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

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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.

 

Alfie’s Feet – 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: 3 out of 10.

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

The Alfie books are pretty great as a rule, but this one is a bit middling. It’s cute enough, I suppose, but I feel wasn’t quite as good as the rest of the series.

There isn’t a single word of dialogue in this book, and only one named female character (if you don’t count “Mum”), so it can’t pass the Bechdel.

As far as diversity goes, while Alfie’s immediate family is white as can be, at least his world is populated with people of many colours and kinds. One of the things I like about these books is that the images of crowds, even in stories like this one which is quite insular,  include a decent variety of people. It’s almost like that’s what the world is actually like or something!

Again I feel obligated to point out what a low bar this is, and yet so few children’s books seem to meet even this very low bar, that it’s worth noting.

The story is okay. C likes Alfie and his sister Annie Rose, so he enjoyed it. The basic gist is that Alfie likes to stomp in puddles, so his Mum buys him some bright yellow gumboots and then off he goes, stomp, splash, joy. It’s very very simple, but is the kind of thing that is pretty relatable to kids and their parents. Nothing super exciting going on here, but a cute relevant story nonetheless. Some of the other Alfie books I’ve reviewed have definitely been better, but it’s okay.

Stomp. Splash. 😉

Alfie Lends a Hand – 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: 5 out of 10.

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

These books really are just lovely. In this one, Alfie goes to a birthday party for his friend Bernard. I like how Bernard is portrayed as naughty, and it’s not dismissed or hand-waved away as “boys will be boys” but at the same time he’s not a total monster. It’s nice to see the nuance of behaviour in kids in a book for kids.

Also the children at Bernard’s party are actually pretty representative of multiple cultures, which is awesome to see. In this one there is a child called Min who actually gets quite a lot of airtime, so it’s not even only the token “faces in the crowd” thing. Minor step up from the truly low bar we have set.

I’ve given it the Bechdel pass because Min and Bernard’s Mum have a couple of conversations that, although a direct result of Bernard’s actions, are not actually about him. I know that calling Bernard’s Mum named is a stretch, but I spend a lot of time around children who refer to me only as “Christopher’s Mum”, so I know that that is pretty much how kids see the parents of their peers. I’m counting it. 🙂

The story is about being brave, and about being kind. Alfie is afraid to go to the party alone and takes his security blanket with him, but when Min needs a friend, he sets the blanket aside because he needs both hands to help her. It’s a cool little moral analogy to do with doing the scary thing to help someone who is more scared than you are.

These books really do have some great ideologies under their really quite relatable stories. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them.

C liked it too – though he was a bit judgy about Bernard’s behaviour. But it was a good story, with some neat messages that were not too overt. Good stuff.

All About Alfie – 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: 5 out of 10.

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

These books consistently do fairly well on the diversity points, and this one is no different. While Alfie and his family are very clearly a white Anglo family, the other people in the world are depicted in all their wide variety. This book is no exception – the one image that is in a semi-public place (Great-Grandma’s retirement home) has all kinds of people in it.

This one even passes the Bechdel, as Mum and her friend, Helen, talk about their adventure, and the owl in the cottage at which they’ve arrived for their weekend visit. Alfie is there, and it is told more or less from his point of view, but the dialogue feels at least a little like two adults talking over the head of the child who happens to be there, so I’m giving the point.

And while we’re on the topic of Mum’s friend, Helen, man I want to believe that Helen is not just Mum’s “friend”, and that they’ve gone off for a weekend away together with Alfie as part of a totally legit poly arrangement. I mean Dad waves them off and everything. Why is he staying home with Annie Rose? This is never explained. I love that it is never explained. And when they’re all frightened by the owl and end up outside, Mum and Helen are totally holding hands!!

I am almost certain that none of this was intended to depict a functioning poly arrangement, but it can absolutely be read that way. And this pleases my little maverick heart. 🙂

The stories in this book really are pretty wonderful. I find myself incredibly fond of Alfie’s Great-Grandma who worked in a factory building airplanes and therefore knows all there is to know about old airplanes. It’s awesome how taken with her his very boyish friend Bernard is, to the point where he hugs her even though “hugging people was something that Bernard did not often do”. (Also, how great is that? That this is stated like a totally normal thing – some people are just not huggers.)

The more of these I read, the more I love this series. They’re sort of very gently and quietly subversive – not in any big shouty ways, but if you’re paying attention there’s some quiet subversion going on there. Great stuff.

Alfie’s Christmas – 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: 3 out of 10.

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

This is a pretty simple, straightforward Christmas book, with everything you’d expect a Christmas book to have. Presents, Santa, food, family. It has the lot.

No Bechdel pass, and one diversity point only because there is mention of Alfie’s family’s neighbours the “Santos” family. Which is a pretty low bar, but hey, even that low bar is so seldom met.

I do like that Alfie gives everyone presents – that despite the story still subscribing to the whole Father Christmas thing, the giving of gifts is still a feature. I got slightly frowny when Alfie got a scooter and Annie Rose got a fairy-princess outfit, because oh sigh the gender stuff, but in general it’s a pretty nifty little story.

There’s definitely nothing subversive happening here, but a family having a good family Christmas together is never a bad thing. I know a lot of people have jaded attitudes about Christmas, but my own childhood Christmases were always full of family and love and joy, so it does nothing but make me smile.

Also, bonus points for the great uncle from Australia, and the nod to the fact that in the Southern hemisphere Christmas is a summer thing. Hell yeah it is. 😉

Alfie Gets in First – Shirley Hughes

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

This is a pretty cute little story. Alfie manages to get inside his house and lock the door leaving his mother and sister outside. What follows is his mother’s attempts to get him to open the door, helped out by various people in the neighbourhood.

While there are a number of named female characters, and they do talk to each other, their dialogue is all about Alfie and how to get into the house, so I am not counting it as a Bechdel pass. I gave it one point for variety which is a combination of the one black kid in the illustrations zipping past on his roller-skates, and the fact that Maureen’s ability to climb up the drainpipe and break a window isn’t really called into question. Neither of these are particularly notable challenges to the status quo, but I’ve been doing this long enough by now to know how rare even this tiny amount of a nod to the diversity of human existence is.

It’s a neat little story though. I like how the various members of the neighbourhood gather to try and help Alfie’s mother solve this problem. And I love that the person who solves it eventually is Alfie himself. He pulls himself together, stops crying, gets a chair and manages to open the door himself. This is a great message for kids – that it’s okay to be scared and upset and cry, but eventually you have to get things together and tackle the problem head on.

C liked it too. There is a lot going on in the illustrations that has nothing to do with the textual story. In fact Alfie’s ability to stop crying and get a chair and open the door is all done through illustration while the grown ups on the other side of the door are still debating what to do. This cooperation between illustration and text is something of which I am a big fan in picture books.

Neat little book. Well worth a read.