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.

 

Olivia Saves the Circus – Ian Falconer

More in the Series – Olivia
“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: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

This was our second foray into the Olivia books, and she’s just as charming the second time through. Once again, the book is a tribute to the power of imagination. Olivia tells a story in class about going to the circus and saving the day, playing all the parts in the circus because everyone is sick “with ear infections”.

On being asked by her teacher if it’s true, Olivia says yes, “to the best of my recollection”. The teacher looks mildly exasperated, as if this is the sort of conversation they have a lot.

I’m the parent to a child with an extremely active imagination, who frequently tells me stories that are “really true, Mommy”, and only when I push him on it, does he respond, “not really, but we’re just pretending”. So I am familiar with this sort of thing. 😉

My little storyteller was quite taken with this book. When I asked him if he thought her story was true he responded, “No, I think it’s just pretend.” But I definitely felt like he related.

The book kind of passes the Bechdel, if Mummy qualifies as a name, but since it’s a kids’ book, I’m counting it. (If you’re not a parent you may not yet have discovered that to kids you’re always only ever “Christopher’s Mum!”. It’s a thing. Kids seem to tend to see adults only in relation to other kids a lot of the time.) There’s no diversity to speak of.

I love the gentle, smiling portrayal of imagination. It’s great. The imagery is very simple, much like the first book, but it works.

Very  cute.

 

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

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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. 🙂

 

The Magic Fishbone – Charles Dickens

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

This is a very bizarre tale, ladies and gentlefolk. It does, actually, weirdly, pass the Bechdel, in that GrandMarina and Princess Alicia have a couple of conversations that have nothing to do with men. Go Dickens!

There’s no diversity, but that’s hardly surprising.

The story is… odd. To say the least. But at its heart is a very cool little moral, which is to say that it’s all well and good resorting to magic and wishes, but it’s really best to just solve your problems by yourself first if you can. Princess Alicia is given a magic fishbone that will grant her one wish. But she saves it, solving various dilemmas with smarts and kindness until she is really sure she has a problem that cannot be solved.

Because of her diligence and hard work, Grandmarina (who is, essentially, a fairy godmother) rewards her the way any princess wants to be rewarded – marriage to a prince. (So close, Dickens, and then you fail to stick the landing.) Also, there’s a thing where a dog gets choked on the fishbone at the end which seem very strange and gratuitous.

The story is pretty cool though – there is a clear undercurrent of humour, which I appreciate, where it’s pretty obvious that this is a fairy tale made out of normal working (Dickensian) people. It’s kind of amusingly handled.

C said he liked it, but honestly it took us several attempts to get through it, and I don’t think he really followed the story or understand what was happening. The language is, well, Dickens, so it’s a bit dense. I found it fairly entertaining though, and I’m not usually a fan of Dickens.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag. May be interesting as a novelty, but probably not going to be a winner with your average child reader.

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.

Madlenka – Peter Sis

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

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

This is, at its very heart, a story about the diversity of New York City. So of course it gets points for having people of colour, people from multiple cultures, and more than one instance of named female characters talking to each other.

Madlenka is a little girl who lives in a big building in NYC. Her tooth becomes loose, so she goes to “tell everyone”. This includes a huge range of people from all around the world. Each page is a celebration of a different background. The illustrations are ornate and complex and very very beautiful. The book has hidey holes for peeking through into other people’s worlds, and turnign the page reveals that world in great detail.

Madlenka treats all these people as friends – she has no sign of prejudice or weirdness about it. You can tell that all of the people she goes to talk to are people she has relationships with, people she considers friends. Her community is international.

It’s a really great story. At its heart it is just about a girl and her people, but there is so much richness in the illustrations that it becomes a real celebration of how interacting with people from other backgrounds and cultures can be a completely enriching thing for a child.

On top of that C loved it, wanting to stop and pore over every page, examining details, finding things in each picture. And, in case it’s not obvious, I loved it too. 🙂

Wonderful wonderful stuff.

Olivia – Ian Falconer

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

Olivia is a pretty cute book about a rambunctious little pig-girl. She has boundless energy which results in her frequently wearing people out (most notably her mother). I’ve given it the Bechdel, even though “Mummy” isn’t a real name, because it kind of is in kid-world. All the characters are pigs though, so there is no real way to measure diversity.

It’s neat though. Olivia is a fiery little girl who gets into mischief, paints on walls when she shouldn’t, makes truly epic sandcastles, and obviously has quite an imagination. There’s quite a lot to her, given how simple the book is, which is pretty cool.

And it has that “you’re a ratbag but I love you” thing going on between her and her Mummy, which is one of my favourite things. The relationships between Olivia and her parents, and her little brother Ian feel really genuine and believable, which is always nice. In real life even the best families sometimes get sick and tired of each other, but there is always that underlying love. And that’s the important thing.

The illustrations are fairly sparce (lots of white space!) and simple, but they still manage to complement the text, and add to the story.

It’s a cute book. Worth a read.