Holly Mitchell nostalgically takes us down memory lane to the good old days of primary school Scholastic Book Club, where she reflects on the inclusivity of the names and activities of the Rainbow Magic fairies.
Imagine: it’s 2:57pm one crisp afternoon in an Aussie primary school in the late 2000s, and you’re itching to get home to see the newest episode of H2O: Just Add Water. Suddenly, your teacher tells you to “take one and pass along” a copy of what may be the most euphoric piece of paper to exist – the latest issue of the Scholastic Book Club catalogue! It is filled with endless books and posters, while also containing diaries with invisible-ink pens and plastic spy-kits you insist you need to preserve all of your juicy eight-year-old secrets. After circling and ticking practically every book inside, you beg your parents to fill out the order form at the back to your satisfaction. You are then heartbroken to learn they will not in fact be spending hundreds of dollars on children’s books.
Amongst my favourite book series were the Go Girl series and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, yet neither ever felt as personalised as the Rainbow Magic book series. Ghost-written under the pen name Daisy Meadows since the release of the first book Ruby the Red Fairy in 2006, all of the Rainbow Magic books follow two girls named Rachel and Kirsty as they go on magical adventures through what is creatively named “Fairyland,” with – you guessed it – fairies! Each book follows one fairy from a particular collection of books. For example, Ruby the Red Fairy is one of seven fairies featured in the seven books that make up the Rainbow Fairies collection, Evie the Mist Fairy is featured in the Weather Fairies storyline, and so forth. While the books can be read on their own, each collection can be read together where the seven fairies are utilised to tell one overarching story. The conflict of these books revolves around the antagonist Jack Frost, a goblin who aims to steal the fairies’ magic and rule Fairyland. Not so frightening as an adult, but I definitely saw that goblin in my nightmares at one point in time.
Rainbow Magic books are still published to this day, with the personalised aspect of the names continuing to hold importance. There would be discussion in primary school about what Rainbow Magic fairy you were, and how special it felt to have one with the same name as you. If they matched your appearance or personality as well, it meant an enormous deal. Enter Holly the Christmas Fairy, a white fairy with long brunette hair and dark brown eyes. She could not be the spitting image of myself more, and I was fairly thrilled as a kid to be the Christmas fairy! Unfortunately, I am now known to be a bit of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas; working in retail for the past few years around the time Mariah Carey defrosts has made most of my enjoyment for Christmas magically flutter away.
For young readers hoping to find “their” fairy but instead find themselves left out or being associated with a fairy that is the antithesis of their personality, it is an isolating experience. It is being designated a sporty fairy when you find comfort indoors, or a fashion fairy when you are a “chuck on whatever” kind of person. It falls under the practice of passing by a news agency and noticing the personalised keychains but failing to find a keychain with your name on it.
In defence of the Rainbow Magic books, it is impossible to write a book for every single name out there that exists. It is, however, possible to not use strictly Western names and holidays to theme children’s fairy books around. To help this disparity hit closer to home, I Googled the names of each of my fellow lovely Grapeshot team members to see how many of us had a Rainbow Magic book named after us. Results proved to be a little closer than I thought – 14 of us have a Rainbow Magic Fairy book named after us, while 21 do not. But do both our Sarah’s enjoy being Sarah the Sunday Fairy? Does Eva feel a connection to Eva the Enchanted Ball Fairy? Does our excellent Editor-in-Chief herself Lauren like dogs enough to be dubbed Lauren the Puppy Fairy?
Another existing issue with the Rainbow Magic books is the predominant whiteness of the series. American author Aya de Leon explains that the Rainbow Magic books do what is called “brown striping.” This means while some of the fairies appear East or South Asian, Latinx, or African on the cover of the books, the content of the books themselves do not reflect these fairies’ customs or cultural norms, and instead reflect the primarily-white world of Fairyland. This being said, the franchise has seemingly been making efforts to improve. For example, Jae the Boy Band Fairy released in 2019 features the first male fairy, and parodies j-hope from BTS. In 2020, the Festival Fairies collection was released and embraces celebrations such as Diwali, Eid, Hanukkah, and Buddha Day. A new book named Hope the Welcome Fairy released earlier this year introduced Rachel and Kirsty’s friends Gracie and Khadijah. Gracie is an African young girl who was born without her left hand and has two mothers, while Khadijah and her family are depicted as Islamic.
Whether these changes have been legitimate efforts of increasing the Rainbow Magic book series’ diversity or if they sustain a brown striping reputation is wrong for me, a 21-year-old white woman writing about children’s fairy books, to answer for you. What I will say is that every young reader deserves to find something for them inside the Scholastic Book Club catalogue when it is plopped on the crooked desk of a classroom. Absolutely no one should feel left out from stories they are drawn to.
de Leon, Aya. #WeNeedDiverseBooks – 7 Models of Diversity in Children’s and YA Lit. Aya de Leon Wordpress, 2017, https://ayadeleon.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/weneeddiversebooks-7-models-of-diversity-in-childrens-and-ya-lit/