The Right Coast

March 11, 2004
Evil children's books
By Tom Smith

This post of Brian's got me thinking about the swill we often expose our children to in "children's books." For reasons I can't reconstruct, I was reading an awful screed called "The Rainbow Fish" to my children. The rainbow fish has pretty scales and so all the other little fishies resent him and won't play with him. So what to do?

In the book (supposedly "a classic") Rainbow fish gives away his scales so all the fishies each have one pretty scale (which of course looks really stupid). The moral? If you're lucky enough to have something like pretty scales, other people will resent you until you make yourself as ugly as they are.

True enough, but hardly edifying. So I changed the story for my kids. All the other fishies admired the scales and wanted them. But were they worth more to them, really, than they were to Rainbow fish? How do we figure this out? We let the other fishies bid for the scales of course! So little Rainbow Fish held an auction, and sold off some of his scales to other fishies who actually did value them more than Rainbow Fish did. And it was Pareto Superior. "What does that mean, dad?" It means some of the fishies were better off, and none were worse off! Of course, some of the fishies didn't want to buy any scales; they just wanted to complain that Rainbow Fish had nicer scales than anybody else. But they were no fun to be around, anyway, so Rainbow Fish just ditched them, and discovered he had more fun anyway. The end.

The kids loved it.