More about Paddington – Michael Bond

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

Peace at Last – Jill Murphy

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I kind of adored this book. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel, because there’s only one female character (Mrs. Bear). There’s no diversity to speak of – the characters are bears, but they’re pretty Anglo-Saxon bears. However, it does break one small gender norm, which pleased me, which is to say, it was Mrs. Bear who snored, and Mr. Bear who was kept awake by the snoring. This led me to wonder whether the whole “husband snoring” stereotype is a new thing, or if this book just quietly and without fuss chose to ignore it. A brief Google didn’t really answer my question, but in either case, I like that it’s this way round just because it goes against the usual stereotypes.

Of course Mr. Bear fails totally as a parent when he tries to sleep in Baby Bear’s room, but Baby Bear isn’t sleeping he’s playing airplanes. Instead of doing something about this, Mr. Bear just gives up and goes to try and sleep in the lounge. (And yes, we’ve all been that parent who eventually just gives up and goes to sleep while your kid is still awake, but you know, he could have made some effort. Still, that would have broken the rhythm of the book, so I suppose I must forgive him.)

C and I both enjoyed it. The book has a clear rhythmic structure, and that thing where you just can’t sleep no matter what you do, and then eventually fall asleep just before your alarm goes off, is pretty universal. I love that in the morning, despite getting almost no sleep, Mr Bear is still relatively chipper. He looks tired on the last page, but not actually grumpy as his sprog does what sprogs do and leaps all over his bed giving him the mail, while Mrs Bear makes tea.

It’s cute. It has just a soupçon of gender-role subversion, and is about a simple thing with relatively universal appeal, which is always good. It’s structured in that nicely repetitive rhythm that works so well for kids’ books. So yeah. Read this one. 🙂

 

A Pocket for Corduroy – Don Freeman

More in the Series – Corduroy
“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: 0 points
Variety of characters: 2 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first Corduroy book, and this one is just as great. It very nearly passed the Bechdel, but I decided that “Lisa’s mother” didn’t count as a named character. (I would have accepted “Mom”, but framing women only in relation to their mothering is also a touch problematic in general, so I’m not giving it the point.)

There are, however, two major female characters, and they do have a conversation about something that’s not a male character. I mean, it’s laundry, so there’s still some gendered stuff going on there. But nevertheless. Almost passed the Bechdel, but not quite.

However when it comes to variety of characters, this book does well. Lisa and her mother are black, and the laundry owner is Hispanic. I almost gave it a point for having solid female characters, but to be honest, they’re still being portrayed in very gendered ways (nurturing, laundry, etc) so I recanted.

The story itself is really nicely told. Corduroy has that naivete and adventurousness that he had in the first book. I enjoyed his interaction with the artist, and the idea that inspiration can be anywhere. The friendship between Lisa and Corduroy remains tangible in this book.

C and I both enjoyed the story. C related to having a beloved toy that gets lost, because he has his Kitty, and that has happened on occasion. Relatable, charming, a great story.

Recommended.

A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I have a very soft spot for the Paddington books. I remember reading them as a child myself, and rereading this with C was a very nostalgic experience.

Paddington is very much at the centre of the narrative, so although there are several named female characters, there’s never really a conversation between any two of them that doesn’t involve Paddington himself. Also, despite the fact that Paddington is meant to come from “Darkest Peru”, he is still a profoundly British character, and there really isn’t anyone else in the book who in any way shows any diversity. So I can’t give it points for any of that.

I’m giving it one discretionary ideology point just because I love the sense of family in the Brown household. I mean it’s very much a story set in a particular place and time with all the cultural and ideological mores of that place and time, but the Browns are a genuinely warm and very real feeling family. There’s a lot of “typical gender roles” and that sort of thing, but their acceptance of Paddington and tolerance for his habit of getting into scrapes is quite charming.

Honestly, I still love Paddington. It certainly isn’t going to win any prizes for challenging the status quo, but it has warmth and kindness, and there’s something lovely about the character.

C wasn’t quite as taken with it as me. He gave it a thumbs up, but definitely seemed to be a bit bored by the story. I wonder how much of that was that it actually is better for slightly older kids, or how much is just that the world in which Paddington and the Browns live is so alien to his own.

Still, worth a read I think.

Corduroy – Don Freeman

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

I really liked this book. Not one I was previously familiar with, but I enjoyed it.

Corduroy is a bear in a department store. A little girl wants to buy him but her mother says no, because he has a missing button. So after the store closes he goes looking for his button. He has various bear-like “stuck in a shop at night” adventures before a security guard finds him and returns him to his spot, still buttonless. Luckily though, the little girl, Lisa, comes back the next day and uses her savings to buy him and take him home.

The book doesn’t get the Bechdel pass, since Lisa and Corduroy are the only named characters, but it does get points for diversity  – Lisa and her mother are black. I really hate that this is even notable, to tell you the truth. But I do like that it’s totally a non-issue in the book. This isn’t a book about a “black girl”, it’s about the beginning of a friendship between a girl and her bear. The girl just happens to be black. Yay, Don Freeman!

The story is charming. C really enjoyed it too. There is a repeated refrain where Corduroy in his adventures says things like, “I think I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain”, which in this case is about riding an escalator. It ends with him saying, after Lisa has taken him home, “I know I’ve always wanted a home” and “I’ve always wanted a friend”. (Cue all the “awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww”.)

It’s a lovely little tale about finding the place you belong and people who love you “the way you are”, and frankly in this crazy world, we can never have too much of that. Ideologically it’s very simple, and that’s the basic theme really. Corduroy goes looking for his button, to make him ‘good enough’, and then is accepted the way he is. Lisa sews a new button on him, but makes a point of telling him she likes him as he is, but she thinks he will be more comfortable if she fixes his clothes.

Good stuff. I’m glad I found this book. It really is quite lovely. Recommended.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen/Helen Oxenbury

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is one of my favourite picture books. And yet it scores really low, which is a bit sad. Because it really is quite great.

But there is no dialogue, so it can’t pass Bechdel, and the family in the book are very white and very status quo. Mom, Dad, three strapping kids – boy, girl, and baby. It’s about as typical a ‘nuclear family’ as you could ask for. There’s nothing particular revolutionary happening here.

Having said that, we read it a lot. C can almost recite the whole thing from memory. The book works via a very nifty repetitive format which is structured around onomatopoeic coloured double spreads as the family goes on an adventure – a bear hunt – through grass (swishy, swashy), water (splish, splosh), etc. The sound effect bits are great fun, and the refrain is memorable and charming. When they eventually find the bear it chases them all the way home, and they run upstairs, having locked the bear out, and dive into bed in a big cuddly pile of familial affection. It’s charming as hell, there’s no denying it.

And on the very last page after all the words are finished, is my favourite part. The bear heads home, alone and looking dejected, along a deserted beach, back to his cave. It’s the one moment of real subversion in the book – the suggestion that the “villain” of the piece is perhaps not a villain, is perhaps just a lonely bear. That maybe there’s something else going on here. That last image is the reason the book gets the one discretionary point – because it calls the very simple morality of the book’s story into question.

The family are very happily engrossed in their own version of the world, and as they pile laughing and frightened into a big bed together, for just a moment we see the world from the other side – the side of the bear itself. And it is a lonely, dejected world.

We don’t often get to see the “villain’s” side of the tale in these sorts of books. The greying of those lines is, well, kind of awesome. And raises a bunch of interesting questions to be talked through with your kids. (I always found it cool that C’s response was “aww poor bear” right from the start.)

Not a high scorer, but definitely recommended. A joy to read.

What do you think? Do you, like me, feel empathy for the bear? What other onomatopoeic books do you love?