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.

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Hairy Maclary’s Bone – 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 points

I have a real love for the Hairy Maclary books. I wasn’t born a Kiwi, but I’ve lived here for, good god NINE YEARS now, and so I feel a certain amount of pride that these incredibly simple, deft books came out of NZ. They really master the art of being local while still being internationally relevant (I can’t imagine anyone not developing a fondness for Hairy Maclary and his compatriots.

There are no female characters at all in this book, as far as we can tell, anyway. There is also no real sign of diversity (unless you count diversity of dog breeds, which, no, not really). But the issue is a bit kind of adjacent given that all the major characters are animals, and the humans that do exist do so in a Schultzesque “legs and arms only” manner.

In this tale, Hairy Maclary receives a bone form the butcher and takes it home. He is followed by all the neighbourhood dogs who have a mind to “share” it with him, but as he goes he manages to lose them one by one by choosing a route home that proves too narrow, high, athletic and so on for each of them.

Like all these books, the rhyme is deft and simple. Lynley Dodd has a knack for making it look easy, which is the sign of a true linguistic artist. As someone who has read a lot of kids books where the rhymes have been forced to conform, twisted and shoved into place, Dodd’s nimble, elegant words are a pleasure.

C loves these books as much as I do. They are always fun to read (and reread!) and the protagonist is extremely lovable. Not high scorers by our metrics, but well worth the read anyway. 🙂

Harry By the Sea – Gene Zion/Margaret Bloy Graham

More in the Series – Harry
“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.

This is much like the other Harry books. Harry is pretty much the only character with a name, so it can’t pass Bechdel, but even if we removed the “named” part of the test, it still wouldn’t.

Harry’s family is white, and so are all the minor characters with whom he actually interacts, but there are people of colour hanging out on the beach, so at least it’s not a totally white-washed world.

It’s a cute story. Harry gets hot because the sun is doing its sun thing, and goes in search of shade. He eventually ends up in the water covered in seaweed and everyone thinks he is some kind of sea-monster. He runs around causing mayhem trying to find his family. Chaos and shenanigans ensue. But all ends well. Huzzah!

It’s cute, and worth a read. C thought the whole seaweed covered sea-monster thing was totally hysterically funny. It was fun to read. Nothing super subversive or interesting going on, but a neat little story. Probably my favourite in the series so far, despite not having much to say about it.

 

Good Dog, Carl – Alexandra Day

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

 

This is a really great little book, especially if you have a fondness for dogs. Carl is left to take care of the baby while the mother is out. He and the baby engage in a variety of adventures and shenanigans, including raiding the fridge for treats and sliding the baby down the laundry chute. Then Carl tidies everything up and drops the baby back in its cot just in time for Mom to come home to a clean and tidy house, oblivious to their adventures.

There is almost no text, since the bulk of the story involves a pre-verbal baby and a dog. I’m a fan, as you probably know by now, of books that require active engagement, and relying on pictures is a good way to do this. C and I had fun talking about what they were getting up to and what might come next.

Of course, that also makes a Bechdel pass impossible, and with only two humans, there wasn’t much room for any kind of variety of character. So in terms of metrics it doesn’t really do well. Nevertheless, I think this is an awesome little book. I love the simple relationship between the dog and the baby, and the fact that they’re sort of “in on it” together. It was a fun book to read with C. He really enjoyed it.

Good stuff.


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Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Dodd

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

This is a very Hairy Maclary friendly household. This is a book we’ve been reading for about as long as C has been alive (along with a couple of the pothers that I got cheap off Trademe at some point).

There is no dialogue (and there are no obviously female characters, though I suppose Muffin McLay might be a girl) so it can’t pass the Bechdel, and similarly, all the characters are animals, so there’s no way it can get the diversity point either.

Still, though, this is a little masterpiece. There is a good reason these books have become as popular as they have. Dodd has an ability to get every single word in her rhyming text absolutely perfect, and make it look easy – which, believe me, when you’ve read as many kids’ books as I have, is no easy feat.

The text trips along lightly like it’s being made up on the spot, and the illustrations are totally marvellous. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a fan of animals in kids’ books that act like animals, and these do. She also manages to give them all very real personalities with just a few words and great pictures.

C loves this book, and can pretty much recite it right along with me. I have never gotten bored of reading it, which may be one of the best things that can ever be said for a book aimed at pre-reading-age kids. And if you don’t love doing the Scarface Claw “EEEEEEOWWWFFTZ!”, you have no soul. ;P

One of the greats for a reason.

Harry and the Lady Next Door – Gene Zion

More in the Series – Harry
“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: 1 out of 10.

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

This book is not a picture book like its predecessors. It’s a chapter book. Nevertheless, C and I read it in a single sitting, and he stayed mostly interested, which is a good sign.

However, by the metrics of this project, it fails on every count, I’m afraid. Despite the fact that the story is, in theory anyway, about “the lady next door” she gets no dialogue at all, and the story fails the Bechdel. The lady next door’s entire purpose in this book is to sing badly and be a foil for Harry’s shenanigans.

The diversity in the illustrations of the first book is not in evidence here – apparently only white people engage in community singing contests. And farming. And being in marching bands. And standing on the street.

I went back and read my reviews for the other two Harry books so far, and my response to this is much the same which is to say, I am fairly unmoved by them. They’re not awful. I mean, they’re entertaining enough. But there’s nothing particularly memorable about them either.

In this one Harry does not like the singing of the lady next door, and so he wanders about finding other things that make (to him) more pleasant sounds, like cows and frogs, and tries to hint to her that she should change how she sings by basically parking the things outside her window. (I know that when someone herds cows by my window, the message I get is “sing more like a cow”…)

Then there is a local singing contest, which, due to a series of events, she wins, and off she goes to “study music in a far-off country”, thus freeing Harry from her singing for a long time! Huzzah! Or something.

Plot wise, it’s holey, and while I think that Harry’s lack of appreciation for her singing is meant to be seen as naivete or something like it, I found myself not very sympathetic to his plight. Get over it hound.

I have no doubt that there are people who love these books, but they won’t be in our rotation.

Madeline’s Rescue – Ludwig Bemelmans

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

I can’t get over how badly mistitled this book is. Madeline falls in the Seine and is rescued by a dog, who then becomes part of the family in “the old house in Paris”. But the bulk of the story is about the dog – her adoption, how the children fight over her attention, how the trustees in the school kick her out and how they all go looking for her afterwards to bring her back. The book is named for the rescue, but the rescue is over by the fifth spread, and most of the story focusses on the dog.

Apart from that little quibble, though, the book is as charming as the other Madeline books. I am definitely a fan of these stories. It passes Bechdel as Madeline and Miss Clavel have dialogue between them. There’s no real diversity at all, apart from the fact that the bulk of the characters (including the dog) are female.

I guess there’s a little bit of ideological stuff going on about how the trustees are wrong about the dog, and how their distaste for her seems to be snobbery. Their spokesman (Lord Cucuface!!) says she should leave because: “it’s a perfect disgrace for young ladies to embrace this creature of uncertain race”. Which, to me, reads like a breeding thing – in other words, Lord Cucuface (oh my, that name) is just being a big snob.

I am amused by how after they leave the girls and Miss Clavel go in search of Genevieve (the dog) and there is no question that Miss Clavel is on their side. She cannot stand up to The Money, but she has no qualms subverting their orders along with the children. I’m not sure what they’re going to do the following year when they have not one dog, but a whole pack – given that in the end Genevieve has puppies. But I suppose that’s next year’s problem. 😉