First Grandma reads to kids

“First Grandma” Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, read children’s books at at an event outside the Department of Education building.

On Twitter, Greg Toppo points out that one of her choices was  The Rainbow Fish, which features a beautiful fish that has no friends till it gives away all its rainbow scales.

Imagine Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cutting off his nose to suck up to the other reindeer, instead of waiting for a chance to shine.
An Amazon reader/reviewer writes:

Sharing is one thing, but when you have to give away the one thing that makes you unique in order to cultivate friends suggests that the only way friendship can be had is through purchase. The little fish asks a second time for a scale, even though he was refused the first time after which he alienated all the other fish from rainbow fish. What does the story say about small (minded, greedy) people who want what another has and when they don’t get it they go around poisoning everyones’ minds against the person?

Another reader says her preschooler is just learning to say “no” to other children who want what he’s got.  She doesn’t want him growing up to be a wimp.

Of course, the book is supposed to be about sharing and inner beauty.

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  1. I know a lot of parents who really loathe “Rainbow Fish.” And yeah, it does seem to suggest that people should give away what is precious to them until they have none of it left for themselves.

    I also know other parents who love “Rainbow Fish” and think it has “Such an important message!”

  2. What about “The Rainbow Fish” just being a neat book to read? It could have just been a family favorite that she was sharing. You know, I don’t really think “Give a Mouse a Cookie” teaches very good lessons, but it’s still pretty fun to read! Must we analyze everything to the point of being able to enjoy nothing? And isn’t any enthusiasm for reading around small children a good thing?

  3. Clearly the scales represented stuff and not time, right? 🙂

  4. “Give a Mouse a Cookie” teaches you not to give cookies to rodents.:-) Or perhaps to not let people walk over you as you will regret it later. Seem to be good messages to me. Some books have good messages. Some are harmless fun. Some have discomforting messages that some parents may choose not to read to their kids. I haven’t read “Rainbow Fish” so I will reserve judgment for now.

  5. MTheads says:

    I cannot stand that book or “The Giving Tree”. Though I have read both books to my kids when they asked me to. Now that’s real love. I do tend to read the books in a sarcastic tone with little asides, however.

  6. I also dislike “Rainbow Fish” and can’t stand “The Giving Tree” but read them to my students because they’re considered classics. We always talked about them afterwards, however, and that is, I think, the real lesson for those of us who have or work with children: the importance of conversation with them, discussion about the books we read to them, the things they watch on TV, the friends they choose, and so on and so on and so on.

  7. If you analyzed all the messages in all of the children’s books, some would surely be offensive. Have you ever read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales? They’re quite a bit different than the “Disney” versions.

    I remember the Dr. Seuss books from childhood such as the one about the Star-Bellied Sneetches and the Butter Battle Book. The Butter Battle Book is extremely political.

    Still, I have read nearly all of Dr. Seuss’ books to the kids. They’re fun. Well…except for the Butter Battle Book. It has quite a serious ending that puts a damper on the fun.

  8. While I can agree with MTheads’ comment on The Giving Tree (no one should basically kill themselves for somebody else), my impression of The Rainbow Fish is that the fish was stuck-up and vain, and thought he was better than the other fish because of something superficial. I see more of that around kids (saying they’re better because they have the latest gadget/toy/whatever) than any sort of rampant, de-individualizing plague of sharing. Unlike Rudolph, the fish didn’t get any use out of the scales, except to make itself feel more important (which I’d argue is a false importance, if the scales are themselves only decoration).

    I guess you took something different from the book, but that’s what I got.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    As I recall the Butter Battle Book, the metaphorical conflict was trivialized to which side of the bread should have butter. Planted axiom was that the Cold War was just as silly.
    Dumb book.
    I don’t recall the end. Did anybody get hurt?
    And The Lorax had a green message which, like John Muir’s message, ignored the fact that somebody was going to use these resources. Build a house. Build a boat.

  10. What really happens is that the Rainbow Fish gives up his scales, and 50% of them are kept as commission by Obama & his friends, who then feel very virtuous because of all the scales (the remaining 50%) that they “give” to the other little fish.

    And once the scales from the Rainbow Fish are all gone, Obama and his friends denounce him for not having provided *more*, and turn him over to a fisherman, since he is of no further use to them.

  11. How wonderful that she is showing how important reading is. I love books that are warm and heartfelt and have a lesson to teach. She is a great role model. It is not often that you hear about First Grandmas.

  12. Sharon R. says:

    Ooooh, I hate that book! Someone gave it to my oldest when he was 3 or 4. It looked beautiful, and I’d seen it around among “good children’s books” and read it aloud without reading it myself first. After that, it disappeared into the depths of the shelf, never to be voluntarily (by me) extracted. I know it’s trying to do the “We should share our wealth with everyone” message, but to me, its message was: Don’t excel at anything, or everyone will just hate you. You should be just as boring as everyone else and never make anyone jealous. Not the lesson I want to be giving a bright preschooler (who thankfully didn’t get it).

  13. Bill Leonard says:

    Sharon R., you are quite right. The sad fact is, there are any number of collectivists, particularly among the ranks of pre-school and elementary school teachers, who think this particular fishy tome is just wonderful.

    I could make many additional comments, but I will only say that, subjectively, I have met several elementary school teachers, including somewhat distant nieces in my own family, and none of them — none! — have ever had to actually work for a living or achieve much of anything else on their own. (That of course speaks to the “education” curriculum offered in colleges and universities these days. From what I have seen, sadly, our best and brightest are never, ever, teaching in the elementary grades.)


  14. CharterMom says:

    Well, I’m a bit late to the party here but while I always felt that “Rainbow Fish” was too PC and over the top, I didn’t find it totally offensive like some here. My kids and I both love “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. It was just a funny, entertaining book about unexpected consequences. But the book I absolutely hated was Leo Lionni’s “Frederick”.