a review by Nalini Haynes
I have loved Lego since I was a little girl and was allowed to play with someone else’s Lego; the endless opportunities for creativity and variation, the world is your oyster! I’ve also enjoyed Ladybird books, both when I was learning to read at three years old and as a parent helping my kids develop their reading skills. I had high expectations of Police on Alert being highly educational and entertaining for young readers.
A new police officer is taken on a tour of Lego city on his first day of work, showing him all the different merchandise available to boys interested in playing with Lego. Along the way a minor plot was introduced, a bank robbery and some other shenanigans going on in the city requiring a police investigation. When a female police officer, the only female Lego character who is not a bystander, tries to tell her boss what has happened, her boss misinterprets what she says, dumbs it down and disregards her input. Later the young, male police officer solves the crime and is lauded as being the best in the world.
The pictures are interesting from exploratory, educational and marketing points of view, using bright colours and clear imagery. It’s a shame the plot wasn’t a larger part of the story, and women weren’t equal participants in the various professions depicted in the story. Any girl reading this book would probably hear the message that she’s not welcome in one of a number of professions.
Language used in this book is too advanced for the targeted reading age of 5+, and the size of the text is far too small for this age group as well. This is a book intended to be read to a child, not a book for a child learning to read. Without a good storyline, without balanced role models showing equality of the sexes, I would have to agree with the concerns of noted genre feminists like Tansy Rayner Roberts in Galactica Suburbia, that girls have been disenfranchised by Lego, relegated to pink and lavender hair dressing studios and the like.
I look forward to Lego and Ladybird reverting to their advertising practises of the 70s, treating children as equals and providing equality in role modelling. As a marketing exercise Lego City would be more successful if it’s focus wasn’t so overtly ‘Look! This is what you can get your parents to buy you!’ instead replacing this marketing strategy with a focus on a good story that inherently recognises equality of the sexes, thus encouraging spatial development in girls and social development in both sexes.
Originally published in Dark Matter issue 9