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.

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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.

Frog In Winter – Max Velthuijs

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

 

I have to say, I relate to this poor freezing frog who isn’t designed for winter. 😉

The story is simple – Frog doesn’t dig winter. He has no natural fur or feathers to keep him warm like all his friends, and he’s not happy about being so cold. His friends all try to help, providing him with warm clothes, and eventually keeping him company when he takes to his bed for the winter. Spring arrives and he emerges, back to his usual cheerful self.

While the book has only one female character (Duck), and so cannot pass the Bechdel, and all the characters are animals, so there is no real diversity to speak of, I love the message of this book. Which is that not everyone is cut out for all conditions, and it’s neat if you accept this about your friends, help them through the things that are hard for them, and be happy when they get back on their feet.

I love that they all try to help in their own ways but when it becomes clear that Frog just wants to stay home in bed, they take turns visiting, reading him stories and giving him soup. I kind of want all friendships to be like this. ❤

C loved this book. He said he gave it 5 out of 5, because “the animals were really nice to Frog”. I have to agree. It doesn’t meet our metrics for this project, but it is still very much worth the read.

Go, Dog. Go! P.D. Eastman

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

 

This is a bit of a classic, but it’s not one I remember ever reading as a child, so I don’t get the nostalgia buzz from it. It’s okay for what it is, I suppose.

There are no names, and only one notably female dog with an exceptional interest in hats, so it can’t pass the Bechdel. It has a lot of different kind of dogs in it, but they all kinda fit a vaguely WASPish mold, so it doesn’t get diversity points either.

C LOVED it. He thought the “hat” business was utterly hilarious. (I think there’s something a bit odd and sexist going on there, maybe, but it’s hard to pinpoint. It’s a weird sort of courtship, where she has to have a hat he likes before they can go off together, and go off together they do at the end. I feel like this could do with deeper analysis than I have the time or inclination for right now, but there’s something going on here to do with the primping of women for the male gaze that doesn’t sit quite right with me.)

My seven year old though? Just thought it was weird and hilariously funny.

It’s a pretty neat new reader book. My kid is no longer a new reader, but he still found it pretty enjoyable. And I’ve given it my good story point despite my hesitations about the whole Thing With the Hat, just cos I think it’s still pretty fun to read.

 

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is another one of those “very beloved toy goes missing” stories. I’m not entirely sure why it’s a “cautionary tale”, unless it’s cautionary to parents along the lines of “don’t bloody lose the important toy, ya dingbat”.

It’s pretty adorable. Trixie’s failed attempts to communicate the problem to her dad will be familiar to any parent of a small human. As will the bawling and bonelessness. It’s a neat little story, with its roots firmly in real life parenting.

No Bechdel pass, though, alas. And I’ve given it the diversity point, for having at least a couple of people of colour in the background, but once again the main story is about a nuclear white family. I also find myself slightly annoyed at the implications involved in Trixie’s dad having NO IDEA what her problem is, whereas her mother knows right the hell away. *sigh* This again? Really?

But apart from those minor gripes, it is a pretty cute little tale. Personally, I was not as taken with this as I was with Willems’ Pigeon book, but it’s okay. Certainly worth a read.

 

 

The Secret Lives of Princesses – Philippe Lechermeier/Rebecca Dautremer

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

I adore this book. It is a book that requires time though, because there is a lot to it. We read it over several sittings – poring over the gorgeous illustrations and making sure we didn’t miss any of the extra text bits.

It is basically a guide to princesses – and not only the usual airy fairy ones. This book has princesses from all over the world with all sorts of passions and personalities. There’s no homogeneous Disney thing going on here – it is a way more complex and quirky world.

It can’t pass the Bechdel, because it is structured as a guidebook, and therefore has no dialogue – but it definitely passes the spirit of the Bechdel. These are no sexy lamps in someone else’s story, these princesses are all at the very centre of their universes.

This would be a great book for a little girl who has bought into the princess thing but hankers for a bit more substance. There is a huge selection here – princesses of all temperaments and kinds. And clearly multi-cultural too, which is awesome.

And even when you set all that aside, this book is utterly beautiful and totally whimsical. It’s a pleasure to work through. C liked it, although I think a lot of it went over his head. (It’s listed in the 3+ section, but I’d say it would probably be better for 7+ year olds. There’s some pretty complex stuff in here.) It’s definitely not a single-sitting book. It’s more the kind of book you buy and look at over and over again.

Gorgeous. Wonderful. Highly recommended.