Eloise at Christmastime – Kay Thompson

More in the Series – Eloise
“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.

So far this is my favourite Eloise book. It passes Bechdel, again on the technicality of taking “Nanny” as a name. This one has no real diversity to speak of; there aren’t even the hints that existed in the other books.

But I found Eloise a lot less spoilt and annoying in this one. Perhaps it’s just that I have a soft spot for Christmas, and I can’t help but feel for this poor little girl, growing up in a hotel, whose mother does nothing but call from the Mediterranean. “We talked for an hour and charged it like we did last Christmas Eve.” This mother needs a parenting lesson, stat. *frown*

But despite this, Eloise is irrepressible, and runs around gifting things to everyone in the hotel. There are bits of song wandering along the bottom of the page, and I like the illustrative devices in this one that show her imaginary jaunts and dreams.

The book, like the others, is fun to read, as the language trips along at an astonishing pace, Eloise’s characteristic made up words and bits of adult speech keeping it more charming than I would expect. I’ve given it one ideological point, just because there is something about this little girl that nails that Christmas spirit thing, and you get a very real sense that she is quite beloved (if in a somewhat exasperated tone sometimes) by the adults who work in this hotel.

Otherwise, there’s not much I can say about this one I didn’t say about the others. There is of course the underlying classist stuff – she is growing up in a world where everyone is her servant, and Nanny is kind, but not really parenting her effectively. I suppose the whole point is that “poor little rich girl” trope, but it’s hard to ignore. Still. It’s fun to read.

Eloise in Paris – Kay Thompson

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

The second Eloise book is a little bit much of the same but this time smattered with French phrases. What was charming about the first one is charming about this one. Eloise’s pseudo-adult language which really just sounds like she’s parroting things she hears the adults around her say, the rapid pace of the writing. It definitely has its ups. But what was annoying about the first book is annoying about this one too – I still find Eloise to be rather spoiled and the whole ‘brought up by servants’ thing somewhat problematic. In this book, Eloise’s mother invites them (Eloise and Nanny) to France, but still totally fails to make any sort of appearance in the story.

Having said that, as far as metrics go, this one does marginally better. It passes the Bechdel, assuming we consider Nanny a named character. And it has a reasonably main character who is (probably) Japanese. He is a servant (a chauffeur in this case) but since pretty much everyone in Eloise’s world is, to some degree, I’ll let that slide. Koki is a fairly well-rounded character (for a kid’s book) who shows what seems to be genuine affection for Eloise – affection which is reciprocated. And despite the illustrations being almost caricaturish, Koki is actually not that much of a stereotype, given the era the book was published. He likes, Eloise tells us, raspberry tarts and cowboy movies, and he dislikes motorcycles and bicycles. He speaks many languages and shows patience and a willingness to play with Eloise (mostly evident in the pictures). So I’m giving it this point.

The book is a little long, and I think the smatterings of French (read in my appalling French accent) knocked C out of the story a bit. But he still gave it a thumbs up, and Eloise may be a bit annoying, but she is quite fun to read.

It scored higher than I expected it to. I’m still not sold on the Eloise thing, but I think this one is a bit better than the first.

Eloise – Kay Thompson

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is really a pretty interesting book, and honestly I am quite torn on it. So let’s start with the easy stuff.

It passes Bechdel because Eloise talks to her Nanny (who she just calls “Nanny”, which makes the ‘named character’ criteria a bit dodgy, but I gave it the point anyway). There is really no diversity in the book. There is one image of Eloise crashing an event at the hotel that seems to have Indian people at it, but given that the caption suggests that it is a Halloween event it could just be white people pretending, which, ick, and that’s a discussion I am not going to have here right now.

I’ve given it my point for being an enjoyable story because Eloise is definitely fun to read out loud. She has a very clear voice and there are a number of things in the book that are sly humorous nods to the adult reader. Some of the language she uses as a six year old narrator is obviously stuff she has simply overheard adults saying. It’s kind of cute and funny.

But man, she’s awful. She is spoiled and obnoxious, she runs wild in this hotel in which she lives. Her parents are clearly very wealthy and totally absent. The people who have been left in charge of her seem to be completely unable to handle her at all. This is a kid who is not being parented at all. And while she is engaging and fun to read, I found myself frustrated and irritated by her shenanigans. Even my five year old said, “Wow, mommy, she’s really naughty”.

The thing is, I don’t really object to naughty kids in literature – Calvin is a great favourite of mine. I loved Ramona. But Eloise isn’t just naughty she’s… obnoxious. And I found myself really not liking her as a character, fun though the book is to read. She has an imagination which is nice, but mostly it just feels like I’m reading the tale of an emotionally neglected kid running wild. And while that could be interesting, it almost reads as if there’s absolutely no problem with this.

Is this ideologically problematic? You know, I don’t know. There’s definitely a place for stories about neglect and about horrible unreliable characters, and about naughty kids. But something about the way this one is executed bothers me. I can’t quite place my finger on why. The book, like I’ve said, is entertaining to read, and C thought it was funny. But I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it.

What do you think? Are you familiar with Eloise? What’s your take on this?