Saturday, January 12, 2019

Review - Teddy's Favorite Toy

Teddy's Favorite Toy
by Christian Trimmer
illustrated by Madeline Valentine
Date: 2018
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A mom goes to great lengths to rescue her son’s favorite doll in this delightful tribute to treasured toys—and mothers.

Teddy has a lot of cool toys. But his very favorite doll has the best manners, the sickest fighting skills, and a fierce sense of style.

Then one morning, something truly awful happens. And there’s only one woman fierce enough to save the day. Can Teddy’s mom reunite Teddy with his favorite toy?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I picked up this book, I didn't really read the synopsis. I thought it would be some gender norm-shattering story about a little boy whose favourite toy just happens to be a fashion doll. But that part of the story is pretty much glossed over and taken for granted. It's really more of a story about a little boy idolizing his mother, and his favourite toy acting as a representation of everything he loves about her. Unfortunately, it also featured a rather inexplicable dose of cultural appropriation.

Teddy's favourite toy is a redheaded Barbie-like doll named Bren-Da, Warrior Queen of Pacifica. She has excellent manners, even better fighting skills, and she has an outfit for every occasion. (Seeing her dressed up in the shower scrubbie made me smile.) Teddy has plenty of other toys, but Bren-Da is his favourite... so when she loses her leg in an epic battle, of course he tries to save her. His doll-fixing skills aren't great, however, and she ends up looking like a trash-wrapped mummy... which leads to his mom throwing her in the garbage while he's at school. When the mom realizes what she's done, she (rather unbelievably) manages to chase down the garbage truck and rescue Bren-Da, using many of the doll's same parkour moves.

At two points in the story, Teddy yells, "Yas, queen!" which I felt was just odd, and kind of inappropriate for someone his age. (Where on earth would he have learned that?) Because the phrase is considered cultural appropriation by some, I found it a little uncomfortable to see it coming out of the mouth of a little kid. I'd be afraid this book would encourage kids to use such phrases without realizing the background and significance of the words.

Also, this is a very visual book. Now, that's not a problem in some cases, such as in wordless picture books. But a book like this might be read to a child, and it's not the kind of story one can simply listen to. In the first few pages, when we're being introduced to Teddy's toys, the text reads:

Teddy has a lot of cool toys.
Like this one.
And this one
and this one
and this one
and this one
and this one
and this one
and this one.

Now, if the kid listening to the story isn't looking at the book, they're not going to get much out of it. There are other similar instances throughout the book, where the story is entirely dependent upon the pictures (like when Bren-Da loses her leg, and all the text says is: "this happened"), but this is the most glaring example of why this book needs to be seen as well as heard/read.

The pictures are cute, but nothing special. I didn't notice that Teddy's mother was also a redhead until the end of the book, when I'd already noticed the parallel between her and the doll due to her physical skills.

I'm still not sure why the mom threw Bren-Da away in the first place. The doll was all wound up with gum, tape, and troll-doll hair, and yet the mom--who was an artist herself--assumed she was trash and threw her away.

Overall, I was kind of disappointed. I'd hoped for something that would shatter more gender stereotypes, but that wasn't even part of the story. Judging by the "boy" and "girl" sections in a lot of stores, there are still a lot of old attitudes out there. It's nice that the author felt that those didn't need to be addressed, but... they kind of do. (I can only imagine what would've happened if Teddy's classmates had seen him playing with Bren-Da.)

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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