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.

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Elmer on Stilts – David McKee

More in the Series – Elmer
“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 point
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

I have a bit of a weakness for elephants, so I am predisposed towards books where elephant hunters get squished. 😉

This is a much better book than the previous Elmer book. Once again Elmer shows his knack for ingenuity, but this time he is using his talents to save the elephants from the elephant hunters. It’s a delight!

No Bechdel pass (not a female character to be seen) and no diversity points. The hunters are all Great White Hunters in the 19th century tradition complete with khaki outfits. Still, they are very clearly portrayed as the “bad guys” so that’s something.

C enjoyed this one. He gave it a 3 out of 5, which is enough to get his point. When I asked why he said it was funny, but unrealistic because apparently elephants can’t possibly walk around on stilts. Which, you know, I guess is true, if a little rich from a kid who constantly invents imaginary robots. 😉

Good stuff though. Rather entertaining, with a nice subtle conservation message. Worth the read.

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.

The Gruffalo’s Child – Julia Donaldson

More in the Series – Gruffalo
“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

Man, I love these books. Donaldson has that rare knack of writing light rhyming text that totally belies how hard it is to do right. Plus, I always love me a trickster tale, and the mouse in these books is absolutely a trickster.

In this one, the Gruffalo warns his daughter about the Big Bad Mouse, but she decides to go exploring to see for herself. She meets a variety of animals all of whom warn her that the Mouse is down by the lake eating Gruffalo cake (or similar). She finally finds the Mouse and is unimpressed by how little he is. However with the help of some clever shadow work, he manages to trick her into thinking that the Big Bad variety is right there and she runs home back and snuggles in with the Gruffalo again.

There’s no Bechdel pass, and no diversity to speak of. The characters (with the exception of the Gruffalos) are all woodland animals, and the only clear female is the child herself (who has no name of her own).

But it’s an awesome little tale about the trickster mouse, and the triumph of brains over brawn. Plus the text trips along so lightly, making it an utter pleasure to read out loud.

Highly recommended.

 

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie – May Gibbs

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

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This book is about as cutesy and twee as the title will lead you to expect. To my great surprise, however, C really loved it. He was quite taken with these two “nuts” and their adventures.

The book does pass the Bechdel – just. And only right at the very end where Lilly Pilly (the actress) offers to adopt Little Blossom and make her her sister. It’s one line of dialogue, but they both have names and it’s not about a male character, so it’s a technical pass.

I mean, I guess it’s cute of you like that sort of thing. There are a lot of close calls, and near catastrophes, and the two title characters do have fairly clear personalities, which is more than I expected. There is a certain charm to the way the Australian flora and fauna is personified. It’s still a bit twee for my taste, but I can see how if cutesy is your flavour, you may dig it.

Ideologically there is a bit of stuff about not judging by covers and all that good stuff – Little Blossom proves herself to be very brave and willing to do whatever she has to to save the Nuts from the evil Mrs Snake and her army of Banksia men. She is of course rewarded with  financial security and a new home. 😉

It is definitely a product of its time, though. There’s a lot of that “ideal of childhood” stuff going on, which has never sat that well with me.

May be worth a read if you’re into antipodean classics. Like I said, C loved it, so there’s obviously something there. Me? I could take it or leave, to be honest.

 

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.

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.