Hairy Maclary: Scattercat – Lynley Dodd

More in the Series – Hairy Maclary
“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: 3 out of 10.

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

cover

I’ve said before that the genius of Lynley Dodd is how she makes it look easy. Her words and rhyme are so perfectly constructed that you find yourself thinking there is no other way they could go, and therefore this kind of verse must be easy. The text trips lightly across the page, seeming effortless.

As someone who occasionally writes this kind of thing, it is certainly not effortless. Dodd is kind of a genius. 🙂

This book doesn’t really pass any of our metrics – the characters are all dogs and cats so you can’t really talk about diversity. Some of the cats are female, but there’s no dialogue. It’s just a simple romp of Hairy Maclary chasing all the cats in the neighbourhood until he comes up against one who is scarier than he is.

It’s charming as hell, you guys, and if you still haven’t read a Hairy Maclary book (probably because you don’t live in New Zealand), they are definitely very worth getting your mitts on and reading with your kids. They’re somehow very Kiwi and still completely universal, which is quite a thing to pull off.

This is children’s lit at its best. 🙂 C loves them, they’re fun to read, and I marvel at the brilliantly constructed rhyme schemes. Good stuff.

Alfie: An Evening at Alfie’s – Shirley Hughes

More in the Series – Alfie
“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: 4 out of 10.

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

51h7nx-fazl-_sx258_bo1204203200_

Anyone who has been reading this for a while will know that I have a lot of respect for the Alfie books. In this one, Alfie and his sister Annie Rose are being babysat by Maureen McNally from next door, when the house begins to flood because of a burst pipe. Water drips from the ceiling and it is all charmingly chaotic.

Despite being very much told from Alfie’s perspective, Maureen calls her mother, Mrs. McNally, for help, and they have a reasonable amount of dialogue about burst pipes and how to deal with the water. This combined with Mrs. McNally trying to soothe a crying Annie Rose gives this book a clear Bechdel pass.

It slid slightly backwards when they had to get Mr McNally before they could successfully turn the water off, but it’s clear that Maureen knows enough about plumbing that she knew that was what needed to be done – she just didn’t know where to do it – and she makes a point of learning where so that she’ll know next time. There is an element of being “rescued by the bloke who knows”, but Maureen makes up for it simply because she thinks she should know, and makes a point of learning – she clearly has plenty of intuitive and agency.

C and I both enjoyed this book as much as we have enjoyed the other Alfie books. They are very real, and feel like a window into the lives of real people. I kind of love the neighbourliness, too. Help your neighbours! It makes for a better world. 😉

Good stuff. Worth a 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.

Owl Moon – Jane Yolen

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

Full disclosure? I love Jane Yolen. I pretty much love everything I have ever read that she has written. So it’s not surprising that I love this.

The book only has two characters, and one is Papa, so it can’t pass the Bechdel, but I sort of love that the gender of the child is unclear. The story is written in the first person from the point of view of the child (who is wrapped up in winter clothes) so it is unclear whether it’s a girl or a boy. I love this. It means that it could be any child – that every child who reads it can read themself into the story. Perfect.

The story itself has a magical poetic quality. Papa and the child go “owling” – walking at night through a quiet snowy landscape looking for an owl. papa makes owl hooting noises, which C loved me doing, and echoed back to me. The pictures are perfect – you can almost feel the quiet of this snowy night. The text is simple but poetic, conjuring up this sense of this being almost ritualistic – like they are following a prescribed path, something almost spiritual, this father and his child, owling in the snow.

It’s really beautiful. Like all really good art, it is simple but seems to tap into something deeper, something connected to all the world and yet somehow deeply human. It doesn’t score extremely high by our metrics, here, but C sat totally still through the whole thing (which almost never happens). There’s something very special happening in this book.

Honestly, I can’t recommend it highly enough. 🙂

Curious George – H. A. Rey

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

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

curiousgeorgefirst

Alas, this is a book that definitely doesn’t stand the test of time. We’ve been watching the TV shows for years – C loves them, and I actually think there’s a lot in them that is good: an emphasis on kindness and investigation, ingenuity and experimenting to find ways to do things.

But the book, not so much. It starts with the man in the yellow hat basically kid-napping George  from his home and family and whisking him away over the sea. In this book, curiosity is not a good thing, it is a thing that gets George into trouble over and over again. It is more of a hazard than an asset.

I mean, you know, he’s a naughty little monkey, so he comes out of it okay in the end (if you consider living in a zoo instead of the wilds from which he came “okay”). There’s no diversity at all. One female character, a nameless girl buying her little brother balloons, with no dialogue, and only white faces as far as the eye can see.

Even C seemed a bit disappointed. He still gave it a thumbs up, but he did comment on how it seemed pretty mean of the man with the yellow hat to steal George like that.

I guess we’ll see how the rest of the series go, but this one doesn’t actually have that much going for it. I mean the story is kind of funny, I suppose, but in this case the screen version is definitely vastly superior. 🙂

Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella -Constance Heward

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

7067387

This is a great little story about a little girl who is resourceful and kind. Ameliaranne is going to a tea-party at “the Squire’s” but all her little brothers and sisters are sick and can’t go along. So Ameliaranne takes a green umbrella with her and proceeds to sneak cakes and scones away in it for her siblings. She is caught at this, but instead of being punished the Squire (who, it turns out, was watching her the whole time and saw that she ate nothing herself) rewards her kindness by sending her home with a packed tea for her whole family.

I love that Ameliaranne herself is such a strong, resourceful, kind girl. Given this book was written in 1920, it’s pretty cool to see a female protagonist show initiative like that. Also, honestly, I am a sucker for stories that show kids being kind, especially to siblings. C, apparently, shares this with me, because his response was, “That’s really nice of her, isn’t it, Mommy?”

Of course. there’s some class stuff going on here. For all the Squire responds to the situation with kindness, he apparently is doing nothing on a day to day basis about people like this poor single mother who does other people’s laundry for money and is forced to feed her six children gruel most of the time. He definitely seems to think that giving the children an annual teaparty is sufficient to be considered a jolly old chap.

The book does, however, pass the Bechdel. Ameliaranne has conversations with her mother (who is called Mrs. Stibbons, not just “Mother” or some such like in so many kids’ books), and a couple with Josephine, the Squire’s rather bitter nasty sister, who catches Ameliaranne at her sibling food hoarding in the first place.

Despite the dodgy class stuff, it’s really a very charming story, and C loved it more than I expected him to do. (He really does have a liking for stories about kindness, which is pretty cool, if you ask me.) So it gets points for that from both of us. Worth a 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.