We have been absent, far away on a family vacation that, in a surprise turn, included an interesting four-year-old gentleman and his charming seven-year-old sister, my nephew and niece.
It's always a bit astonishing to revisit ages your own children have left behind. It's vaguely familiar, though a bit different, of course, with different people. It's far more work than you can quite imagine doing anymore, if you're me.
And then there are the books.
The young gentleman was a forceful stubborn sort of person, and sometimes it was imperative to do what one could to bring him to a more restful, congenial state of mind. How I do this—for myself, as well as everyone else—is with books.
We went through Pinocchio, The Foot Book, and a host of others, while I craftily tried to make sure one book in particular always ended up on the bottom of the pile.
It couldn't last forever.
Eventually, he spotted it. And then, with large and adorable pleading eyes, he maintained "I really, really want to read this one." I'd learned (or at least I thought I'd learned) my lesson about sneering at sweet, benign children's books. How bad could it be?
This is how I ended up reading the Care Bears book.
Which Care Bears book? I have no idea. Mercifully the title has vanished from my memory. But the experience has not. It started with the fly leaf, on which each Care Bear is…defined? Described? Their tummy pictures are decoded. Their redundancies are not addressed (aren't Tenderheart Bear and Love-a-lot Bear essentially the same? Also Funshine Bear and Cheer Bear? They're the same!).
There were many questions: What's on Birthday Bear's tummy? (For those who need to know: a cupcake.) What is Grumpy Bear doing? (Uh, thinking? Maybe?) Which one is your favorite? (No comment.)
Then we began to read. And it was SO MUCH WORSE than thought it would be. The forcefully expressed Main Point: You must FEEL YOUR FEELINGS. The cloying action: Funshine Bear slid off a cloud and said…. The creepy rules of their kingdom: The Caretaker. I mean, WHAT is the Caretaker? Am I alone in thinking that sounds like the title of a Stephen King novel? Why and how does he control the bears? Branded forever on my poor old brain is this creepy page: The Caretaker took a break from polishing a rainbow and said, "Care Bears, you're needed!"
And now we have come to my sin: I read the whole book in the Voice. You know, the ironic can-you-believe-this-saccharine-crap voice. And I could. not. stop.
I really couldn't. I tried! Really. I would look at this very nice little boy, who, you know, believed in some essential way in this message, and I tried to go back to just reading aloud. But then I would get to "Sally said, 'Kevin, you have to FEEL your FEELINGS," and I would just start snarking away again. There seemed to be no other option.
So here's the challenge. YOU try it. You read a full-length, no joking around for real Care Bears book ALL THE WAY THROUGH. And YOU see if you can do it without using the nicey-nice sarcastic voice. I don't think it is humanly possible.*
There is one nice and yet disturbing thing: he didn't seem to notice. At all. Which makes me wonder: is it possible that they are written to be read in this tone? That it's all some kind of meta-scam? Maybe the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson is in there with a bottle of tequila and a shotgun turning these out?
* I am aware that a gratifying number of you are librarians, and no doubt you read this sort of thing snark-free every day. Which more or less means that I'm just a bad person. Alas.