Tuesday, May 5, 2015

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A father’s review of Pinkalicious and the Cupcake Calamity

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Photo by Rachel Bussel

Pinkalicious and the Cupcake Calamity by Victoria Kann (HarperCollins 2013) begins with an unaccompanied five-year-old approaching an ice cream shop, and moves into a questionable narrative of addiction, temptation, and a complete lack of large machine safety.

This is one of my five-year-old daughter’s favorite books. I’m not sure where it falls in the Pinkalicious cannon. Perhaps it’s the seventh or the 20th book in the collection, but what I do know is that the first Pinkalicious book was a cute and well written story about how a little girl’s passion for cupcakes helped her find love for her parents. But as the Pinkalicious’ character has progressed through multiple books, it seems that she is slowly turning into a flaming addict with an unstoppable hunger for pink cupcakes. The feel of the story falls somewhere between the unsettling circus scenes in Tim Burton’s Big Fish and the psychedelic candy factory in his remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My daughter and I read this book a couple times a week, and honestly, I’m fearful that it’s teaching her to embrace addiction and to trust slender ice cream men with thin mustaches that are only socially acceptable on police officers and porn stars. Not the kind of lessons I usually promote.

Every time I look at the first page I’m suspicious of Mr. Swizzle. Perhaps he really is a trustworthy ice cream man, but considering the book opens with him surrounded by children that were clearly lured away from their parents with promises of a cupcake, he comes across as a lean deranged pervert with a bow tie and wispy hipster hair.  The first few pages make me think of Hansel and Gretel being persuaded into a gingerbread house.

On Mr. Swizzle’s lawn is a large object covered with an even larger pink tarp. Mr. Swizzle removes the tarp to reveal the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic, an obviously spectacular machine with brightly painted gears, bells, and a bicycle horn. Kids cram dollars into this large dazzling machine, but nothing happens. No one get’s a cupcake. He says the machine must be broken, but he doesn’t say it with much conviction, making me assume that it’s all a ruse to steal money from children.

Because the machine is not producing pink cupcakes, Pinkalicious starts to get the shakes, her arms folded, face twisted. Mr. Swizzle approaches the machine with a large plumbing wrench as though he’s qualified to do more than lure children away from their parents with promises of sweets.

It’s here that the story really comes off the rails.

As Mr. Swizzle looks at the machine with a confused smirk, Pinkalicious sneaks into a small back door in the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic to find a mess of sprinkles, frosting, and large turning gears clearly capable of mangling her limbs. Were Pinkalicious being watched by her parents, I feel confident she never would’ve made her way into the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic, or been left to hang out with the suspicious Mr. Swizzle, but sadly she is an unattended child who will stop at nothing to feed her cupcake addiction, even if that means crawling inside a large gear driven machine.

Pinkalicious wanders around in the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic for a couple pages, licking frosting and uncooked batter, most likely contaminating the cupcakes and picking up a healthy case of salmonella from eating uncooked batter. Eventually she realizes that only half the machine is working and discovers a lever that she feels confident will fix the problem. As a reader, I will admit that the first time I read this story I felt confident in Pinkalicious’ ability to diagnose a complex mechanical problem. However, on the second time through I started to be suspicious that a five-year-old was really up the challenge.

To reach the lever Pinkalicious climbs up a collection of gears and belts, stands on one leg in a pair of slick bottomed black shoes, her toes touching a bar of some kind. I hold my breath on this page, concerned that she’s going to fall to her death. I can never decide if my feelings are dread that a little girl is going to die in this machine, her motivations purely based on a bad sweet tooth, or if I’m just hopeful that she will die and end the Pinkalicious series.

Once she pulls the lever, the machine begins to shake and fill with batter, and then BOOM, it explodes, leaving Pinkalicious inside a massive, beautifully baked pink cupcake. And suddenly Pinkalicious is the belle of the ball, her friends eating the cake off her body. The story ends with Pinkalicious apologizing to Mr. Swizzle for breaking his machine. His response, “That’s okay… From now on, I’ll stick to ice cream and leave the cupcakes to you!” his reaction all the more odd considering Pinkalicious damaged his property.

By the end of the book, I will be honest, I am always left wanting more. I want something to sink my teeth into. Something that might leave my daughter with a stronger self-esteem, or a better understanding of who she is as a person and her place in the world, not just fear that she will one day be lured away from me by an ice cream man and eventually mangled inside a cupcake machine.

I see this same lack of strong story in a lot of the books my daughter loves, and I must say, it bothers me every time. But what would bother me more is missing out on a tender moment, snuggled up next to my little girl before bed, reading. So despite how much I dislike this book, and how much I worry it’s teaching her questionable life skills, I still read it. I assume this is why most parents read whatever their kids tug from the shelf each night. It isn’t about story depth. it’s about what happens outside the book. It’s about the moment that really matters. And so, tonight, when my daughter pulls out Pinkalicious and the Cupcake Calamity, I will silently roll my eyes, like I always do, and then sit down next to her, one arm around her shoulders, the other holding the book, and read.


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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him onFacebook and Twitter.  

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