Haitus

Hello lovely Jellybean readers.

This is just to let you know that the Bookish Jellybean will be on haitus now until probably February. This is partly just because holidays are crazy, but also because one of the panel (the 5 yr old one) will be away for much of the school holidays with his Dad.

So let me take this opportunity to wish you the happiest of whatever holidays you celebrate, a gorgeous summer break for those of you on my side of the world, and a warm and cozy winter to the others. 😉

Have a good one, and I’ll catch you on the flipside.

Babar at Home – Jean de Brunhoff

More in the Series – Babar
“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: 1 out of 10.

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

This one is marginally better than the last one. Still no Bechdel pass, nor is there any real diversity. This one also still reads in that colonial register.

But, perhaps because it is focussed on the home and Babar and Celeste’s triplet babies, it is not quite so full of totally horrible colonial notions, and it’s a bit easier to be forgiving of the flaws in the story.

This one is essentially the story of the birth and early childhood of Babar’s children. There are various episodes of baby elephant hijinks. Flora nearly chokes, Alexander floats down-river in Babar’s hat and has a run in with a crocodile, from which Babar rescues him. It’s all a bit adventurous and has a small tinge of that “What ho! Growing up in Africa is rollicking good fun, old chap!” stuff going on.

Plotwise it’s episodic. I wasn’t that impressed. C still likes them well enough, and the whole hat/river/crocodile episode got his attention.

I mean, it’s not quite as eye-rollingly colonial as the previous books, but if the best I can say about it is that it’s not as bad as the others, that’s not that impressive. I know these books are meant to be greats of the kid-canon, but honestly, I think you could skip them very easily.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days – Stephen Michael King

Christopher’s Choice: Each week, C gets four or five books out of the library, and picks one as his favourite, and I review it. This is this week’s choice.

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

snail-and-turtle-rainy-days

I was so glad C chose this book, because I am quite excited to tell you about it. It actually made me tear up a little bit when I read it to him, and when I just skimmed through it again now in preparation of writing this, it happened again.

It doesn’t pass the Bechdel, and it has no diversity, but there is something really quite wonderful going on in this book.

So Snail is hiding in his shell because it is raining and he doesn’t want to come out, and Turtle does all he can to coax Snail out of his shell.  He does all of Snail’s favourite tricks, but to no avail. And then something magical happens. Turtle gently pats Snail’s shell and says, “Maybe tomorrow will be brighter”.

Tomorrow is worse. The storm intensifies. Snail continues to hide. It keeps raining, day after day, and then Turtle makes a plan, and starts building Snail a shelter. He adds swirls because “swirls are what Snail loves best”. The storm gets worse.

And Turtle says, “It’s alright Snail. Stay in, as long as you need.”

The next day, it is still raining, but now Turtle has built a shelter, and he manages to coax Snail out of his shell. They sit in the shelter and eat the food Turtle has brought. And Snail finds them “surprisingly delicious”.

And that’s when I get all teary. Because blow me down if this isn’t a story about helping a depressed friend, you guys. And Turtle does it so well.

In a world where more and more people are struggling with depression (or maybe just a world where more of them are talking about it), this story is a very gentle, very subtle way of showing kids how to help people they care about. You do what you can. You make a shelter, if you can. You show up. And you let them take as long as they need. And when they come out you hug them and feed them. 🙂

It’s… beautiful. Compassionate. Wonderful. And so beautiful.

Highly recommended.

The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is a bit of a hard one for me to review because it is so very beloved, and with such good reason. We’ve all seen that thing about how you become real by being loved and how that process can hurt and by the time you’re real, all your fur has been cuddled off and all that. And it’s a great message. It certainly resonates with a lot of people.

Thing is though, this book fails almost all our metrics. The only female character is the fairy, and her entire role is to rescue and bring the rabbit to life. So no Bechdel. There is definitely no sign of diversity.

And also, you know, I sort of object to the idea that “realness” is something that is bestowed upon you by someone else’s love. That’s… just a bit problematic for me.

But I get it. It is a very beloved book, and not without reason. The bond between kid and their favourite toy seems to be a pretty universal concept. Certainly C loves this book because he has a “Kitty” he loves like that. And he has solemnly informed me that Kitty is real because he loves him, and on that level I think the book is doing something pretty neat. We do infer meaning onto things as humans just because we have strong feelings about them.

But that’s things. And the book is told from the point of view of the rabbit, and I can’t help but feel that if it is about love, it is not so much being loved that makes a person real as perhaps the act of loving. Also, like, people are just real. You know. It’s not a conditional state.

Emotionally, I adore this book. But when I put my narrative criticism hat on, I can’t help but spot that it is full of ideological holes.

So yes, absolutely, read it to your kids. But then remind them that their worth lies in themselves, not in being loved by anyone else. Because what really makes you “real” is what you do and how you behave. Not what other people think of you.

The Little Mermaid – Hans Christian Anderson

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

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

Oh Hans, you poor disturbed dear!

Okay, so before Disney got hold of it, this was a story of a girl who martyred herself for love, basically. Hans Anderson had a bit of a thing for tragic tales of unrequited love redeemed by religion, probably because he was a nutjob who stalked a singer for years believing her to be like his one true soul mate. (Seriously, if you have a lot of hours of your life you’d like to lose, read his autobiography. It’s long as hell, but the insight it gives you into Anderson’s weird brain and interesting social issues is pretty fascinating.)

Anderson did pen my all time favourite fairy tale, and there is no doubt there was some genius there, but this one kind of makes my skin crawl, and the older and wiser I get, the more that becomes true.

There are no named characters in the whole story, so it can’t pass the Bechdel, though it would be hard-pressed to do that anyway. If the mermaid’s sisters had names and if the dialogue about what they saw above the water was written as actual dialogue, it might have, but that’s a lot of ifs.

From a feminist point of view, this story fails in every way. The mermaid quite literally gives up her voice for a man who not only doesn’t love her but essentially treats her like a pet. She sleeps on a velvet cushion before his door. A velvet cushion. Before his door. Like a mother-fucking dog. And this is portrayed as some sort of enormous favour. (I mean, look, I know, fairy tales, and also, nature of the times and all that, but bloody hell.)

She is in constant pain from the fact that every step feels like knives stabbing into her feet, but she smiles sweetly and dances like an angel and no one has any bloody idea.

Then when he marries someone else (because she like, never learned to write, or figure out any kind of real communication so she could oh say for example TELL HIM SHE LOVED HIM), she sacrifices her life for his and is rewarded with the opportunity to spend hundreds of years in service doing “good things” in order to “earn” a soul.

I just…. UGH. No. Gross.

Go read The Snow Queen instead. At least Gerda has some frikkin’ attitude.

 

A Child’s Garden of Verse – Robert Louis Stevenson

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

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

This is one of the books that pops up time and again as being so very entrenched in our canon that we’re expected to just accept it as wonderful.

But, you guys, it’s not wonderful. C did say he liked it, but I can tell you it took us ages to get through because mostly he didn’t really understand the poems, and the ones he did understand he seemed largely bored by.

On top of that, several of them are outright racist. Oh my god the travel poem is just a bunch of stereotypes, and there are actual “red indians” and it’s just very cringe-worthy and has not aged well.

I was sort of expecting that at least some of the poems in the book would be ones that have drifted into the realm of nursery rhyme – that they would be things familiar to me, but none of them actually were. They all lacked that timelessness of nursery rhymes.

Mr Stevenson should probably have stuck to adventure stories. :/

There are probably beautifully illustrated versions of this book floating around but the one we got from the library was pretty average in that regard too.

I just, I don’t really have anything good to say about this. Disappointing.

Angelina and the Princess – Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig

More in the Series – Angelina
“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: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

This book passes the Bechdel in that Angelina and Miss Lilly have some dialogue that is about ballet! But that’s the high point really.

You could probably make a case for diversity because there are many mice of different colours, but that’s a bit of a stretch even by my rather low bar in this project, so I’m not giving it. There are certainly no particular cultural markers beyond the colours of the mice to suggest any real diversity going on.

And then there’s the story, which made me twitch a little. Angelina is too sick on audition day to dance properly and ends up with a small part in the show they’re putting on for the Princess of Mouseland (who is nameless). She is, of course, distraught, being as how she is obviously the most important ballerina to ever ballet, but instead of ending up being a story about a little girl setting her ego aside and being happy for her friend Flora who had the main part, this becomes a story about Flora twisting her ankle at the last minute and Angelina swooping in to the rescue, and getting the main part anyway.

It’s… just a bit too Mary-Sue for my taste. Meh.

I don’t recall being particularly impressed with the first book, and this one left me sort of mildly irritated, so I wouldn’t put it on the recommended list. Skip it. There must be better ballet stories if that’s your thing.