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.

 

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Possum Magic – Mem Fox/Julie Vivas

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

 

This book is frikkin’ great. Not only does it pass the Bechdel with flying colours (the two main characters are both named female characters, who talk throughout the book), but on one of only two pages with humans on them, there is actually a reasonably wide selection of people colours and types! Which, given that the bulk of the story involves animals, is pretty impressive.

On top of those basic metrics, there is so much about this book to love. It has real character. Grandma Poss is a straight up magical old woman, which is one of my favourite fictional archetypes, but she’s not portrayed as a witch. She does magic, yes, “bush magic”, but the portrayal of her is exactly the kind of “wise magical woman” I love to see. Grandma Poss is a crone – smart, fiesty, magical, and kind.

Hush loves being invisible, but when she tires of it and asks her grandmother to turn her back, her Grandma can’t do it. Hush tells her she doesn’t mind, “but in her heart of hearts she did”. This is another thing I love. Hush doesn’t want to make her Grandma feel bad when she doesn’t succeed, so she tells her it’s okay. But in reality she is upset. And Grandma Poss knows that, so they go on a journey to find the answer. This is such a true to life emotional journey – this is what happens when someone you love makes you feel bad. You try to hide it. They try to fix it anyway. The nuance of that is so rooted in love and compassion, and it’s so awesome to see that so simply and effectively addressed in a kids’ book.

These characters are marvelous. The story is marvelous. It’s deeply Aussie, too, so if you live down here in the Antipodes, that may appeal. Though I have to say, in defense of my adopted home, Pavlovas are TOTALLY a Kiwi thing. ;P

Read it. It’s fantastic.

Mr Archimedes’ Bath – Pamela Allen

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

There is only one human character in this book, and that’s Mr Archimedes himself.His three animal friends are not gendered at all in the book, so I can’t pass it for the Bechdel. Nor can I pass it for variety/diversity.

The book is basically a kids’ explanation of the Archimedes/eureka/water displacement thing. It involves Mr Archimedes and his friends discovering that getting in the bath makes the water overflow, and then conducting various experiments where they each take turns to be the one who stays out in order to find out “who is doing this”.

Eventually, of course, they work out that the answer is all of them, and proceed to continue with their bath. It’s a neat book on two levels, for me: firstly, there’s the obvious explaining a scientific concept to small children using story, but secondly there’s also the experimental/scientific method aspect of it. I mean, it’s oversimplified, of course, but they try multiple variations before reaching a conclusion, and that kind of “let’s test it!” approach is one I think it is beneficial to expose kids to.

C of course looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him where he thought the water was coming from: “It’s because they’re getting in, Mom. That makes it splash out.” My little Archimedes. 😉

Quite why Archimedes is hanging out with Australian animals, I am not sure, but hey, it may be a scientific story, but it’s still a kids’ book. Fun stuff.

Blinky Bill Grows Up – Dorothy Wall

More in the Series – Blinky Bill
“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: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

This is one of those “reading it so you don’t have to” situations. These really seem like the sort of stories that people would be very nostalgic for, but when you read them through modern eyes, they’re just not that good.

In this, the sequel, Blinky Bill goes on a bunch of adventures, during which he mostly acts like kind of an ass. He runs way because his mother wants to send him to school. He is outright rude and obnoxious to almost everyone he meets. It’s the ikkiest sort of ‘laddism’, full of ‘boys will be boys’ rhetoric and this idea that it’s somehow okay for him to be rude and selfish and destructive because, you know, he’s just a bit of a larrikin.

It does pass the Bechdel on at least one occasion, when Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna are discussing how they’re going to steal and eat bird babies, right before they get destroyed by bull ants on Blinky’s orders. But honestly there’s so much casual sexism (“All possums are silly, especially girls”) and one or two really quite racist bits about people in Australia who aren’t white. It’s just…it does not stand the test of time well is what I am saying.

On top of that, while C did give it a thumbs up, I can tell you that we had to stop in mid chapter on a regular basis while working our way through it because he got bored and didn’t want me to read any more. It’s slow moving, the language is pretty dated, and I certainly didn’t enjoy it much. There’s one more in the series, I believe, and we’ll read it – because that’s what I do – but I am looking forward to putting Blinky behind me.

Blinky Bill – Dorothy Wall

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

This book is definitely of its time. It does pass Bechdel, which is something. There are actually quite a few named female characters, and while most of them are framed as mothers or teachers, there area few conversations between them that do pass the Bechdel test.

Still, the gender roles are pretty firmly established. Blinky’s mother is never really anything except a mother, and his father is killed in the second chapter. Blinky is framed in very traditionally masculine terms – he’s disobedient and adventurous, but it’s always put in terms of him being a bit of a rapscallion (even when his behaviour is pretty awful).

Far from being diverse, the book is actively racist. Mr Wombat tells Blinky a bunch of stories, in which he or his family are almost killed by “Farmer Brown” and by “black people”. Despite the fact that Farmer Brown is trying to shoot him for eating his crops, the latter story is framed in terms of “wildness” and as if their hunting wombats for food is totally evil and wrong (in a way I guess killing them as agricultural pests apparently isn’t). And don’t even get me started on referring to people as “black fellows”. It was cringe-worthy enough that I couldn’t bring myself to read it as written and I had to reframe that bit of the story to make it less ikky to read.

I find Blinky mostly unlikeable, and the story isn’t even written that engagingly. While C did give it a thumbs up in the end, there were several times as we read through it where he put the bookmark in and said, “That’s enough for today, Mommy”. It’s a bit verbose, and could do with editing. Again, this is probably a sign of it being dated, but even so, I wasn’t sold even in terms of story.

I can see how it probably caters to a certain nostalgia, especially, perhaps, if you are Australian. I’m just not convinced that that particular brand of nostalgia is such a good thing.

Despite it’s Bechdel pass, I can’t quite bring myself to recommend this book. This is a good example of why Bechdel is great when measuring trends, but not so much as an individual metric.

Give it a skip. There are way better books out there.