Elevate Difference

Amy and Gully with Aliens

Amy and Gully with Aliens looks promising from the title, and the immediate jump into action makes this Buddhist children’s book a breeze. Although a quick read (108 pages with large print), the story comes packed with a heavy moral punch that is based somewhat on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh: Amy and Gully find themselves learning from aliens about “love and kindness”—a repeated theme throughout the short book.

While the religious and moral story is compelling and resonates with the reader, the feminist aspect leaves something to be desired. In the opening pages of the book, Rowe depicts a quintessential 1950s family. Mrs. Trent (the mother) “flips a pancake.” Mr. Trent (the father) is reading his newspaper, irritated with the kids, and "needs to make some phone calls” before he can take them to school. Mrs. Clearpot is the plump, nature-nut biology teacher that kids ignore, while Mr. Wilkins, the school principal, is capable of teaching those kids a lesson.

While the gender assignments, admittedly, are not pivotal to the plot of the story, they encourage obsolete stereotypes. The easy categorizing of male and female roles in the story is not overt or malicious, but it was seemingly done without thought. It is the nonchalant way women are portrayed as existing only to fill the role of caretaker or are unable to win the respect of their students that makes these roles seem so common. Conversely, men are depicted as busy, important, and in control.

Even when Amy and Gully, the sister-brother duo, fully encompass our attention aboard the spaceship where most of the story takes place, it is Gully who thinks of clever ways to distract the Snoods, their captures, and who plans their escape. Amy is, obviously, helpless. (In W.W. Rowe’s defense, Amy possesses an admirable capacity for sympathy and love—two of the most valuable characteristics, according to the philosophy of the book—even if she is lacking in brains and brawn.) Most of the cliche gender assignments are gone by chapter six when Mala, the all-seeing, all-knowing alien of truth and light, comes to run a final “zarbite” (the Snood’s word for experiment) on the children. This is, of course, where the children are exposed to ideas of inner peace, love, and kindness.

On a moral level, Amy and Gully with Aliens is a great story for children, regardless of religion. The book offers a good option for those seeking moral literature outside traditional Bible stories. At the same time, if you have the goal of teaching non-traditional gender roles, this may not be best book to convince your impressionable young son or daughter that women are just as capable as men.

Written by: Tatiana Ryckman, February 20th 2010