POINTS: 4 out of 10.
Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 2 points
No Bechdel pass here – no female characters at all apart from a couple of village women in the pictures none of whom are even mentioned in the text, and there really isn’t any diversity either.
I’ve given it two discretionary points though. The first is because this definitely has that sense of being a European folktale, and while my diversity points are more for things like people of colour, or LGBTQ characters, and so forth, I think there is definitely something to be said for a slightly different European approach. The original book is in Swedish, and honestly I am not even sure how freely available the English translation is, or if it’s in our library here only because we’re lucky enough to live in the hometown of Gecko Press. (And yeah, I’m going to do a little plug here – you should follow that link, they do awesome work.) But it’s always a good thing, in my not-so-humble opinion, to expose kids to stories from all over the world. Read widely, is my philosophy.
The second one is because of the illustrations. This is one of those books that is absolutely made by the illustrations. We got several pages in before we realised how much we’d been missing, and just how many secret neat little easter eggs are in the pictures of this book. At which point we went back to the beginning and started again, looking closer this time. And that, in itself, is a valuable thing – hey we missed stuff because we weren’t paying attention, let’s go back and look again. What a life lesson, right?
The story is a relatively simple one in the tradition of “The House that Jack Built”. In order to make the birthday pancakes, they have to complete a series of tasks, each one dominoing into the next. It would be fun and entertaining simply as is. But when you combine that with the complexity of the illustrations, and all the little extra visuals stories going on there, it really does become an awesome reading experience.
So despite its low scores when it comes to diversity and so forth, I’d still highly recommend this book. It’s a treasure. I may actually have to buy a copy for us.