Why I Don’t Hate the Rainbow Fairies

Fairyland is home to seven colorful sisters. Together, they are the Rainbow Fairies! They keep Fairyland dazzling and bright. But when evil Jack Frost sends them far away, the sisters are in big trouble. If they don’t return soon, Fairyland is doomed to be gray forever!      (blurb for the first series-of-7, The Rainbow Fairies)

The Rainbow Magic books are an addictive, seemingly endless series of early chapter books, written to a precise and repetitive formula, and certain to drive parents up the wall. Amazingly bland and devoid of character development – the two heroines are interchangeable – this franchise should incur my wrath and derision. And it did, at first.

My daughter loves fairies, and once she received 3 of these books for her 5th birthday (is it really only 9 months ago? it seems a lifetime) she was quickly sucked into their world. For a while all she wanted to hear were those books, and she is still nutty for them, though now only in spurts. I read them, carefully hiding my utter boredom, book after book after book. We scanned library shelves for them, we picked them up at yard sales, we had mother friends press second-hand copies on us. (“I just want these out of my house!” they’d whisper to me.) We even play-acted the stories in the playground. We invented new versions of them, directed by my daughter, who carefully adhered to all the conventions and restrictions of the formula. (“No, mommy. The first plan never works. The second plan does.”)

So… Rainbow Magic books? I’ve been living eating sleeping and breathing Rainbow Magic books this year. I should hate them. But I don’t.

The basics: Aimed at girls aged 5-9, these books were introduced in the UK in 2003 by Orchard Books and Hit Entertainment, written by a stable of writers under the pseudonym Daisy Meadows. They quickly became a phenomenon and since 2003 over 100 titles have been published. They are distributed in North America by Scholastic Books, whose long arm reaches into classrooms everywhere. In 2010 Rainbow Magic books were the “most borrowed” books in British libraries.

Each book is 60-70 pages long, with frequent black and white illustrations peppered through 6 short chapters. The books are grouped into sets of 7. In each set, Jack Frost and his naughty goblins have stolen 7 magic items from Fairyland, and best friends Rachel and Kirsty must help the fairies retrieve them before the end of the week, when (spring, summer, Christmas, whatever) vacation is over. In each individual book the two girls successfully locate one of the items. The books can be read as stand-alones, kind of, but very clearly refer to the larger, 7-book plot.

The series that started it all was the Rainbow Fairy series, which led to many, many variations on the formula:

Weather Fairies, Party Fairies, Jewel Fairies, Pet Fairies, Fun Day Fairies, Petal Fairies, Dance Fairies, Sporty Fairies, Music Fairies, Magical Animal Fairies, Green Fairies, Ocean Fairies, Twilight Fairies, Showtime Fairies, Princess Fairies, Pop Star Fairies, and so forth. (Thanks to wikipedia for the exhaustive list.)

Besides the 7-book series, there are also Special Editions – longer, 3-in-1 books that contain entire, complete adventures. (Holly the Christmas Fairy, Shannon the Ocean Fairy, Kylie the Carnival Fairy, Joy the Summer Vacation Fairy, Trixie the Hallowe’en Fairy, etc etc. Look for these if you don’t want to get trapped into buying seven books at a time.)

Reasons to dislike:

Repetitive, inelegantly written. No, make that badly written. Formulaic, predictable… did I mention repetitive? Unduly obsessed with what each fairy is wearing. Bland characters devoid of personality. Boring (to us). One book leads to whole series, which leads to another series, and another…

Reasons to like:

1. Kids love them. They may be junk-food reading, but they can be a perfect introduction to chapter books for some children. The stories move quickly, catch the listener’s interest, and keep them involved.

2…. and what they love, they will want to read themselves. My daughter loves these books so much she was moved to actually read one by herself – over many nights, very slowly, and with my help, but she did it! Her very first chapter book. That accomplishment had her walking on air for days.

3. Conflict-free zone. While the books do have a plot, of sorts, it’s the kind of non-threatening, vague stakes plot that can really appeal to younger children. The villains are more laughable than scary. Jack Frost only appears once in a while, and though he may seem threatening, he never does much, and always displays the most childlike traits of neediness, jealousy, petulance, and short attention span. The ‘confrontations’ between heroines and goblins are amazingly threat-free non-events. This is what can drive older readers nuts, we find the stories so dull, but they are at a perfect pitch for those younger children for whom physical threat/violence/hatred/spite/evil are just too unsettling.

4. Niceness. Wall to wall niceness. And that suits some kids perfectly. How many girl best friends can you think of in books or films who never fight or argue, who never even disagree on the smallest detail? Here the two girls and the fairies work together and never bicker or trash talk each other. Apart from the goblins, who are mean, I can’t think of any character who acts in a less than nice way, except when under a magic spell.

5. Age-appropriate. This is a Smartass-Free Zone! The lack of irony, wise guy remarks, sarcasm, teasing, belittling, bullying, trendy slang, current catchphrases, pop culture references and the like makes these books a really comfortable place for preschoolers on the cusp of sharper-edged culture. (NB. the goblins indulge in a little name-calling amongst themselves, but it’s pretty tame.) There is currently a downward pressure on reading age, with increased educational curriculum in daycares plus increased emphasis on kindergarten learning (longer days, earlier testing), and earlier and earlier educational materials in the home (lapware for babies!?). As a result, many children are reading earlier, but they are reading material that was originally written for children with older tastes.

An example: my daughter loves books at the chapter book level, but isn’t always keen on their content. One terrific series, Ivy and Bean, is right at her level comprehension-wise, but the world-weary (dare I say slacker) attitudes of the characters left her bewildered and uninterested. Ivy and Bean, after all, are 8ish. My daughter is 5. They have different views of the world. (I expect we will return to Ivy and Bean in a year or two and fully enjoy them.)

6. No merchandise hard-sell. Apart from the plethora of books, with series proliferating like frenzied bunnies, I have yet to encounter any non-book rainbow fairy merchandise in stores! How rare is that? This may be due to my being in Canada, perhaps Rainbow Fairy product is more visible in the UK. The official website does have a store, but they (seem) refreshingly unaggressive about promoting product and saturating local store shelves with it. After dealing with Disney princesses and Disney fairies for the last couple of years, I cannot stress how much I love this!

7. No Violence. Physical hardships are minor. The wind blows them when they are in fairy form. Storms can be scary. Jack Frost’s magic can make them shiver. Occasionally they will have to grab something out of a goblin’s hands, but that’s about as physical as it gets. Confrontations are certainly less nasty than your typical schoolyard exchange.

8. Girl Problem-Solving. It may be predictable as all get out, but the two girls always come up with a great idea to outwit the goblins out of their ill-gotten gains. The fairies have the magic, but the girls have the ideas.

9. The Illustrations. I truly appreciate that Kirsty and Rachel look like real girls and not aged-up glamour queens. The fairies aren’t sexed-up either, and they’re actually ethnically diverse.

For all these reasons I have slowly come to appreciate these books for what they are. They serve a purpose and fulfill a need. My daughter still adores them, though after 9 months Rainbow Magic books alternate with many other books now. As long as she loves them they will remain on our shelves… until the day when I can finally press them onto the next unsuspecting parent.

(The first series, Rainbow Fairies, is available at amazon.com)

P.S. I see… possibly to my horror, I haven’t decided yet… there is a movie, Return to Rainspell Island, listed on imdb as an animated UK film, released in 2010. It doesn’t seem to have been released in North America yet. Surprisingly little said about it on the official website.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. poppyandpetunia
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 11:24:09

    Gotta love the Rainbow Fairies…but for a different reason all together! My now 12 year-old daughter is a lover of books. Mainly classics and those who have been bestowed with a Newbury Award. So Rainbow Fairies were not exactly on her radar.

    Except that in her school district she earned reading points for them. Quick, easy, points. Her school is part of the Accelerated Reader program. We soon found that the Fairy books were a quick read, at a higher level (despite their size)and worth a bit more on the point scale then other books their length.

    So she flew through the Fairy books and she did enjoy them(she read them all in 2nd-3rd grade). They have now become the “secret weapon” AR book at our school. Her friends all read them, scooping up points as quick as possible. They have now been passed onto the younger sisters who are also flying through them fast as a fairy!

    Reply

    • Kim
      Jan 14, 2012 @ 13:24:22

      Aha, pretty cunning! Glad to hear she enjoyed them but also moved onward and upward. I’d love to hear what some of her favourite titles are now – she sounds like a very discerning young reader!
      Thanks for the comment!

      Reply

  2. Sue Hewitt
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 11:24:12

    Thank you for this commentary. Although I haven’t read any of the Rainbow Fairy books, as a teacher librarian I am well acquainted with them. They appear to be truly addictive. I often wondered, though, how the girls tell them apart. They all seemed pretty much the same to me. It often surprised (and – truth be told – annoyed) me when they would scan the shelf of thirty-odd titles and then approach me with, “Don’t you have ‘Harriet the Hamster Fairy’?” Your explanation of the seven-book series answers my question.
    I’m so happy to read of the reasons you like the books. Although they’ve been very popular, I’ve been trying to move the girls on to “better” literature as quickly as possible. Perhaps I’ll give the fairies more of a chance. I may dig a little deeper for “Harriet” next time.

    Reply

    • Kim
      Jan 14, 2012 @ 13:20:07

      And here’s a great book for your students when they are ready to move on – are you familiar with The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz? A terrific fairy story with a little more bite! (I reviewed it here.)
      Thanks for the comment Sue! Like I said, the books are not terrible… they certainly could be worse!

      Reply

  3. Trackback: This Homeschooling Life – Reading in March – Halfway up the Hill

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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