The Mousehole Cat – Antonia Barber

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is an excellent example of how a book can fail on all the technicalities and yet still be an utter delight.

The Mousehole Cat is a story about a courageous fisherman and his courageous cat and how they risk everything together to feed their village. I kind of don’t want to say much more about it because if you haven’t read it, the unfolding story is just beautiful.

Mowser is a slightly irrascible cat and she helps her human in that perfectly grudging “I would rather stay by the fire, but you obviously can’t do this without me” kind of way that belies a deep (if grumpy) love for him.

The story manages to show the importance of courage and kindness, of pulling together as a community, without being didactic or moralistic. There is just a smidge of magic, just enough to make you think it might be real.

It’s about a fisherman and his cat in an English fishing village, so it is not surprising that it fails Bechdel and any kind of diversity, but it is still totally worth a read.

Neither the kid nor I had read it before, and we both thoroughly loved it. ❤

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Classic Fairy Tales – Charles Perrault

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

I happen to have a pretty impressive collection of fairytale and folklore books. I picked this one up in a second hand bookstore somewhere in England, I believe.

It’s a weird one to read to a kid in 2019, because the language hasn’t been updated. So there were a lot of things he didn’t understand. However, there is something about the rhythm and cadence of the language of this book (originally published in 1922, and, even then, trying to retain a sense of Perrault’s originals) that makes up for the weirdly archaic language. He sat still and quiet through long, difficult stories, and followed the gist just fine.

It’s so difficult to rate these kinds of books on a modern scale, since they are very much products of their time. So there is a lot of 17th century France entangled in the tales, despite them mostly being fantastical. Those 17th century mores edge their way in. 😉

My kid is fascinated by folklore and fairytales (wonder where he gets that from) so he enjoyed this, but I think a lot of children would probably find it fairly impenetrable. May be better to get an updated version unless you also have a little folklore nerd on your hands. As with all fairytales, be prepared to explain some odd things. Explaining DonkeySkin to an eight year old was… interesting.

But I maintain that reading these ancient tales to your kids is good for them. It gives them a sense of the history of story and the threads that have been there for centuries. C is already making connections between different traditions – like the beast bride/groom trope. It’s pretty great to see.

In short, not remotely in line with modern ideology, but there is still a lot of value here. 🙂

A Treasury of Japanese Folktales – Yuri Yasuda

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

C absolutely loved this book. He was legitimately sad when it ended. I think I have a mini folklorist on my hands. 😉

It passes the Bechdel on a technicality – in “The Tongue-Cut Sparrow”, the old lady and the sparrow have conversations about starch and laundry, and both have names. WIN.

So, if you’ve been following me at all, you’ll know that I have a real love for folklore from around the world, and that I firmly believe that it is good for kids to be exposed to international folklore. These stories are, in many ways, the blueprint for the way we (as humans) tell stories, and I think it benefits kids to understand that those narrative structures are relatively universal.

The kid utterly loved this book. It was kind of fascinating to me just how much he loved it – and unexpected. The stories are what you would expect – folkloric, occasionally didactic, but mostly just the sorts of tales you expect a grandparent to tell their grandchildren. He lapped them up.

I love it too, but that is less surprising.

Read folktales from around the world to your children! Give them a rich storytelling basis from which to create their own worlds. ❤ Start with this one. It is absolutely lovely.

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. 😉

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.