You Don't Want a Unicorn, by Ame Dyckman [an offbeat review]
Full disclosure, I don’t like unicorns. Maybe you feel that’s an unfair statement, as I’ve never met one. I’ve spent time around horses. They’re smelly, covered in flies, and will step on your foot without a hint of remorse. How does adding a narwhal tooth (Fun Fact: It’s a tooth.) make it kind and willing to carry your groceries. I’m not arguing that a-hole unicorns are under-represented in children’s literature. I’m saying one facet of my discontent is the narrow-minded Pollyanna characterization of these creatures. If I had a coworker I knew was going to greet me with an understanding smile and Can Do attitude every morning before my coffee, I’d either avoid them or pre-warn HR I’ll be in for a workplace assault discussion around 9-ish.
Vampires can be sparkling or non-sparkling, though I have opinions about the former that could find volumes. Zombies can be pleasant or aggressively unpleasant. Why are unicorns categorically vapid, four-legged sources of wish fulfillment? How come they never step on feet and are covered in fairy dust, not flies? All these questions and more, I was hoping this book would answer.
Before you get too turned off by my poison pen letter to unicorns, let me assure you, the author likes unicorns. That much is evident. She didn’t write a unicorn cookbook or taxidermy guide. It begins with a little boy wishing with all his heart and soul for his own unicorn. Right off the bat, I have to give points for flipping the script. Under any other circumstances, I’d be put off by the substitution of a boy in a role equally suitable for a girl, but the gender reversal here is refreshing. The boy drops a penny in a fountain. Big money! No Whammies! Poof! Yay! Rainbow horsey! I can taste the colors! Not so fast there, Timothy Leary. You mean pets have a downside? The little boy’s unicorn chews, jumps, destroys furniture, punches holes in the walls… Pretty much my kids at bedtime. Oh, and poops strawberry-frosted cupcakes. The unicorn does. For the record, the illustration of the kid excited to scarf down a platter’s-worth of cupcakes/horse apples is pure gold. Gold, Jerry! The boy comes to realize, hopefully before dessert, that inviting a half ton animal into your house can be problematic. Maybe he shouldn’t have- Poof! Poof! Poof! Poof! Oh, my God! Four more! There’s a unicorn Rush Week frat party in the living room! Faster than you can say, “gift receipt,” the kid is back at the fountain, wishing the party crashers back to Fabio’s house or wherever unicorns hang out. Disheartened and stinking of strawberry frosting, the boy trudges home, possibly wondering whether a sea monkey aquarium will void his renter’s insurance. When, lo and behold, he spots a lonely toy dragon on a park bench. I wonder what’s going to happen. Poof!
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Kids’ books with poop jokes sell. Kids love them. Hell, I love them. Throw in a unicorn violently burping up the entire color spectrum, and you’ve got a winner. The overturning of clichés is what sets this one apart though. Boys can like unicorns too. Like moms, unicorns actually have bodily functions, though we like to pretend they don’t. And even the most hallowed of children’s book tropes can benefit from a little self-deprecation. The book makes enough fun of itself to satisfy the never-unicorn crowd, but includes enough glitter sparkle to hold the My Little Pony devotees’ attention. If I could lodge a request with the author, I’d ask for a sequel featuring mermaids that smell like a fishing pier at low tide. Put my name on the pre-sale list. Please and thank you.