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. 😉

 

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No Roses for Harry! – 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 points.

This Harry book scores lower that the original, mostly because in the original book, the general illustrations suggested that there were some people in Harry’s town who weren’t middle class white folk, but in this one, that diversity is gone. There’s no Bechdel pass, everyone is nicely ensconsed in their pre-ordained gender roles and there’s not a person of colour to be seen.

The story is okay. Harry is given a gift he doesn’t much like, and manages to ‘lose’ it to a bird. When granny who knitted him said gift comes to visit Harry feels very bad about ‘losing’ the present, but they find out that the bird has turned it into a nest which is much more appreciated, and Harry gets a new sweater in a pattern more to his taste.

I have mixed feelings about this. C and I had a conversation about gifts and how sometimes you might get something you don’t like that much, but how the correct response to that is rather to appreciate the effort and love in the gift that be a dick and ‘lose’ it. C seemed very adamantly on the side of being polite, which pleases me.

I dunno. It was okay, I guess. I am certainly not sold on these books. There just really isn’t that much going on, and in a world where there are a plethora of cute “from the point of view of the dog” books, I don’t think they really measure up. C liked it, and it was okay – I don’t have anything too horrid to say about it, but I was underwhelmed.

It’s no Hairy Maclary, that’s for sure.

Harry the Dirty Dog -Gene Zion

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I have no strong feelings about this book. The only named character is Harry, so it cannot pass Bechdel. I gave it a point for diversity just because the illustrations show people in all the beautiful shades they can have, just, like goin’ about their business as if it’s no big deal. This shouldn’t be notable, but it is. Harry’s own family is white and very ‘default’- one mom, one dad, one boy, one girl. But hey, we have to start somewhere right?

The story is cute enough, I guess. Harry does not want to have a bath so he hides the scrub brush in the garden and runs away. Over the course of his adventure he gets dirty, then he misses his family and home and he returns. But oh no! they don’t recognise him because of all the dirt! (This stretched my credulity, honestly. I have had many dogs in my lifetime, several of whom were prone to getting muddy, and that has never ever led me to not recognise them. But hey. It’s a kids’ book.) Harry jumps in the bath. The family bath him (which leads me to think that maybe they were trolling him with that whole “we don’t know who you are” thing), and once all the dirt is washed off they realise it’s him and live happily ever after.

It’s mildly entertaining. I suppose if there’s a ‘message’ it’s that baths are good. I’m certainly not of the opinion that every book should have a message. There’s no real ideological base to this story I can point to. C thought it was funny. I thought it was okay. I don’t dislike it, but it probably isn’t going to become a favourite of ours.

Simple, solid kid storytelling, nothing spectacular to write home about.

 

Spot Goes to School – Eric Hill

More in the Series – Spot
“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.

As you may have noticed by now, I am a big fan of interactive books for kids. The Spot books were one of the forerunners of this kind of “lift-the-flap” book. This one is pretty typical. I don’t personally think it is as charming as the original Spot book, but it’s cute enough, and given C has only recently started school, he was rather taken with the whole “school” aspect of it.

No Bechdel pass, since the only two named characters are Spot and his teacher Mrs Bear. Though Mrs Bear and the dog I assume is Spot’s mother do say good morning to each other, so it’s nearer to a pass than most of the books we’ve looked at so far.

The characters are all animals, but there is no explicit diversity or even so much as nods to any culture other than a pretty WASPy one.

All that being said, it’s a pretty entertaining little book – very successful at what it is: a simple lift the flap, boldly and simply illustrated kids picture book about a very relatable little puppy.

I don’t have that much more to say about it really. C definitely enjoyed it, and obviously related to Spot’s school experiences – it engendered conversation and comparison about his own school life. That sort of reliability goes a long way.

It’s not going to be challenging any status quos, but I’d still recommend it. Nifty little book.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Spot? Do you like interactive books as much as I do?

Kipper – Mick Inkpen

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

This was my first experience of Kipper, and we both really quite enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really get anywhere on our scale.

It’s a pretty standard “no place like home” kind of story. Kipper decides to clean out his basket, gets rid of the dirty half broken things therein, discovers that without them his basket isn’t comfortable, goes gallivanting about to see if any of the things that are comfortable for other animals (lily pads for frogs and nests of twigs for squirrels) will work for him, discovers they do not and ends up back in his comfy old basket with his old smelly blanket and bunny and chew-toy. It’s some classic “explore to find out there’s nothing quite like home” stuff, really.

There’s no dialogue except for Kipper’s, and no human (or explicitly female) characters, and very little in the way of status quo challenging ideas. Still, it’s a neat little tale, and while part of me (probably the part that is a nomad and has traveled very far from my home over the years) is always a bit skeptical of the message that the place you start is ultimately always the best place for you, being happy with who you are and where you belong is not awful either, I suppose. 😉

C and I enjoyed reading it, he loved the various animals. It was entertaining enough.

Not a high scorer though, and not earth-shattering by any means. This is a comfortable white bread book. Which I guess is sort of the point.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Kipper? Am I being too hard on it?

Where’s Spot? – Eric Hill

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

Where’s Spot is the original “lift the flap” book. Created originally as a fun activity for his son, Christopher (seems like authors love to name their kids Christopher, huh?), Eric Hill had no intention initially to publish it, but once it became apparent how much his kid loved it, he did, starting a whole genre of interactive picture books.

And it stands the test of time, too. It’s incredibly simple – a dog is looking for its puppy because it is dinner time. Under each flap is a strange animal (apparently this home is a menagerie), and (SPOILERS!) Spot is eventually found in a basket. The pictures are bold and colourful and lovely. The animals are wonderfully depicted. It has charm and humour, and, as anyone who has ever read a “lift the flap” with a child knows, the interactivity is a delight.

There are no explicitly female characters, though I suppose there is some implication that the parent dog is a mother. It’s never stated though. And, of course, since all the characters are animals, there’s no explicit diversity either. Having said that, the book has one foot in fantasy, and therefore isn’t obviously depicting a particular worldview, grand pianos and wardrobes notwithstanding. Still, there isn’t anything to warrant giving the book those points.

I’m giving it a point for interactivity though, because I’m a big believer that interactivity in kids’ books encourages active reading, and that’s always a good thing. And of course we both had fun reading it, so it gets points for that too. 🙂

Not a high scorer, but still definitely recommended, especially for very little people.

What do you think? Are you a fan of the “lift the flap” approach? What’s your favourite?