My Gripe with the Pink One

I took aim at my familiar punching bag, Strawberry Shortcake, recently. And I got to thinking (which is, by the way, one of those useful phrases that actually captures the way the mind works): what's the problem? Why does she stand in for everything I detest in children's books? What's the big deal?

Here's what I think: the books are horrible. Truly awful. Written, as my sister told me, "as though the author  was both drunk and lobotomized." And maybe I could deal with that on its own. I mean, no one's going to want to read them ever, but does it make them evil? Of course not.

What makes them evil is that the sickly sweetness masks the agenda: Be nice. Be sweet. Conform. Obey. Silence yourself. Stick with the herd. Be nice. Be sweet….

I don't sound paranoid, do I?

The one that really pushed me over the edge was this:

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Spoiler alert: I am totally going to tell you how this ends.

So here's the gist of it: Blueberry Muffin comes along to Strawberry Shortcake's fiefdom, and wants to say thanks to everyone for how welcome they're making her feel! She's going to have a party! Or a picnic! Or something! I forget what! And I surreptitiously threw this book away years ago because it was casting a toxic miasma over my house!

But Ginger Snap feels left out! Oh no! And then when the party happens, she walks out and no one notices! Which makes her feel like crap! And in her heart, she turns against Blueberry Muffin! And you can't have any negative feelings in Strawberry Shortcake Land! Even internally! Stop it right now!

See, here's where it got especially creepy for me. Because Strawberry Shortcake (or SS as we'll now call her—see how it's all there, hidden beneath the surface?) basically shames Ginger Snap: we must always be sweet! You're sorry, aren't you? I know you are—you must be sorry! We must ignore our true feelings! Besides, look at Blueberry Muffin's bell bottoms, she is way cooler than you are! So toe the line or you're done for! (I'm exploring the subtext here.)

And by the end, Ginger Snap is doing what everyone else does! She apologizes! And Blueberry Muffin and she will now be friends! And not only that, but she regrets ever having had the temerity to act any other way! She was so wrong, SS! She'll only be nice now, for ever and ever!

Don't get me wrong: If anyone new ever moves into my Adorable Baked Goods Valley, where I live, I would very much want people to be kind and welcoming. And if the new baked good was cooler and more well-liked than my kids, who were just ginger snaps (and who likes those? And then there's the whole racial subtext, because just like Scary Spice, Ginger Snap is not white, therefore different, and somehow that is part of it), I would hope that everyone would get over it and still be welcoming. But this book? It's insidious, SS's wide adorable face is this perfect representation of forced docility, the pattern of happy smiling obedience that our culture prizes in its female population. SS practices the false niceness of the mean girls in 7th grade: "We're just trying to help you, God. Don't you see that if you: didn't act so weird/weren't so different/would smile more/dressed normally,  we would like you then? God!"

Gee, I sound totally crazy. Ah well. There you go. I hate these books. I hate them I hate them I hate them. Whether it's logical or not.

At least they have some inclusiveness with Huckleberry Pie, who appears to be the gay best friend. But even that seems cliché, and faceless, and authoritarian. Strawberry Shortcake: I am so glad you are out of my life.

11 thoughts on “My Gripe with the Pink One

  1. This is how I feel about the scourge that is the Berenstain Bears. Happily SS has not made much of an impression on our household so far.

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  2. We’ve yet to read a SS book, but her cooking video has gained control of the TV. Mind you, I have a 3 year old and was thrilled to say goodbye to the Bears for a few days. At first, the sweetness was beyond annoying, but I do like that one of the girls loves science and inventing things and the foster independence. Mind you, I think the sharing/caring/zombie message works great for the preschool set, not so much for mean girl preteens.

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  3. I think at the root of the SS evil is also that (I’m pretty sure) she began as a doll THEN became a book character… she and her cohorts were created by committee – do you remember the TV ads (from around 1983)- “Strawberry Shortcake, my you’re looking swell, sweet little doll with a strawberry smell”. Yuck. She’s a product, not a character.

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  4. Funny, I read the Beatrix Potter post and thought, “Drat! How did I miss reading these to my kids?” (Well, we did read Peter Rabbit, but I don’t believe we read any others.)
    Now I read this post and think, “Hallelujah! I missed reading these to my kids!”
    Somehow, dear SS never crossed our threshhold, tho the scourge of those Bears certainly did, as well as various television characters who managed to make their way to the written page. Despite what one might think of the televised Bob the Builder or Clifford or or or, the books are just plain painful…

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  5. I’ve never read these (though I have a one-year-old daughter so they may infiltrate our house some day–now I’m on my guard). I love your hate of them, though. This post is a great combination of well-reasoned support for your dislike, plus the acknowledgement that sometimes things just really, really, really rub us the wrong way.
    We haven’t had enough Berenstein Bears around for me to really form a deep loathing, but I certainly don’t like them. The funny thing is that I can remember reading them as a kid and finding them comforting. I have to keep learning and relearning it, but it’s endlessly fascinating and confusing to realize how differently kids things perceive things from adults. So that’s the good news–that with the books we really hate, the kids might really take home a totally different message or experience.
    I agree, though, that any book written about some previously conceived commercial product is not likely to win any Caldecott awards.

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  6. Ha. I completely remember the Strawberry Shortcake jingle quoted above. Perhaps not surprising as my bedroom was decorated with a Strawberry Shortcake theme during that period.

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  7. I haven’t read these books (thank goodness). I’m just curious to know if you can recommend some books that are the antithesis of the SS books. Books about not conforming, or thinking for yourself, etc. I have an almost 3 year old who LOVES to be read to, and likes girly stuff – I’m running out of options.

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  8. I actually loved Strawberry as a kid. I watched the show, had the dolls, loved the books and I spent a great deal of time pretending to be Strawberry. And I don’t know, I get what you’re saying, but I also sorta think that it’s okay to teach kids that they need to act nice when they don’t feel nice. I was expected to say thank you for presents I hated and I’m so glad you came to guests I hated, it’s good manners. I never got the message that you weren’t allowed to feel negative, just that you weren’t supposed to act negative.
    Although, it was much better when it had the Mad Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak.

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  9. There is a sense in some of those books that I have had a smile stapled to my face, and the exclamation points just drive the point home so well. I don’t really care about the Bears, and we have a few of their books but don’t feel strongly about them. I remember SS, but mostly the way the doll smelled and her silky, plasticky hair; like Rainbow Brite, she was a coveted toy that was kind of a book too, because why not?
    It’s true that every single thing we read is not going to sear its subliminal messages into our brains forever. But when you picture the kind of person you want to be (or, if I may, the kind of woman you want to be), where do those images spring from? Unless I’m one of a kind, I’m guessing that some, even a lot, of them come from books you read, shows you watched, even billboards that told you in one way or another how to be. And I’m a little scared of books that tell kids how to be, with all happiness and exclamation points.

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  10. It’s true, it’s true, that they will watch/see/consume all sorts of horrifying and wonderful messages, and you just have to hope for the best. I guess it’s just that I hate having to be the narrative voice (these were definitely read aloud). And while I believe strongly in manners, I swear this wasn’t about behavior, it was about YOU MUST NOT FEEL THIS WAY. STOP IT RIGHT NOW! But it’s true: I don’t have any real right to loathe them, it’s a purely gut reaction.

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