Book Review: Marcella’s Guardian Angel

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

In Marcella’s Guardian Angel, a bad little girl improves her behavior with the help of an unseen angel who speaks into her ear. The story is nicely illustrated and well written, and might produce a temporary change in a reader’s behavior, but its lesson does not line up with a biblical view of virtue.

The angel recommends that Marcella change her behavior by force of will: “When you are rude or stingy or messy or anything else that’s nasty, stop, flip-flop, then act that way.”  The admonition to “flip-flop” might encourage a reader to change their visible actions, but it fails to address the fallen heart where sin is rooted (Jeremiah 17:9).  The Bible teaches that humans are naturally slaves to sin, needing God to free us from its power before true change can happen (Romans 6:17-18).

Marcella’s behavioral change rises to a pretty low standard in both motive and execution:

People might like you, but better than that, you will like yourself…. Now, remember!  Only every other day.  Otherwise, you might become perfect.  Perfect is dull and boring.  Being too nice is almost as bad as being too nasty.

Not only does she aspire to only occasional goodness, but the goal of improvement is self-esteem and popularity.  This approach can lead to a self-conscious veneer of civility that covers up a hypocritical heart (Matthew 23:27-28).  In contrast to this view, we want our children to aspire to a love for God that produces true virtue and a genuine love for others (Matthew 22:37-40).

Marcella’s self-focused motivation is also reflected in the people around her.  When she becomes more pleasant to be around, not only does she does gain friends but her mother becomes more affectionate.  This suggests that Mother’s expressions of affection are actually conditional upon her daughter’s good performance rather than originating out of a heart of love toward her.

The fundamental premise for this behavior modification is revealed at the story’s conclusion, when the angel reveals that her name is Marcella, implying that all the changes actually came from within herself.  This reveals a humanist, rather than a transcendent, basis for goodness.

This story supports self-powered moralism, which could feed the self-righteousness and people-pleasing tendency that lives in all sinful hearts.  It advocates good behavior for all the wrong reasons.

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Publication Information: Ness, Evaline. Marcella's Guardian Angel. Holiday House. 1979. ISBN: 0823403432.
Categories: 1 Star, Age 04-08, Books That Build Character
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Posted on August 3, 2009

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