When my sisters and I were little, our favorite set of books by far were the Serendipity Books by Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James. These were a wonderful collection, featuring rich, fantastical illustrations, environmentalist messages, and occasionally, a giant silver unicorn named Morgan. These books were so coveted by our childhood selves, that my older sister preemptively stole my parents' entire collection years before any of us were thinking of having children. When I became pregnant, I began to lament the fact that I had allowed Kelly to abscond with these books uncontested, only to learn that my mother-in-law had the entire set (in hard cover no less) saved in a box in her basement. Oh what joy! The books would be mine, and my daughter too would know the pleasures of the creatures, the magical kingdoms, and especially, the giant pink Ocean monster, Serendipity.
We received the box, and I unpacked them with relish. I gave them a place of honor on the nursery bookshelf. Then I settled in with my daughter on my lap to relive the magic of my childhood. The first book I opened was a book called "Creole," which was supposed to be about not judging people by their looks, but actually just teaches kids that the "fat" monsters are unattractive. I was disappointed, but I guess it did teach an important lesson: society is a bitch, and even illustrated swamp monsters will judge you based on your appearance. The next book I tried was "Morgan Morning," and this one had a more uplifting message. If you disobey your mother and run away from her, you will fall off a waterfall and turn into a unicorn. This one didn't bother me too much, because I figure there aren't many waterfalls where we live, so it's pretty low-risk. Finally, I turned to the one book in the set I knew would be a slam dunk-- Everyone's favorite pinkish purple plesiosaur-- the anti-littering spokes-creature, and "lorax of the sea," Serendipity.
The first thing that struck me is that this book had roughly the same plot as "encino man." A giant, prehistoric egg is frozen in an iceberg, until one day it thaws out, hatches, and joins with the modern day sea creatures on a path of self discovery. That's a pretty good start, because, let's face it, Encino Man was an awesome movie.
As I continued to read on, however, I spotted a few holes in the otherwise killer plot. Most disturbingly, there are several spots where the book is biologically inaccurate. Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but as a child I was sort of a nerd. Ok more than sort of. Alright I was a huge nerd, and I read science books all the time. The point is, I knew very well that dolphins were mammals, not fishes, so why did I turn a blind eye when--in a plot twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan--Serendipity's traveling companions, the Dolphin and the Walrus turn out to KINGS OF ALL THE FISHES!?
I think it's because, in my adolescence, my method of evaluating quality literature was slightly different than it is now. Here's my estimation of how the two compare.
So-- according to my two systems of Literary Review, how does Serendipity stack up?
If you are a 3 year old, I would definitely recommend the book Serendipity. There is royalty, talking animals, and gratuitous use of the color pink, so I think you would enjoy it. If you are a 30 year old, I would recommend that you read Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America" instead, which is basically the same message, but a slightly better read, despite its disappointing lack of talking animals. If the author of Serendipity is reading this, I would recommend a revision of your timeless childhood classic as soon as possible, to introduce a new unicorn-based character into the plot line, and possibly a foreword by Michael Pollan.