Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

I hadn’t actually realised how long the original Winnie-the-Pooh book is. It took us a while to get through together, but every story was familiar to me – as if, despite never having read it cover to cover, I had kind of osmosed the stories simply by living in the world.

There’s a lot to commend them. Obviously a big reason why they’re so well known now is that Disney got its paws on the stories. But there is something amazingly timeless about these stories, and, in some cases, quite progressive. It doesn’t pass Bechdel, since there is only one female character (Kanga) who is very much the quintessential ‘mom’ figure. But even as a mother, she has a fairly wicked sense of humour (as evidenced by the story in which Piglet sneaks into her pouch in place of Roo, and she pretends she simply hasn’t noticed, forcing Piglet to have a bath he really doesn’t want to take).

I’ve never been much of a fan of Eeyore, but I have to love how the characters simply carry on treating him as one of their own despite his self-pity, and passive aggression. There’s a lesson there about empathy and kindness that is sorely needed in the world. 🙂

As far as this project goes, it’s not that high scoring – there is no real diversity – but the overriding message of kindness is still very relevant, and the timelessness of the stories is pretty wonderful. I’ve never really watched the Disney versions with great attention, so I can’t speak to how true to the original texts they are. But the book itself is still charming as hell, ninety years after it was originally published, which, frankly, is no small feat. There is something about the ‘world of a child’ that makes it universal and still very relatable, even after all those years.

So, yes, well worth getting your hands on the original text and reading these stories with your kids. 🙂

What do you think? Are you a fan of the Poohniverse? (Sorry! I couldn’t help myself) How do you think the Disney versions compare?


Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car – John Burningham

More in the Series – Mr Gumpy
“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 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

I strongly preferred this one to the first one. I think maybe because it felt much more universal to me – less twee and British than the whole ‘punting down the river’ thing. It’s still pretty British with its old cart tracks and fields, and the old car is somehow very British countryside, but the general story of getting caught in the rain and having to push (but nobody wants to, of course) feels just a little more universal.

There’s still only one (unnamed) female character in the book, so no Bechdel passes here, and no real diversity to speak of. Ideologically, there’s not much going on, although this one is again slightly better, in my opinion, than the first one. The first one was a lot more “do what you’re told” where, in this one, the message seems more along the lines of “if you’re selfish, everyone suffers” which is an ideology I can get behind. 😉 There’s a clear “working together for the good of the whole” thing going on, which pleases my social-humanist heart. And for that I am giving it one point.

Honestly, though? Mr Gumpy is not, in my opinion, Burningham’s best creation. He has several other books I’d recommend over these, the best of which (in my opinion) is Oi! Get Off Our Train! which directly addresses conservation and climate issues, while still being charming, and actually kind of funny!

What do you think? Are you a Burningham fan? What do you think of his Mr Gumpy books?



A note

Just a note to let you know that I have hit the point now where some of the books are getting quite long and may take more than a day to read with C. I am going to do my best to keep up, and fill in the gaps with “More in the series” and maybe even the occasional request, but if things slow down that is probably why.

Thanks for reading!

The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck – Beatrix Potter

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

I had actually never read this one before, and it turns out it may just be one of my favourite of Beatrix Potter’s books. Jemima is so deliciously oblivious to her danger, and so much of the story happens in subtext. It is delightful.

Plus it has a female protagonist and actually passes the Bechdel when Rebeccah Puddle-duck and Jemima have a little spat about the latter’s egg sitting abilities.

I actually quite honestly thought that this book was going to end with Jemima being eaten by the “bushy long-tailed gentleman”, and was a little disappointed when she wasn’t. (I am probably a bad person for this, but oh well.)

Having said that, her eggs were still eaten by the fox hound puppies who saved her life, and that in itself is part of what I love about Potter in general, and this book in particular – there is no shielding children from the truths of nature.

C enjoyed it, although I don’t think he entirely got it. We had a conversation about the fox and what had happened to him and why and he was certain that the dogs were just being mean to him. I asked him if he thought the fox was going to eat Jemima and he said, “I don’t think so, but the dogs chased him away anyway.” Charitable kid. 😉

It’s a great little story – just a little bit dark, but in the best way. I’ve given it an ideology point because I love stories that don’t sugar-coat things too much for kids. I am in the camp that believes that kids can handle dark stories a lot better than most adults think they can, and shielding them from the natural cycles of the world too much can be a bad thing. So a book like this where we can become invested in Jemima and also in the polite and charming villain who wants to eat her blurs the lines between good and bad in interesting ways.

What do you think? Is it a little too dark? Do you think Jemima  deserved eating? Do you read darker books to your children?


The Tale of Jeremy Fisher – Beatrix Potter

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

Jeremy Fisher has no female characters at all, and no diversity – but, in fairness, there are only three characters. Four if you count the fish. I can’t really say much to recommend it ideologically – Fisher is a bit pompous and silly. But having said that, it is still a totally charming story.

Jeremy Fisher goes fishing, and very nearly becomes the prey. He is not a very adept fisherman, it seems, and is somewhat out of his league when a trout decides to make him its lunch. He escapes only because the trout doesn’t like the taste of his macintosh.

Like most of Potter’s tales, it is a very British tale, but has a dry humour about it which somehow manages to call fun down on the very Britishness that is its tone. I am particularly fond of the names of Fisher’s visitors at the end: Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise and Sir Isaac Newton, the latter being, of course, a newt. Punnerrific Ms Potter. 😉

As I mentioned at the start, there is no diversity and not a woman to be seen. The characters are all pretty clearly animal versions of white British men, with their macintoshes and waistcoats. Still, the book has a charm – perhaps even more so, for me anyway, than Peter Rabbit.

C and I both enjoyed it. He laughed at the idea of roast grasshopper for dinner. It was grand. Not a high scorer, but still great fun to read.

What do you think? Better than its more famous counterpart, Peter Rabbit?



The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I absolutely love the Beatrix Potter books. I’m just going to put that out there from the start. There are a few of them on this list, and I am quite likely to be kinder on them than I perhaps should be. That said, this one scores fairly low in the end.

I dithered over the Bechdel thing – Mrs. Rabbit does talk to all of her children, three of whom are named females, which is nearly a pass, but I think that Peter’s presence in the conversation (and indeed, the fact that his perspective is the important one) nullifies that. There is definitely no diversity to speak of. Despite the fact that, with the exception of Mr McGregor, all the characters are animals, they seem to me to be quite clearly “British” (in the ‘default’ white middle class sense) characters.

I give the book credit for not pulling its “bunnies can be food” punches. Peter’s father was baked into a pie by the farmer’s wife. As someone who finds overly sensitive children’s plots that ignore this sort of reality a touch saccharine, Potter’s matter-of-fact pragmatism about nature and the food chain is rather refreshing. Still, even with that point, I can’t score it higher than I have.

Having said that, C loves this book. We’ve read it repeatedly over the last few years. I’ve already admitted my fondness for Potter’s books, so it’s no surprise I give it full marks for just being a great little tale.

I’m also a fan of books where children (or their animal proxies) are curious and naughty. They get into trouble, and in this case, nearly get eaten, but this sort of natural curiosity is way better than the syrupy goodie goodie nature of the alternative. Peter is a naughty little sod, and in the end very nearly becomes lunch. But he gets home safe to his long-suffering mother, and all is well (apart from his stomach ache).

I have to recommend this book. Published not even 20 years after the last Greenaway we read, it is so much more pragmatic, and has, in my not so humble opinion, stood the test of time a great deal better. Plus, personally, I way prefer Beatrix Potter’s straightforward illustrative style.

Still grand, after over a hundred years.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Beatrix Potter? Which one is your favourite?


Marigold Garden – Kate Greenaway

POINTS: 0 out of 10.

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

This is the first book we’ve done that my son didn’t give a thumbs up. Later, he brought it back to me and said, “Mommy, let’s try it again.” And we did, but even on the second time through, after ten or so pages he said, “That’s enough.”

This is much like Mother Goose, except that these are rhymes that did not stand the test of time and are, for the most part, really not very good. Many of them don’t scan or make sense. I’d almost be inclined to say maybe it’s some kind of historical thing, that I am missing something, except that the 1001 Books blurb admits that the rhymes are “considered poor in terms of literary style”.

There is at least one where  two girls converse, but only one has a name, so it doesn’t even manage a technical Bechdel pass. A couple of them have implied dialogue between women, but nothing that made me want to give it this point.

There is one poem about how boys are boys and girls are girls and one can’t become the other which gave rise to a rather interesting conversation with C about why that isn’t actually true. Again, I can’t really give the book a point for it, since the conversation was all about why the book was wrong, but it is an interesting example of how even the most conservative texts can sometimes lead to interesting conversations with kids.

Overall though? Given I’m not that taken with Ms Greenaway’s illustration style, and this one doesn’t even have the benefit of rhymes that my kid enjoyed, and neither of us could really get through the whole thing, I couldn’t really find a redeeming factor here. I guess if you like the kind of twee lyrics and pictures of this sort of thing you may dig it. But me? I don’t think just because something is old that makes it worthwhile. There are plenty of way better books you could read your kids, on just about every level.


What do you think? Are you a Greenaway fan? Do you think I am full of codswollop? What are your favourite books of rhymes for children?

Tank Engine Thomas Again – Rev. W. Awdry

More in the Series – The Railway Series
“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 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

This is the second Thomas book in the series, and is, in my opinion, slightly more entertaining. The story in which Thomas accidentally goes fishing and ends up with fish in his boiler, which his humans remedy by pulling out their fishing rods and having a little fish barbecue by the side of the rails is so ludicrous it’s actually kind of entertaining.

Also, for the first time, there are female characters: Thomas coaches, Annie and Clarabel! They’re persnickety women, it seems, and while they are two entities they behave like one, having joint dialogue and no real distinct personalities, but hey, we can’t have everything.

There is still some dodgy class stuff going on with the Fat Controller refusing to take part i the fishing, but he does hang out with them while the fishing is happening, so that’s something I suppose. And in the story about the snow, Thomas learns an important lesson about using his safety equipment, which I suppose is good.

Generally, I prefer this book to the three we’ve already read, but that’s not a high bar. All my prior complaints about the Thomas phenomenon stand. I still, if I have to read a book over and over, would rather it wasn’t one of these. But this one is the best of the lot so far, and so I have given it an extra point.

What do you think? Have you been exposed to as much Sodor as I have? Do you have a preferred Railway Series story?

Mother Goose – Kate Greenaway

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

A lot of what I said about Lavender’s Blue, the first book of nursery rhymes we encountered, applies here too. Many of the rhymes are the same rhymes, although this one is significantly older and so some have more archaic forms and slightly different lyrics to what are generally used in modern versions.

Kate Greenaway is generally considered one of the greats of children’s book illustrations – there is even a major children’s illustrator award named after her – but personally I find her illustrative style way too twee. This book is beautiful in the sens of being obviously out of its time, and the copy I had was a very small book which gave it a kind of old-world miniature charm. It’s an interesting thing to expose children to this sort of totally different aesthetic

As far as scoring goes, there is one rhyme where words are passed between women, but the women are nameless, so it doesn’t pass Bechdel. As for the rest, it fails pretty dismally, as you would expect a book published in 1881 to do. It is however an icon of our culture, and there is some value in that. C enjoyed it, though I suspect mostly because of the familiarity of many of the rhymes. It was shorter than Lavender’s Blue, but he still got bored partway through. It’s arguable that a book like this is meant to be dipped into, though, so I am giving it to the two points for being enjoyable anyway.

The book definitely has the sense of being a cultural treasure, and there is absolutely value in that. As someone who grew up with nursery rhymes ingrained in my head, I think there is something kind of magical about these rhymes passed down through so many generations that they have almost lost their original meaning, and yet children still know the words. So does it have its place? Certainly. But does it pass based on the criteria we’re working with here? Not even close.

What do you think? What’s your favourite nursery rhyme book? What’s your favourite nursery rhyme in general? Do you think it’s a dead artform we should leave behind, or do you think they still have value?

A pause for announcements and a moment of reflection

Well, last week I got to the end of the first section (0-3) of the 1001 Books list I am using as the basis for this blog, and so I took the weekend off. Not only because I needed the break, but I thought it was a good time for some reflection on the process and perhaps a bit of tweaking.

The first thing that surprised me was how many books I couldn’t get through the library. I own a pretty good percentage of the books on the list, and the library has a lot more, as you would expect, but there are still a lot I couldn’t easily get. My plan is to procure them gradually via the money that comes in from my Patreon page, but in the meantime it means I am getting through the list at a much rapider rate than I initially expected.

As a result, as of this week I am only going to post on weekdays. So instead of seven posts a week (plus whatever extras I get around to), I’ll only be posting five. I still intend to supplement these with the “More in the Series” posts, and, eventually, with some requests, but it’s probably a good idea to mitigate my habit of over-committing and burning out sooner rather than later. 😉

For now I’m going to keep the scoring much the way it is. I’m not entirely happy with it, but I haven’t been able to work out a way to make it better yet, so I shall leave it as is for now. I’m open to suggestions though.

Now, on to a couple of things you may (or may not) have noticed:


The Bookish Jelly Bean has a Patreon page. It is totally secondary to the point of this blog, but supporting me there means I can do things like buy the books I can’t get through the library, pay for the domain, and generally spend a little more time doing this than I can currently afford to. (I’m a freelancer, so every hour I spend doing something I’m not being paid for pretty much literally comes out of my paycheque.) You can start at $1 a post (and I will only ever charge for two posts per week), and you can set a maximum so that you are never charged more than you’re willing to pay in any given month. There is a very limited reward level where I’ll send you a handmade postcard to say thanks, which is only a $1 reward, and is really just there to thank the people who support me early on. So, please, if you like what I’m doing here and think you can spare a few dollars a month, hop on over and become a patron. Once I start doing requests, patrons will get first dibs on that, so if you like telling people what to do, there’s some incentive. Become my boss. 😉 Or one of them at least.

Missing Books

As I’ve mentioned, some of the books in the list are hard to come by. I have made a list of all the books I haven’t been able to get yet, and there is even an Amazon wishlist of the ones I could find on Amazon. If you want to support me in a once off, more tangible way, sending me a copy of one of those books would be an awesome way to do it. If you prefer, I will even donate it to a library once I have reviewed it.

Alternatively, if you’re localish to me and have a copy of one of those books, it would be incredibly helpful if I could borrow it. 🙂


The Bookish Jelly Bean is also on Facebook, now. There has been some discussion about books happening over there, so if you’re inclined, please like the page and join in. 🙂


I have been keeping a spreadsheet of the ways things have been scoring, and so over the next little while will rustle up some stats on the first section for those of you who like that sort of thing. 🙂

Apart from that, I just want to thank everyone who has read and commented and liked the Jelly Bean on Facebook, and generally shown interest. A huge thanks to the people who have jumped in on Patreon to support me there, and to the amazing folk at the Wellington libraries without whom this would be totally impossible (or at least, very much slower). Support your libraries, people! For reals.