Limelight Larry – Leigh Hodgkinson

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

This book does that metatextual thing for which I have such an enormous weakness. The gist of the story is that the book (the whole book!) is meant to be about Limelight Larry who, you may be able to tell from the name, is the sort of character who really wants all the attention to be on him. Gradually, however, other characters appear and get involved, making Larry more and more put out, until he gets rid of everyone by taking up the whole page himself with an enormous show of plumage! (Larry is a peacock, in case that isn’t clear from the above cover image.)  But then he discovers that things are not as much fun without other people, and the woods have gotten quite spooky so he calls them all back.

It’s a story about sharing the spotlight, and the value of playing nice with others and not trying to hog all the attention to yourself, which is a pretty great message. But the really fun thing about this book is that it is so metatextual about the fact that it is a book. Larry’s whole complaint is that the book is meant to be all about him – he even refers the other characters to the cover. On said cover, and even on the imprint page, Larry has crossed things out and annotated things to make it all about him. He has even edited the authors name to make the book BY Limelight Larry.

I love this stuff. I am a big fan of this kind of tricksy self-referential metatext, especially in kids’ books. It reminds children that stories are unreliable – that someone somewhere had to write them. That they can’t entirely be trusted, and I think this is an incredible thing for children to grasp. Tricksterism has no better venue than a children’s book, in my not so humble opinion, and this book is an awesome example of that.

By our metrics though, it doesn’t do well. While not all of the animals in the book are gendered, the ones that are definitely fall into the kind of “default male” character, and there is no hint of diversity. I mean the characters are all animals, so there’s that, but nevertheless. No points for any of that.

It’s a good message though – don’t be a selfish dumbass – and the metatextual aspect is great fun. And C picked it as his book of the week, so it obviously works at a five year old level too. 🙂 Good stuff. Recommended.

The Eight Famous Engines – Rev. W. Awdry

More in the Series – The Railway Series
“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: 2 out of 10.

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

In many ways this book is really just more of the same. Engines doing foolish things because they are silly or selfish or conceited and then learning the errors of their ways. Topham Hat being all patriarchal and whatnot. Meh.

Once again there’s not a female character or a person of colour to be seen – this despite this book containing four complete stories. It’s all white boys all the way.

The only thing I really have to say for it is that in the last story of the book (and the one from which it takes its title), it gets quite meta in fun ways, with the Fat Controller talking about how the children of England read books about the engines but don’t believe they’re real so he takes some on a tour to meet the “children of England”. I have a real weakness for this kind of fourth wall breaking meta stuff, and so I gave it a point for that.

But honestly, overall, this is a pretty weak offering in a series that I am still unconvinced deserves its hype. Skip it.