Written by Stephen Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James, Serendipity is a children's story about a pink sea monster who fights pollution to protect the ocean creatures. When she is first hatched, the monster has no name. She is given the name Serendipity by the first friends she makes, a walrus and a dolphin who are the King and Queen of all Fishes even though neither one of them is a fish, after she rescues the dolphin from an untended fishing net and spins around and around really fast to remove some pollution from the ocean.
Sounds a little sugary, doesn't it? Welcome to my nightmare. You see, "Serendipity" is only the first of some thirty-odd books by Cosgrove and James, in every one of which a different animal or fantasy creature with an improbable name learns a valuable lesson about the environment, or friendship, or honesty. Maui-Maui the whale teaches Mom Amomony not to catch more fish than she needs. Sassafras the elephant learns not to talk back when an annoying echo keeps mimicking her. Rhubarb the puppy discovers that "to have a friend you must be a friend". And there's a cute poem summing up the moral at the end of each book. Like, totally!
Serendipity was published in 1974, and was followed by book after book in rapid succession. I suspect it took Cosgrove and James all of a week to finish each book. The books are filled with lazy writing - there's a "peaceful" or a "suddenly" on almost every page - and descriptions so flowery and sweet that they will give almost any literate parent an instant migraine. Logical disconnects like the king and queen of the fishes not being fishes themselves are constantly popping up, and in well over half the books I've read the lesson of the book is not so much learned or earned by the protagonist so much as it is dropped on his or her head in the last three pages.
The illustrations are competent, but suffer from the same ungodly desire to make everything sweet enough to choke a honeybee. Every animal, even the aquatic beasts and the reptiles, has huge doe eyes with long, fluttery eyelashes, and most of them look like My Little Ponies.
Granted, these are books for preschoolers and lower grades, but that's no excuse for being obnoxious. Kevin Henkes writes for the same age group, with much the same goals, and does it with humor and intelligence. Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak both write better than this, and their subjects don't all have ridiculous Bambi eyelashes.
Naturally, the series was a massive hit in the Seventies, when environmentalism was becoming a major theme in children's literature. And unfortunately, it's still fairly popular, probably because parents who happen upon the books in Borders remember those valuable lessons and forget that the books are actually nauseatingly positive and cute.
Your children will love them. Don't say I didn't warn you.