Does Rainbow Fish Promote Socialism? Materialism? Uniformity? Or Sharing?
What Exactly Is the Moral in The Rainbow Fish?
Is this REALLY what we want to teach the children?
I have seen this award winning book out and about for many years, and I admit it is beautifully done. The illustrations are beautiful, and the use of the sparkly foil is very smart. It is mesmerizing to children. It was so popular, I thought it was great book....until I read it.
Written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister Herbert, this book was published in 1992, but it was only recently that I actually opened this book up and read the story. It has been sitting on my own shelf for a few years, but I only now cracked it open and read it to a child. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading it for the first time with a four year old girl on my lap - or else I never would have read it to her. (Note to self: read books to yourself before you read them to children).
Halfway through this story, I have a perplexed look of "you can't be serious", and by the end I was wishing that I had just paraphrased an episode of "I Love Lucy" to her again- that always works.
The Story of Rainbow Fish:
Rainbow fish was the prettiest in the ocean with beautiful shiny scales. Other fish asked if he wanted to play, he just kept swimming. One fish asked if he could have a scale and the Rainbow Fish was a little rude in saying no "who do you think you are?". Then none of the fish would talk to Rainbow Fish. Then the wise creepy octopus told Rainbow Fish he had to give his scales to the other fish to learn how to be happy. Rainbow fish gave a scale to each of the other fish until he had just one left and looked like all the rest. Then they agreed to be friends with him again.
The Story of Rainbow Fish
To me, the octopus should have taught Rainbow Fish not to be full of himself and to be humble, but he went the other way.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, I suggest watching the video below. However, I prefer this alternate version of the story: The AMERICAN Rainbow Fish
Rainbow Fish read by Ernest Borgnine
Children, don't be different.
The Rainbow Fish was the most beautiful in all the ocean. He had something they didn't have. He was different.
The Rainbow Fish is told that in order to be happy, he must give his beautiful scales away to everyone. Get rid of them, making them all the same. This books seems to suggest that one cannot be different, cannot be better and still have friends.
Don't be different, don't be prettier, don't be smarter, don't be richer, don't excel, or else others will be jealous of you and not like you anymore. Is this was we want to teach our children? How will a lesson like this encourage our children from being the very best they can in life? How will it encourage them to excel and get the most out of their talents?
Rainbow fish is not just letting them play with his toys. He is giving them a part of himself, part of what God gave him, part of what makes him unique. Why aren't we celebrating his individuality? Why didn't octopus tell him, "Yes, Rainbow Fish, God made you beautiful, but in order to have friends, you must also be kind"?
Would we ask a zebra in a field of horses to give up one stripe to each of them? Or would we teach the horses that even though the zebra is different, he is is still a nice friendly guy who likes to run and play like the rest of them, and teach the zebra that stripes are beautiful, but not better?
Consider this: What will Rainbow Fish's mother say when he gets home?
What's the The Moral of the Story
What We're Taught in Rainbow Fish
Good kids stories have a moral to the story - just ask Aesop, or Hans Christian Anderson. So what is the moral of this story?
To me this story goes far beyond the "sharing" moral which I think most parents who like this book will rationalize. It goes far beyond "being a good friend". The socialist undertones of this book are screaming at you.
The morals that could have been accented in this story but were missed (or broken):
What could have been taught
- Be the best that you can, but be gracious and humble.
- Everyone is different, and that's okay.
- Everyone is beautiful, in their own way.
- Don't be jealous of what others have.
- Individuality is something to be cherished.
- Be proud of who you are.
- You can't buy friends.
- It's not what you say, but how you say it.
- God gave everyone different talents (or traits), it is what you do when them that is important.
- If you've been mean or rude, apologize.
Instead we were taught:
- Don't do or have anything more then your friends or they will be jealous.
- To be happy, everyone should be the same.
- You can buy friends.
- Sometimes to have friends, you must give up what makes you special.
- Ostracizing people for being different is okay.
- You can't feel at home with people who are different than you.
Rainbow Fish was so beautiful, he was rich with silvery scales, and then he was informed that he should give them out equally to the other fish. Just give them away. Sounds a bit like our old friend "redistribution of wealth", doesn't it?
Why should Rainbow Fish have to give up his beauty to have friends? What did those other fish do for the scales? Can't a fish be more rich with scales then other fish and still be their friend? Was there no better way to teach Rainbow Fish about getting along then making him give his scales to them?
I can hear some people saying "it's just sharing!", but It's not just sharing. When we encourage our kids to "share", we expect it to be a back and forth. You let him have some of your cookies, later he'll let you play with his toys. It's not an official system of barter, but it is a friendly "what's mine is yours" attitude. We teach them this sharing as an opposite of greediness, and a way of "getting along", but we expect ALL the kids to share, not just the rich ones. What are the other fish sharing? He doesn't let them play with his scales, or try them on, or borrow them. He is told to give them up. In this story, Rainbow Fish is not sharing with them, he is paying them.
Since the beautiful scales are given to friends, seemingly in exchange for their friendship, this story implies that we live in such a materialistic world that to have friends you must buy them. Do we want to teach our kids that you have to give things to others to get them to be friends with you? What will their parents say when they come home with one beautiful scale and upon being asked are told "Rainbow fish gave this to me, so I'm his friend now".
This doesn't seem like the healthy social skills we were expecting from good kids book, does it?
If I was the parent of ANY of the fish in this story, I would be dismayed at the course of the day, and do what I could to reverse it.
Are You Happy With What This Story Teaches?
Are you satisfied with the lessons conveyed in Rainbow Fish?
The Best Thing I've Read About Rainbow Fish
The very best review of this book I could find is in a comment on Nicole's Wonderful Books for Kids Blog where Dagny Taggart writes:
So many of my friends love this book. So many of my *thinking* friends despise it.
This book is not about sharing. It is about giving up *one's self* to anyone who asks for it for any reason whatsoever. In the end, the rainbow fish loses all of the beauty and uniqueness that made him different and special. He becomes one of the masses.
The next time you read this story to your little one, think about what makes *your* child special and unique. Then think how sad you would be if he or she went to school and lost that special gift because his or her peers found it to be uncool. How sad you would be.
Teach your child to celebrate their uniqueness. Encourage them to shimmer!
There are better ways to teach your children about sharing without having to debase and degrade what makes them special and unique.
Does Rainbow Fish Promote Socialism? Materialism? Uniformity? or Just Generosity?
Do you think Rainbow Fish teaches children the right thing?