Pest in Show: The Buzz of Broadway – Victoria Jamieson

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

C found this book utterly hilarious – possibly, I suspect, because of the rewritten songs in it, which I sang with great gusto. Because they were fun.

This is the story of a diva ladybug and her annoying kid brother (who is a spider – I assume there was an adoption in the family; this is never explained). The ladybug is doing some most excellent musical theatre, but her brother wants some of the limelight. This culminates in a bug dance off, after which they discover that if they pool their talents, they can both be superstars!

It’s a pretty cute little tale of sibling rivalry and the benefits of working together. There are plenty of inside jokes if you know musical theatre – posters for ” Pest Side Story”, “Antie” and “Bugspray” that deliberately echo the iconic imagery of the originals. The songs are new lyrics to the tunes of such hits as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, lyrics composed by “Wolfspider Amadeus Mozart”. The book has plenty to make the adult reader smile to themself.

It’s clever and cute, and, while it doesn’t do extremely well by our metrics – despite being anthropomorphised bugs, the characters in the book don’t feel diverse, exactly, and the gender roles are pretty explicit, with the diva older sister and the prankster little brother who showers her with garbage and so forth – it’s still a fun read.

Rex – Simon James

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:  4 out of 10.

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

Rex is the story of a big scary T-rex who accidentally adopts a tiny little baby dino called Rex. At first he is grumpy and unwilling to be friendly, but eventually he is won over. One day, however, he tells Rex that he’s not his real dad, and Rex sadly goes off into the world to find out where he belongs. Of course the big dinosaur realises he was wrong and goes looking for him. And they find out that family and belonging is not always about blood relations. 🙂

This “chosen family” theme is one I really love. I think that while it’s awesome when kids have that connection with their blood families, not all get that, and it’s so important for children (and humans) to realise that you can find love, acceptance and belonging among chosen family too. That family doesn’t make love, it’s the other way around.

I also kind of love that this is a “dad”/”son” dynamic, just because this kind of parenting/nurture thing is often reserved for women in books – especially children’s books. As the mother of a child who already seems very sure that he wants to be a dad one day, I love it when children’s books teach that this kind of parental nurture is totally open to boys too. YAY!

Obviously the book’s main characters are two male dinosaurs, so it doesn’t really make sense to talk about diversity here, and despite not passing the Bechdel, I’d still say it gets some feminism points for challenging traditional gender ideas regarding who does the parenting, so really it’s full of win.

Also, dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love dinosaurs, right? 😉

Recommended.

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.

Limelight Larry – Leigh Hodgkinson

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

This book does that metatextual thing for which I have such an enormous weakness. The gist of the story is that the book (the whole book!) is meant to be about Limelight Larry who, you may be able to tell from the name, is the sort of character who really wants all the attention to be on him. Gradually, however, other characters appear and get involved, making Larry more and more put out, until he gets rid of everyone by taking up the whole page himself with an enormous show of plumage! (Larry is a peacock, in case that isn’t clear from the above cover image.)  But then he discovers that things are not as much fun without other people, and the woods have gotten quite spooky so he calls them all back.

It’s a story about sharing the spotlight, and the value of playing nice with others and not trying to hog all the attention to yourself, which is a pretty great message. But the really fun thing about this book is that it is so metatextual about the fact that it is a book. Larry’s whole complaint is that the book is meant to be all about him – he even refers the other characters to the cover. On said cover, and even on the imprint page, Larry has crossed things out and annotated things to make it all about him. He has even edited the authors name to make the book BY Limelight Larry.

I love this stuff. I am a big fan of this kind of tricksy self-referential metatext, especially in kids’ books. It reminds children that stories are unreliable – that someone somewhere had to write them. That they can’t entirely be trusted, and I think this is an incredible thing for children to grasp. Tricksterism has no better venue than a children’s book, in my not so humble opinion, and this book is an awesome example of that.

By our metrics though, it doesn’t do well. While not all of the animals in the book are gendered, the ones that are definitely fall into the kind of “default male” character, and there is no hint of diversity. I mean the characters are all animals, so there’s that, but nevertheless. No points for any of that.

It’s a good message though – don’t be a selfish dumbass – and the metatextual aspect is great fun. And C picked it as his book of the week, so it obviously works at a five year old level too. 🙂 Good stuff. Recommended.

Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

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

This is some truly Hallmark shit y’all. *grin* But when I asked my son to pick his favourite, and he picked this and I asked him why he said, “Because love is really nice”, and honestly, I can’t argue with that. Especially now, when we could all use a little more love, I think.

It doesn’t pass any Bechdel or diversity tests, because the only character is the caterpillar. There is no story, really. This is very much a gift book, based on the Hungry Caterpillar franchise. The text is all cutesy love stuff. “You make my heart flutter” accompanied by the picture of the butterfly and suchlike. There’s not much to it.

Having said that, though, my sweet kid likes it because “love is really nice”. And I cant help but be proud that my five year old feels that way.

So you know what, screw my usual eye-rolling cynicism about this kind of saccharine stuff. The world is a dark place, and we could all use a bit of love. So here it is. In big, gorgeous collaged letters. Let’s celebrate people who make the sun shine brighter.

Love.

It’s an imperative. 😉

Everybody Loves Bacon – Kelly DiPucchio/Eric Wight

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: 2 out of 10.

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

I can’t say much ‘worthy’ about this book, apart from the fact that it is a lot of fun. There is no Bechdel pass and no notable diversity (but since all the characters are different kinds of food, that’s a bit of a red herring).

It is great fun though. Bacon becomes very popular, and it goes to his head. He forgets all his old friends, gets way to involved in his own fame and popularity – “Who needs friends when you have fans?” he asks. And then… he gets eaten. Because, well, of course.

There’s no redemption, and I suppose if there’s a message it’s something like, if you treat your friends crappily, you deserve to get eaten. 😉

The story is a bit thin, to be honest, but it’s still pretty funny, and C obviously thought it was great. I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a classic of literature – it’s not particularly clever, or even really particularly well written (though I did enjoy the nod to ukuleles), but it is pretty fun, and rather amusing.

It wouldn’t have been my choice of the options he had, but this feature is called “Christopher’s Choice” for a reason, and at the end of the day, kids like what they like. Certainly, it won’t do any harm. 😉

Also, I mean, bacon is delicious. So there’s that.

The Moon and Farmer McPhee – Margaret Mahy/David Elliot

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

As a kiddielit geek living in NZ you’d be hard pressed to find a combo that gives me as much joy as Mahy/Elliot. And I was pretty pleased that the book lived up to my expectations.

It’s a story about finding the small joys in life. Farmer McPhee sort of plods through his days, doing what needs to be done, but never “frisking”. He works too hard, and his life has not enough joy in it. So the animals on his farm resolve to do something about this – to get him to notice the moon and beauty and mystery. They have a big late at night frolic in the moonlight and wake him up. He is, of course, grumpy as hell about it, and resists their suggestions that he embrace the frisk. But eventually the moon wins him over and life is full of joy and dancing. Huzzah!

As far as our metrics go, there’s nothing here – there is one human character and he is very much a white dude. So it gets no points for Bechdel or any kind of diversity.

It’s a great book though. Apart from just being an awesome story, it has pages with holes for peeping into and folded pages that allow you to open doors and look through things. I love these kind of interactive touches.

And I love the basic ideology that life is more than work, that you have to stop on occasion and dance beneath the full moon. 😉

C obviously loved this book, since he picked it as his favourite (and with no hesitation at all). I suspect a lot of that had to do with the barn doors that open and so forth – he shares my love for these things – but some had to do with it just being an awesome story. 🙂

Read it. It’s neat.