Princess Vinnea and the Gulavores is one of three new children’s books about princesses who are strong and intelligent without being dependent on princes to rescue them. They call this “non-heteronormative.” While this is not the exactly correct use of this term, which really refers to sexuality, the authors’ intentions are good. The set of books is supervised by the Guardian Princess Alliance in Cupertino, CA.
We ordered a copy of the second book, about the African Princess Vinnea, because we are interested in food, gardening and farming. Here is the plot in a nutshell:
- Princess Vinnea is apparently the keeper of the village garden, and the village is preparing for the harvest festival. But the morning of the festival, all of the fruits and vegetables have been eaten, as her white friend Princess Terra points out, by giant caterpillars called Gulavores.
- A mysterious stranger, Danga, arrives with a cart full of giant fruits and vegetables and offers them to the villagers instead. They eat them eagerly and become sick and develop rashes. Vinnea is reluctant to eat them: “Our people only eat food from the Earth,” she says.
- Vinnea and Terra search Danga’s cart and find a book of spells that “mix magic with toxic chemicals.” They also conveniently find a counter-spell to get rid of the Gulavores.
- They go to the garden and replant the seeds, and then chant the counter-spell which turns all the caterpillars into butterflies. Dust from their wings magically make the garden grow immediately and they have a new garden for the harvest festival.
- They turn Danga into a dung beetle and pop him into a jar where he can’t do any more harm.
The best thing we can say about this book, written mostly by Ashanti McMillon, is that the illustrations are gorgeous. The paintings of the African-style dresses and landscape, by A. Das, are truly beautiful.
But this heavy-handed agit-prop suggesting that all agricultural science is bad and that only plants “from the earth” are good is disingenuous.
We wonder what large biotech company the authors think Danga represents? They certainly echo the fallacy that Danga’s specially bred crops are dangerous and will kill off the populace. Of course no businessman would seek to kill off his customers: it’s bad for repeat business. And the idea of “magic mixed with toxic chemicals” seems to be a stand-in for biotechnology.
What chemicals? Who says they are toxic? Why? And do the authors know that there is no evidence whatever that crops bred using biotechnology are dangerous? Or that every major scientific organization world-wide has concluded they pose no harm?
The trouble with this narrow approach to farming is that it has nothing to do with the way crops are actually grown in the U.S. or in Africa. Farming is a big, complicated business and the naturalistic fallacy that only simple hand farming without fertilizers, insecticides and crop rotation could feed the world is simply naive. Even organic farmers use these things.
Having watched the Princess phase in our family, we are not all that fond of princesses: they are wealthy and beautiful and don’t have to work or do anything responsible. These princesses are supposed to be more active and care about the Earth, but this anti-science hokum hardly makes them good role models. Danga’s seeds were bad because of magic and “toxic chemicals,” but Vinnea growing the garden back with magic and wing dust falling from butterfly wings is good?
The text takes such an earnest tone: the only actually funny thing in the book is the drawing of Danga after he is turned into a bug.
This entire series of books (there are 3 out so far with more planned) and supervised by the Guardian Princess Alliance, which seems to be made up of two writers: McMillon and Setsu Shigematsu and also includes Kelsey Moore as the co-project manager and marketing director, as well as some advisers.
Even though their intent is to write about conservation and the Earth, none of the alliance or its advisers seems to be trained in the sciences. To be fair, the anti-science tone has been reduced somewhat from the early review copies, but the books would be so much better if the princesses showed scientific curiosity instead of some magic spells. Let’s hope the future books move in that direction.