Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! – Mo Willems

More in the Series – The Pigeon
“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

Neither of us thought this one was quite as wonderful as the first one, but it is still pretty awesome. This time, the pigeon is trying to avoid going to sleep, and using all those classic kid techniques to achieve his goal of staying up late, while clearly getting more and more tired.

Like the first book, the pigeon holds one half of a conversation that he’s having with the reader. C got way more into it this time, I think probably because the format was familiar. “No! No! Go to sleep!” It was cute. 🙂

Alas, the only human in this book is a white dude, so it gets absolutely no points in the diversity sweepstakes, but it is still a pretty nifty book, dealing with a situation that is probably fairly universal to any parent of a small rambunctious child with a case of FOMO.

I love the interactivity. This will come as no surprise to any regular reader. I am a huge fan of books that require the reader to engage, and this one does so very well. The pigeon is naughty but likable, and when he eventually does go to sleep it is still protesting his “not tired” status, much like my kid does.

We both enjoyed reading it. Good stuff.

 

The Moon and Farmer McPhee – Margaret Mahy/David Elliot

Christopher’s Choice: Each week, C gets four or five books out of the library, and picks one as his favourite, and I review it. This is this week’s choice.

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

As a kiddielit geek living in NZ you’d be hard pressed to find a combo that gives me as much joy as Mahy/Elliot. And I was pretty pleased that the book lived up to my expectations.

It’s a story about finding the small joys in life. Farmer McPhee sort of plods through his days, doing what needs to be done, but never “frisking”. He works too hard, and his life has not enough joy in it. So the animals on his farm resolve to do something about this – to get him to notice the moon and beauty and mystery. They have a big late at night frolic in the moonlight and wake him up. He is, of course, grumpy as hell about it, and resists their suggestions that he embrace the frisk. But eventually the moon wins him over and life is full of joy and dancing. Huzzah!

As far as our metrics go, there’s nothing here – there is one human character and he is very much a white dude. So it gets no points for Bechdel or any kind of diversity.

It’s a great book though. Apart from just being an awesome story, it has pages with holes for peeping into and folded pages that allow you to open doors and look through things. I love these kind of interactive touches.

And I love the basic ideology that life is more than work, that you have to stop on occasion and dance beneath the full moon. 😉

C obviously loved this book, since he picked it as his favourite (and with no hesitation at all). I suspect a lot of that had to do with the barn doors that open and so forth – he shares my love for these things – but some had to do with it just being an awesome story. 🙂

Read it. It’s neat.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – Mo Willems

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This book is absolutely wonderful. Kids love to say “no”, I have discovered, and this book gives them the perfect excuse to do so. You are told, at the start, not to let the pigeon drive the bus. And then the pigeon proceeds to try to convince you otherwise, and you are compelled to refuse throughout!

It is so much fun, guys. 🙂 C and I had a ball, working our way through it, him saying no to the pigeon at every turn. I particularly like that the pigeon uses the exact sorts of negotiating tactics that 5 yr olds tend to use. 😉 There’s something cool and empowering about putting a kid in that position.

Of course, the only characters are the pigeon and the bus driver, so it gets no points for Bechdel or diversity, but I would still recommend this book. It is very cleverly constructed, and the more I think about it, the more I think it is doing something really quite subversive – putting a child on the other side of the authority line to where they usually are.

Such a simple concept, but so much fun to read. Plus it gets points for being interactive, which you know I always love.

Definitely get your hands on this one.

Tap the Magic Tree – Christie Matheson

Christopher’s Choice: Each week, C gets four or five books out of the library, and picks one as his favourite, and I review it. This is this week’s choice.

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

 

There’s no real way to score this one, since the only “character” is the magic tree. It’s a really fun book though. It’s one of those interactive books where each page has an instruction that has an effect on the tree in question. Tapping it makes the leaves grow, rubbing the trunk makes it begin to flower, and so forth.

It takes you through a full seasonal cycle, green leaves transforming into blossoms, transforming into apples, then the leaves go red and fall off and the snow comes.

There is a squirrel and a little bird family, but this book kind of sits completely outside of what we’re doing here. It’s very simple, awesomely interactive, fun to read together.

So I don’t have a lot to say about it really. I still prefer Henri Tullet’s “Press Here”, but this is pretty cute.

C obviously loved it, because he picked it as his favourite (and it was a good week – there were at least three books seriously in the running), and as you probably know by now, I have a real love for interactive books.

So yeah, check it out. 🙂

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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Window – Jeannie Baker

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

I do have a love for picture books that have no written text. There is something about the way you engage with them – especially when reading them with small children that is quite unique and very enjoyable. Studying the images, looking for clues, reading the story by interpreting what you’re seeing – I feel like all of that is good exercise for children, and also means constructing the story in a more active, somehow less linear way. It’s fun.

It does however make passing the Bechdel more or less impossible, though this book is seen through the eyes of a boy anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have passed. The images show exactly two people who are obviously people of colour in the whole book, so while I did give it this point, it is still a fairly white-washed world we are being presented.

Nevertheless, it’s a neat book. It has a pretty clear agenda to do with appreciating how much impact we humans have on our environments. There is a clear ideological standpoint here to do with urbanisation and the destruction of wild areas and how that’s bad. I don’t disagree, but I’ve never been a fan of force-feeding ideology, even ones I agree with.

Still, the book is very cleverly constructed – each double spread looks out of the same window of the same house as a boy grows from babyhood to adulthood and moves out. We see the landscape outside of the window change, moving from bush to town. The boy’s interests change as he grows, until eventually on the last spread we see his new, adult window in what we must assume is his new house, as he holds his own new baby in his arms, and looks out, once again, at native bush.

The message is there and clear (to me, anyway), but C didn’t really get the environmental thing from it. He was interested in the things that stayed the same. He wanted to find the boy’s aging cat in each image. He went looking for cool things to look at, and words to read on the walls and the boy’s birthday cards. (This is probably because knowing how to read is still novel and exciting to him. 🙂 )

There is something cool about that kind of discovery, and while I found the message a bit unsubtle (I like ideology to be subtle), I still think it’s a book worth looking for. There is a lot going on there, and it is quite effective.

Pancakes for Findus – Sven Nordqvist

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

No Bechdel pass here – no female characters at all apart from a couple of village women in the pictures none of whom are even mentioned in the text, and there really isn’t any diversity either.

I’ve given it two discretionary points though. The first is because this definitely has that sense of being a European folktale, and while my diversity points are more for things like people of colour, or LGBTQ characters, and so forth, I think there is definitely something to be said for a slightly different European approach. The original book is in Swedish, and honestly I am not even sure how freely available the English translation is, or if it’s in our library here only because we’re lucky enough to live in the hometown of Gecko Press. (And yeah, I’m going to do a little plug here – you should follow that link, they do awesome work.) But it’s always a good thing, in my not-so-humble opinion, to expose kids to stories from all over the world. Read widely, is my philosophy.

The second one is because of the illustrations. This is one of those books that is absolutely made by the illustrations. We got several pages in before we realised how much we’d been missing, and just how many secret neat little easter eggs are in the pictures of this book. At which point we went back to the beginning and started again, looking closer this time. And that, in itself, is a valuable thing – hey we missed stuff because we weren’t paying attention, let’s go back and look again. What a life lesson, right?

The story is a relatively simple one in the tradition of “The House that Jack Built”. In order to make the birthday pancakes, they have to complete a series of tasks, each one dominoing into the next. It would be fun and entertaining simply as is. But when you combine that with the complexity of the illustrations, and all the little extra visuals stories going on there, it really does become an awesome reading experience.

So despite its low scores when it comes to diversity and so forth, I’d still highly recommend this book. It’s a treasure. I may actually have to buy a copy for us.

Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

This is a strange little book. I’ve encountered Briggs before (Fungus the Bogeyman, and The Snowman, both of which will show up later in this list), but I had never read this one. C also didn’t quite know what to make of it, since Briggs’ Father Christmas is a crotchety old grump who would definitely rather be on a sunny summer island somewhere than trawling through the snow delivering presents.

It doesn’t pass the Bechdel, since the only character who talks to FC is a milkman out very early on his rounds as FC is finishing up. It also doesn’t have any sign of any people of colour.

It’s an interesting book to read with a child though because most of the story happens in the pictures. I am a very text based person, so this is always a bit of a challenge for me, and one which I kind of enjoy, because it does make the whole experience a little more interactive and active. C and I chatted about the pictures and what was happening in them, and I read the bits of text that were there. I think challenging these norms of what makes “a story” with children is really important. So that aspect I really enjoyed.

I don’t know how I feel about this Father Christmas though. I am unashamedly a Christmas person – I love it. And at the end C said to me thoughtfully, “I don’t think Father Christmas is really this grumpy.” I kind of have to agree, kid. 😉

And there is something kind of sad about this lonely grumpy old man who does this thankless task every year he doesn’t even seem to enjoy. I dunno that I can really get on board with that.

It does raise interesting questions about taking people for granted, though, which was kind of interesting to talk about with C.

So I have mixed feelings about it. I want to like it, because I enjoy what Briggs’ does with picture books, and I like his aesthetic, but I’m not sure. What do you think?

Moomin, Mymble and Little My – Tove Jansson

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

This is a very difficult book to hang on this framework we’ve built, because it doesn’t really fit into anything. Which, of course, me being me, I absolutely love. It technically passes the Bechdel, since Mymble and Little My are both female characters as are a number of the strange beings they encounter on their journey, and there is enough dialogue, such as it is, that I’m giving it that point.

It’s hard to talk about diversity in a book made entirely of totally fantastical creatures, so while it doesn’t get that point, it’s not exactly not diverse either, if you see what I mean. It’s entirely open to interpretation.

And this, at the end of the day, is the joy of this book. It is entirely interactive. Each rhyming page ends with the refrain, “And what do you think happened then?”, inviting the reader to come up with their own ideas. (Though in fairness, C mostly said, “I don’t know! Turn the page!” but even so.) There is even  a page where the reader is invited to participate in the making of the book: “The fillyjonk when she has calmed herself – try and draw her for yourself. Tove.” This is accompanied by a blank box in which you can draw your own fillyjonk. C was deprived of this because this is a library book – but it’s still nifty! Each page has little holes in it that hint at what’s on the next page. The whole thing is an exercise in interactivity, in drawing the reader into the story process. And by now we all know how much I love interactivity.

I love the nonsense aspect too. It’s great fun, meandering through this totally fantastical world filled with weird and wonderful creatures. It was wonderful to read out loud, and C and I both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Definitely recommended.

What do you think? Are you a fan of the Moomin world? What’s your favourite nonsense story for kids?

 

 

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?