for some other favorites and found NOTHING.  Cam Jansen? Not there.  Nancy Drew? Nope, but the Hardy Boys are included which I find sexist and I'll complain about that by the time I get to that entry.  Chika Chika Boom Boom?  Nowhere near The List, which is super upsetting because man is that one catchy.  Becoming increasingly frustrated, I decided to put the frustration to good use and rant about one I hate, which will provide me just as much delight as talking about one I love. 

The Ugly Duckling is HORRIFYING.  It's another one of those stories where people know the basic premise and the "lesson," but don't actually know the inbetween.  So yeah, there's a duck, it's ugly, but it grows up to be a beautiful swan.  No.  No, no, no, no, and no.

First of all, there's the obvious problem of perpetuating the idea that you have to be beautiful to be happy.  Wrong.  I was fairly hideous in high school, but for the most part I still had a blast.  So already the "lesson" that you can suffer and be ugly, but it'll be worth it because one day you'll be pretty, is horrific.  Sorry kids, some people stay ugly.  Plus, who is this "lesson" actually for?  Like Aunt Becky says in that episode of "Full House" where DJ's afraid to be ugly in school (which could be the plot for multiple episodes of that show, all of which are clearly perfect), you're only supposed to use this story if you're talking about another kid.  No kid wants to hear that they're ugly right now.  That's not going to help. 

He's still ugly, so he's sad.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for telling kids about the cruelties of life, kind of like how in "The Golden Girls" Dorothy and Sophia admit they like to pop kids' balloons to teach them such things, but this book is just gross.  It negates all the bad things that happen to the duck by basically saying it's okay that they happened, because now he's pretty!  If the message was more along the lines of bad things happen to the duck because the world can sometimes be a horrible place, then I could maybe get on board.  But bad things only happen to him because he's ugly, and that's just not cool.  So there's really nothing inside this book, aside from the general message people for some reason remember fondly (suffer silently and you'll be smokin' one day), that merits this as one of the greatest books kids should read...unless they're being asked to explain why the message sucks.  

So here's what else grosses me out in the book:

-The mother introduces her ducklings to others by basically saying "aren't they pretty" because there's nothing else about them that's worth mentioning.  Probably because they're little jerkoffs.  See next complaint.
-His brothers and sisters chase him around and openly hope that the cat eats him.  So steer clear of this story if you're planning on giving your only child a new baby brother or sister; you'll give the kid the wrong idea... unless you're a fan of survival of the fittest.  Then by all means, read this story to your kid all the time. 

-The girl who feeds the animals kicks the ugly duckling.  Now that's just mean.

-The book has a kind of odd quest for the perfect race vibe to it.  Once he runs away from his abusive family, our ugly friend meets some wild ducks who allow him to hang out with them despite his hideousness, "so long as you don't want to marry into our family."  How thoughtful. 

-The poor duck finally makes some geese friends and then they're shot right in front of him because really,  he hasn't suffered quite enough yet.  Post traumatic stress disorder anyone?

-"This story would be too sad if I told you all the duckling had to suffer"  Really?  Because unless it lived out an episode of "Law & Order SVU," I don't think that it's possible to make the story any sadder. 

One of the few things, actually, the only thing I like about this book is in the beginning when the mother complains that their father is a "'scoundrel...who never comes to see [her].'"  Yay progressive single mother-ness! 
And to make me feel more cheerful:

Andersen, H.C.  The Ugly Duckling.  (1989).  Bell, A. (Trans.), Marks, A. (Illus.).  MA: Picture Book Studio.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the moral of the Ugly Duckling was that you shouldn't worry if you don't quite fit in, because even though it might take a depressingly long time, you'll eventually find friends who understand you completely.

    What's progressive about not caring if your kids never see their dad?

    And finally, if you thought this was miserable, wait till you get to The Little Mermaid. Unless The Steadfast Tin Soldier is somewhere lower down the list?