Revamp!

Hello folks!

I have decided that I am going to reskin the jellybean as a podcast in which I read out loud classic children’s books – books in the public domain – and then, once they’re complete, have a bit of a discussion about them. If you have a preference for what you’d like to see as my first book, please let me know. 🙂

Otherwise I’ll just pick one of my favourites and do the thing!

The Story of Miss Moppet – Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – Beatrix Potter
“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: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

This book has only two characters – so it’s a bit hard for it to pass Bechdel or diversity metrics. It’s pretty cute, though.

Miss Moppet hears a mouse and proceeds to hunt and catch said mouse. She is very sneaky about it! But the mouse manages to escape and taunt her anyway. That’s pretty much the whole story, but, as with most of Potter’s work, it is executed in such a delightful, fond and charming way that it leaves you smiling.

The kidlet and I both enjoyed it. It certainly isn’t one of her best – and I’d say it’s best for the smaller of the small humans – but it’s pretty great anyway. 🙂

Worth a read, despite the low grade.

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.

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.

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.

Duck and the Diesel Engine – The Rev. W Awdry

More in the Series – Thomas/The Railway Series
“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

Okay so, I know Christopher loves these books and so do millions of children, but I still can’t find much to recommend them. And here, with the introduction of Diesel, my ire becomes stronger.

Every story needs a villain, and, you know, it took the good Reverend a long time to figure this out – many books in fact – but figure it out he did, and so we are introduced to Diesel, who is a slimy, lying, conceited prat, basically.

Let me backtrack a little. The very first Thomas book C ever had was one involving Diesel – not this one, a later one. In that book, basically all the engines were really mean to him and set him up to fail, which he did, and then everyone nodded sagely about what a horrid engine Diesel is and how it was his own damned fault. The thing is though, without the context of the wider series, it wasn’t clear to me from the one book that Diesel was actually that horrible.

In this book, he definitely is. He is conceited, unwilling to learn, and he makes an effort to bad mouth Duck (who is actually, legitimately, one of the nicer engines). He is the classic poisonous gossip, who spreads malicious stories about others until eventually he gets tangled in his own bullshit and ends up getting his come-uppance (in this case, with the Fat Controller “sending him packing”). As a character he is every bit the villain, and deserves what he gets.

But, and here’s the thing I have an issue with, I can’t help but feel that portraying Diesel in this way is some sort of overly-nostalgic Luddite anti-tech thing. Because of course steam engines are soooo much prettier and nicer and better than Diesel engines. They have class and style, and while I don’t exactly disagree, I think the anti-tech thing is problematic. I also object to the idea that “the old ways are better” JUST BECAUSE they are the old ways, and it seems to me that there is some of this ideology going on here.

Of course I am over-thinking it, but that is what I do. 😉

C loved it, as always. It failed basically every metric, as all these books have done thus far (and I don’t really expect that to change).

Me? I remain unmoved by the whole Thomas phenomenon.

Apologies

My dear patient readers.

I know, I know, the Jelly Bean has been sorely neglected in recent weeks. I have a pile of books waiting for reviews, but alas my attention has been very much focused elsewhere as we (over at The Patchwork Raven) launch our first book.

If you’re in withdrawal from my general awesomeness, perhaps consider popping on over to our Pledgeme page and buying our book. It’s not a children’s book. But it is pretty nifty.

I’ll be back to regular posts soon, I promise – I may even manage one today. Just please bear with me as book marketing eats my brain for one more week.

Olivia – Ian Falconer

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

Olivia is a pretty cute book about a rambunctious little pig-girl. She has boundless energy which results in her frequently wearing people out (most notably her mother). I’ve given it the Bechdel, even though “Mummy” isn’t a real name, because it kind of is in kid-world. All the characters are pigs though, so there is no real way to measure diversity.

It’s neat though. Olivia is a fiery little girl who gets into mischief, paints on walls when she shouldn’t, makes truly epic sandcastles, and obviously has quite an imagination. There’s quite a lot to her, given how simple the book is, which is pretty cool.

And it has that “you’re a ratbag but I love you” thing going on between her and her Mummy, which is one of my favourite things. The relationships between Olivia and her parents, and her little brother Ian feel really genuine and believable, which is always nice. In real life even the best families sometimes get sick and tired of each other, but there is always that underlying love. And that’s the important thing.

The illustrations are fairly sparce (lots of white space!) and simple, but they still manage to complement the text, and add to the story.

It’s a cute book. Worth a read.

Clown – Quentin Blake

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is an awesome book. It’s done exclusively with images, which as you’ve probably gathered by now is something I love when done right. And Blake sure does it right. The story is completely clear, despite the lack of explanatory text, and it was great following the little clown on his mission – C loved it, and so did I.

No Bechdel pass, not even implicitly. None of the characters have names, but even then the interactions between female characters are all basically about the clown. There are a few people of colour in the illustrations, so I’ve given it a point for that, but it’s worth noting that none of them are people who actively engage with the clown or the story. They’re just, sort of, window-dressing. (This happens a fair bit in kids’ books, I’ve noticed. Where people of colour ARE in the book, they’re usually just part of the crowd, not part of the story. It’s a bit of an indictment on our canon that even this tiny nod to there being a wide variety of people in the world is notable and raises a book above the norm. Low bars, man. It sucks that our bars have to be so low. 😦 )

Apart from all this though, it’s a cute little story. C and I had fun reading it. There’s nothing particularly ideologically grand about it, apart from the idea that people (or toys in this case) have value beyond their cost, and that helping people means they might help you.

I liked the idea that you should help your Mom out. That was nice. 😉 But honestly, it’s really just a neat little story, told exclusively through pictures. Worth perusing.

 

Window – Jeannie Baker

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I do have a love for picture books that have no written text. There is something about the way you engage with them – especially when reading them with small children that is quite unique and very enjoyable. Studying the images, looking for clues, reading the story by interpreting what you’re seeing – I feel like all of that is good exercise for children, and also means constructing the story in a more active, somehow less linear way. It’s fun.

It does however make passing the Bechdel more or less impossible, though this book is seen through the eyes of a boy anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have passed. The images show exactly two people who are obviously people of colour in the whole book, so while I did give it this point, it is still a fairly white-washed world we are being presented.

Nevertheless, it’s a neat book. It has a pretty clear agenda to do with appreciating how much impact we humans have on our environments. There is a clear ideological standpoint here to do with urbanisation and the destruction of wild areas and how that’s bad. I don’t disagree, but I’ve never been a fan of force-feeding ideology, even ones I agree with.

Still, the book is very cleverly constructed – each double spread looks out of the same window of the same house as a boy grows from babyhood to adulthood and moves out. We see the landscape outside of the window change, moving from bush to town. The boy’s interests change as he grows, until eventually on the last spread we see his new, adult window in what we must assume is his new house, as he holds his own new baby in his arms, and looks out, once again, at native bush.

The message is there and clear (to me, anyway), but C didn’t really get the environmental thing from it. He was interested in the things that stayed the same. He wanted to find the boy’s aging cat in each image. He went looking for cool things to look at, and words to read on the walls and the boy’s birthday cards. (This is probably because knowing how to read is still novel and exciting to him. 🙂 )

There is something cool about that kind of discovery, and while I found the message a bit unsubtle (I like ideology to be subtle), I still think it’s a book worth looking for. There is a lot going on there, and it is quite effective.