Chinese Fables and Folktales

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

This was a pretty interesting thing to read with the kid, just because of his reaction. We’ll get to that.

There is no Bechdel pass here – there are pretty much no women at all in any of these stories. By the very nature of the book, though, it passes the diversity test.

Here’s where it gets interesting. So, I asked the kid what he thought after we read it, and he said, “I liked it but the stories were strange.”
“Strange how?” I asked.
“They just ended. It was weird.”

This is kid code for “these tales have a different narrative structure to that with which I am familiar”. And this is why you should expose your kids to stories from other cultures!! Much narrative structure is fairly cultural. It’s useful for children to be exposed to other kinds, as it helps them see the scaffolds of narratives which makes them more critical! *folklore nerd squee over*

It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I enjoyed reading this with the kid. I love folktales from all over the world – they are endlessly fascinating to me. I’m grateful to the translaters of this book for not “westernising” them up too much.

Read your kids stories from other cultures! It will make their brains more agile. 😉

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Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs – Ian Whybrow

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

Despite its low score, this book is actually extremely charming.

As with many children’s books, the focus is firmly on the protagonist, so no other conversations happen really, so it can’t pass Bechdel. Harry does have an older sister, Sam, who gets a fair amount of pagetime, but that’s the extent of it. There also isn’t a single person to be seen in the world of Harry who isn’t a white Angle-Saxon type. Soooo no diversity here.

Still, the story is really pretty cute, and it is one of those tales that has gentle nods to the reading adult. Any parent knows what it is like when your kid gets attached to a particular toy. In this case it is a bucketful of dinosaurs instead of the usual cuddly bunny type toy, but Harry is no less attached. The illustrations sometimes show them as simply plastic dinosaurs, but more frequently show them as living, curious, real dinosaurs – they are sure real for Harry! It kind of captures how real these things can be for kids.

C thought it was very cute and gave it full marks! I guess he recognises something in (very imaginative) Harry. 😉

Despite the low score, I have no hesitation in saying you should read this one. It’s really pretty great.

A Great Big Cuddle – Michael Rosen/Chris Riddell

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 1 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

 

This is a collection of poetry for young children. The poems themselves are a bit… random. Some are definitely better than others. What makes this book are Riddell’s amazing illustrations.

Confession: I am a long-time fan of Riddell’s work. He works with Gaiman quite a bit (he illustrated Gaiman’s Chu books and also the endlessly entertaining “Fortunately, the Milk”) and his illustrations have a depth and personality that is just exquisite. So I was predisposed to like them.

But seriously. They’re just charming as hell. Look:
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On to metrics! So, as with a lot of poetry, it’s a bit hard to pass the Bechdel, especially since most of the poems seem to be a kind of internal kid monologue. No names really. However, due, again, to Riddell’s pictures, the book gets points for diversity because he has included kids from multiple backgrounds it appears! Yay for a kids’ book that isn’t just white kids!

C and I both enjoyed this. He recognised it was aimed at kids younger than him, but he still liked it. He said it was weird and funny and the pictures were cool. Which is a pretty awesome endorsement from a small human. 😉

I probably only like it because of the pictures. I found the poems a bit random, to be honest. But, full disclosure, I’m not one for poetry that isn’t narrative most of the time anyway, so it’s already hard to win me over. Kids often love the sort of repetitive nonsense verse thing, so chances are many of them would disagree with me.

It’s a pretty great book. I am tempted to get a copy, just cos I love beautiful books. Worth a look.

Elmer on Stilts – David McKee

More in the Series – Elmer
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 point
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

I have a bit of a weakness for elephants, so I am predisposed towards books where elephant hunters get squished. 😉

This is a much better book than the previous Elmer book. Once again Elmer shows his knack for ingenuity, but this time he is using his talents to save the elephants from the elephant hunters. It’s a delight!

No Bechdel pass (not a female character to be seen) and no diversity points. The hunters are all Great White Hunters in the 19th century tradition complete with khaki outfits. Still, they are very clearly portrayed as the “bad guys” so that’s something.

C enjoyed this one. He gave it a 3 out of 5, which is enough to get his point. When I asked why he said it was funny, but unrealistic because apparently elephants can’t possibly walk around on stilts. Which, you know, I guess is true, if a little rich from a kid who constantly invents imaginary robots. 😉

Good stuff though. Rather entertaining, with a nice subtle conservation message. Worth the read.

Frog In Winter – Max Velthuijs

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

 

I have to say, I relate to this poor freezing frog who isn’t designed for winter. 😉

The story is simple – Frog doesn’t dig winter. He has no natural fur or feathers to keep him warm like all his friends, and he’s not happy about being so cold. His friends all try to help, providing him with warm clothes, and eventually keeping him company when he takes to his bed for the winter. Spring arrives and he emerges, back to his usual cheerful self.

While the book has only one female character (Duck), and so cannot pass the Bechdel, and all the characters are animals, so there is no real diversity to speak of, I love the message of this book. Which is that not everyone is cut out for all conditions, and it’s neat if you accept this about your friends, help them through the things that are hard for them, and be happy when they get back on their feet.

I love that they all try to help in their own ways but when it becomes clear that Frog just wants to stay home in bed, they take turns visiting, reading him stories and giving him soup. I kind of want all friendships to be like this. ❤

C loved this book. He said he gave it 5 out of 5, because “the animals were really nice to Frog”. I have to agree. It doesn’t meet our metrics for this project, but it is still very much worth the read.

Miffy at the Zoo – Dick Bruna

More in the Series – Miffy
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 point

It’s just Miffy and her dad, so despite the female protagonist, no Bechdel pass, and apart from the bunnies, all the other characters are animals at the zoo.

It’s what you’d expect from a rhyming zoo book. Four lines, one animal per page. The rhymes are not exactly inspired, but they also don’t feel like super hard work like some kid rhyming books do. So they’re fairly competent.

It’s, you know, cute enough. C said he thought “little kids would like it”. (That’s my world-weary ancient seven year old for you. 😉 ) He gave it a thumbs up as a result, but it felt a bit like an indulgent pass rather than that he actually really liked it. (As an aside, it’s neat seeing him get more critical as he gets older.)

If you’re into the cutesy bunny thing, you may dig it, but I don’t think there’s anything super special going on here.

 

 

 

Go, Dog. Go! P.D. Eastman

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

 

This is a bit of a classic, but it’s not one I remember ever reading as a child, so I don’t get the nostalgia buzz from it. It’s okay for what it is, I suppose.

There are no names, and only one notably female dog with an exceptional interest in hats, so it can’t pass the Bechdel. It has a lot of different kind of dogs in it, but they all kinda fit a vaguely WASPish mold, so it doesn’t get diversity points either.

C LOVED it. He thought the “hat” business was utterly hilarious. (I think there’s something a bit odd and sexist going on there, maybe, but it’s hard to pinpoint. It’s a weird sort of courtship, where she has to have a hat he likes before they can go off together, and go off together they do at the end. I feel like this could do with deeper analysis than I have the time or inclination for right now, but there’s something going on here to do with the primping of women for the male gaze that doesn’t sit quite right with me.)

My seven year old though? Just thought it was weird and hilariously funny.

It’s a pretty neat new reader book. My kid is no longer a new reader, but he still found it pretty enjoyable. And I’ve given it my good story point despite my hesitations about the whole Thing With the Hat, just cos I think it’s still pretty fun to read.