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Ever After High and musings about the licensing of children’s books

Posted on Jun 9, 2014

While I would not call myself a complete snob when it comes to TV/Film tie-ins, I would say that I definitely avoid them.  Yet, I have never stopped my children from reading them, particularly picturebooks linked to children’s series. Even though their interest in them is often time-limited (lots of interest for a short time, then not interest at all after a while when they have moved on to another TV programme), reading is reading and I am not one to curb that type of enthusiasm.

However, something interesting happened in the Library Mice household, instigated by me, and it has mad me think about the power of TV tie-ins.
My children get two “special” bundles of books a year, on Christmas Eve, and at Easter. At Christmas, they always get a classic, and some other books. At Easter, they always get a comic and some other books. Now, I am a big fan of Shannon Hale. I  loved Princess Academy so much I have just used it as for an essay for my MA. So when I realised she had written a middle grade series set in a fairy tale world, I knew I had found a winner for my daughter’s Christmas bundle.
The series follows the adventures of the offspring of fairy tale characters who all go to the same boarding school where they prepare to fulfill their destinies as the next generation’s Cinderella, Snow White etc. But there is rebellion amongst the ranks, particularly from Raven, daughter of the Evil Queen, who is not happy about following her mother’s footsteps.

storybook-smSo I bought Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends.
Even though I was not enamoured with the book cover.
Even though it reminded me too much of Monster High, which I loathe.
But come on, it IS Shannon Hale, so it had to be good.

So my daughter read it a few weeks ago. She loved it. She really loved it, and I have bought her the second one, Ever After High: The Unfairest of Them All, which she is reading already.

And then, we made the discovery that Ever After High was a franchise from Mattel (which I should not bash too much as they put bread on my table for many years, as my mother was a Mattel rep in a department store).  But that means dolls. Dolls that look a lot like Monster High dolls (ha!). Dolls with make-up, big hair and small waists. I was a bit cross with myself, and Shannon Hale to be honest (sorry Shannon, if you are reading this). I used Princess Academy for my essay on feminism, and now this!

© Szklanooka

© Szklanooka

And not only dolls, but a whole website, with videos, a shop and lots of stuff.

everafterhigh_web

Of course, you know what happened next. My daughter started to ask for a doll. E-ve-ry-day. Aaaaargh!!!!

But last night it was just the two of us and as we could not read  the book I have been reading to her and her brother as he wasn’t there, she asked if I would read a chapter of her Ever After High book to her instead. So I did. And it was lovely. Because Shannon Hale wrote it. Because she is a thoughtful, eloquent writer. And though I still object to the way the girls look, there is plenty of positive female imagery and behaviour in the stories. We watched a couple of youtube videos together; we had just read about the food fight, so we chose that one:

And no, I still don’t like the whole franchise.  But we discovered it in a skewed way, in a way. We read the books first, then discovered the dolls. For most little girls, it will be the other way round. They will know about the dolls and all the other media stuff first, and hopefully this will encourage them to pick up the books. And if this means they get exposed to Shannon Hale’s writing, and later on seek out her books for older readers, then I think this is no bad thing really. Actually, it is a great thing. Whatever path children use to find their way  into reading should be ok with us. It IS ok with us. Being skeptic and snobbish about books is so counter-productive. I should know better. I DO know better.
So I have made my peace with it all. And it is likely she will even get a doll, eventually. And in case you are interested, it is Raven my daughter wants to be. Because she is a rebel. Though the irony that she is daughter of the Evil Queen is not lost on my husband *sigh*

You can read Shannon Hale’s account of her involvement with Ever After High here as well as a Publishers Weekly article on the partnership here.

 

Source: Miss R’s copies of the books.

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8 Comments

  1. This has put a big smile on my face!!

    • Library Mice

      LOL it wouldn’t be thinking about me as the Evil Queen by any chance, would it?

  2. Great post! I have often looked at these books thinking that Mollie ,and some of the kids from my book group, would love them. But, not knowing Shannon Hale’s work, I judged them on the covers and merchandise and assumed they would be rubbish. You’ve changed my mind and squashed down my inner book snob. Thank you!! I’m going to investigate!

    • Library Mice

      Thank you Carmen. Shannon Hale is really worth discovering!

  3. An interesting post. I’ve long thought that the aversion many grown-ups have towards toy and TV tie-ins can sometimes have a detrimental effect on children’s literacy. It’s a subject I touched upon in my ‘Cool not Cute’ essay on boys’ literacy (bit.ly/1kSayOn). Here’s a couple of paragraphs from page 23.

    “I mentioned earlier that I thought the exclusion of Power Rangers books from schools was a missed opportunity for encouraging some boys to read. When my own son started reading the first books he read on his own were Bionicle novels, spin-offs from the Lego action figures that he was fanatically collecting at the time. I feel indebted to these books, but many schools would not be comfortable offering children books that are directly tied to a toy in this way. Some parents might also object on the grounds that reading the book might result in the child pestering them for the toy. The same objection would not be applied to Angelina Ballerina, but there are currently 77 Angelina Ballerina products listed in Amazon’s toys and games section, including play sets, dolls and costumes and 90 Angelina Ballerina DVDs. The distinction many adults would make is that the Angelina Ballerina books came before the toys and DVDs. However, few children will be aware of this distinction. A child who has read and enjoyed an Angelina Ballerina book is just as likely to want an Angelina Ballerina toy or DVD as a child that reads a Bionicle book is likely to want other Bionicle merchandise.

    The point is, if a book engages a child’s enthusiasm, they are more likely to want to read it and at the moment TV shows, films and toys engage many boys’ enthusiasms more effectively than picture books do. Some of these spin-off books are poorly written and illustrated in comparison to conventional picture books, but a child’s reading skill is more likely to develop reading a poorly written book from cover to cover than no book at all. And if the picture book industry is prepared to engage with these enthusiasms, this will only have to be a short term fix.”

    As the late, great Maya Angelou once stated, “any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

    • Library Mice

      HI Jonathan, thank you for commenting and yes, I agree. My son LOVES comics and the first comics he read were Ben 10 comics. I love comics too and the first ones I read independently were TV spin-offs from a Japanese animé called Candy, Candy (there is also a manga of this but mine was a westernised version)!

  4. Really interesting post! My grudge against tie-in books – having had to read far too many as a parent – was that they were usually poorly written. You couldn’t help feeling that the toy/TV/film company knew perfectly well that the book would be bought anyway, because the child would see a much-loved character and demand the book, and so they didn’t care about the quality of the text. Which was bad news for the poor parent reading it, and a betrayal of the child too.

    So a really top-notch writer creating a great text – brilliant! Just hope it’s a trend, because as Jonathan says, tie-in books are an important entry into reading for so many children.

    • Library Mice

      Hi Emma, I agree. I remember particularly some dire Engie Benjy picturebooks! But it is thankfully a short-ish phase and hopefully nonetheless a way into reading other things. I think Mattel has definitely paid their cards right there, and I do hope too it is the beginning of a trend too.

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