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?

 

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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.

Disappointing.

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?