Alfie’s Feet – Shirley Hughes

More in the Series – Alfie
“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

The Alfie books are pretty great as a rule, but this one is a bit middling. It’s cute enough, I suppose, but I feel wasn’t quite as good as the rest of the series.

There isn’t a single word of dialogue in this book, and only one named female character (if you don’t count “Mum”), so it can’t pass the Bechdel.

As far as diversity goes, while Alfie’s immediate family is white as can be, at least his world is populated with people of many colours and kinds. One of the things I like about these books is that the images of crowds, even in stories like this one which is quite insular,  include a decent variety of people. It’s almost like that’s what the world is actually like or something!

Again I feel obligated to point out what a low bar this is, and yet so few children’s books seem to meet even this very low bar, that it’s worth noting.

The story is okay. C likes Alfie and his sister Annie Rose, so he enjoyed it. The basic gist is that Alfie likes to stomp in puddles, so his Mum buys him some bright yellow gumboots and then off he goes, stomp, splash, joy. It’s very very simple, but is the kind of thing that is pretty relatable to kids and their parents. Nothing super exciting going on here, but a cute relevant story nonetheless. Some of the other Alfie books I’ve reviewed have definitely been better, but it’s okay.

Stomp. Splash. 😉

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Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

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

This is another one of those “very beloved toy goes missing” stories. I’m not entirely sure why it’s a “cautionary tale”, unless it’s cautionary to parents along the lines of “don’t bloody lose the important toy, ya dingbat”.

It’s pretty adorable. Trixie’s failed attempts to communicate the problem to her dad will be familiar to any parent of a small human. As will the bawling and bonelessness. It’s a neat little story, with its roots firmly in real life parenting.

No Bechdel pass, though, alas. And I’ve given it the diversity point, for having at least a couple of people of colour in the background, but once again the main story is about a nuclear white family. I also find myself slightly annoyed at the implications involved in Trixie’s dad having NO IDEA what her problem is, whereas her mother knows right the hell away. *sigh* This again? Really?

But apart from those minor gripes, it is a pretty cute little tale. Personally, I was not as taken with this as I was with Willems’ Pigeon book, but it’s okay. Certainly worth a read.

 

 

The Secret Lives of Princesses – Philippe Lechermeier/Rebecca Dautremer

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

I adore this book. It is a book that requires time though, because there is a lot to it. We read it over several sittings – poring over the gorgeous illustrations and making sure we didn’t miss any of the extra text bits.

It is basically a guide to princesses – and not only the usual airy fairy ones. This book has princesses from all over the world with all sorts of passions and personalities. There’s no homogeneous Disney thing going on here – it is a way more complex and quirky world.

It can’t pass the Bechdel, because it is structured as a guidebook, and therefore has no dialogue – but it definitely passes the spirit of the Bechdel. These are no sexy lamps in someone else’s story, these princesses are all at the very centre of their universes.

This would be a great book for a little girl who has bought into the princess thing but hankers for a bit more substance. There is a huge selection here – princesses of all temperaments and kinds. And clearly multi-cultural too, which is awesome.

And even when you set all that aside, this book is utterly beautiful and totally whimsical. It’s a pleasure to work through. C liked it, although I think a lot of it went over his head. (It’s listed in the 3+ section, but I’d say it would probably be better for 7+ year olds. There’s some pretty complex stuff in here.) It’s definitely not a single-sitting book. It’s more the kind of book you buy and look at over and over again.

Gorgeous. Wonderful. Highly recommended.

Alfie Lends a Hand – Shirley Hughes

More in the Series – Alfie
“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: 5 out of 10.

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

These books really are just lovely. In this one, Alfie goes to a birthday party for his friend Bernard. I like how Bernard is portrayed as naughty, and it’s not dismissed or hand-waved away as “boys will be boys” but at the same time he’s not a total monster. It’s nice to see the nuance of behaviour in kids in a book for kids.

Also the children at Bernard’s party are actually pretty representative of multiple cultures, which is awesome to see. In this one there is a child called Min who actually gets quite a lot of airtime, so it’s not even only the token “faces in the crowd” thing. Minor step up from the truly low bar we have set.

I’ve given it the Bechdel pass because Min and Bernard’s Mum have a couple of conversations that, although a direct result of Bernard’s actions, are not actually about him. I know that calling Bernard’s Mum named is a stretch, but I spend a lot of time around children who refer to me only as “Christopher’s Mum”, so I know that that is pretty much how kids see the parents of their peers. I’m counting it. 🙂

The story is about being brave, and about being kind. Alfie is afraid to go to the party alone and takes his security blanket with him, but when Min needs a friend, he sets the blanket aside because he needs both hands to help her. It’s a cool little moral analogy to do with doing the scary thing to help someone who is more scared than you are.

These books really do have some great ideologies under their really quite relatable stories. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them.

C liked it too – though he was a bit judgy about Bernard’s behaviour. But it was a good story, with some neat messages that were not too overt. Good stuff.

Madlenka – Peter Sis

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

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

This is, at its very heart, a story about the diversity of New York City. So of course it gets points for having people of colour, people from multiple cultures, and more than one instance of named female characters talking to each other.

Madlenka is a little girl who lives in a big building in NYC. Her tooth becomes loose, so she goes to “tell everyone”. This includes a huge range of people from all around the world. Each page is a celebration of a different background. The illustrations are ornate and complex and very very beautiful. The book has hidey holes for peeking through into other people’s worlds, and turnign the page reveals that world in great detail.

Madlenka treats all these people as friends – she has no sign of prejudice or weirdness about it. You can tell that all of the people she goes to talk to are people she has relationships with, people she considers friends. Her community is international.

It’s a really great story. At its heart it is just about a girl and her people, but there is so much richness in the illustrations that it becomes a real celebration of how interacting with people from other backgrounds and cultures can be a completely enriching thing for a child.

On top of that C loved it, wanting to stop and pore over every page, examining details, finding things in each picture. And, in case it’s not obvious, I loved it too. 🙂

Wonderful wonderful stuff.

Jamela’s Dress – Niki Daly

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

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

I love this book. I’m going to admit that I have a bit of bias, because it’s set in South Africa, and so I had a massive nostalgia homesick thing going on when I read it. But it’s pretty great even setting that aside.

It passes the Bechdel with flying colours – there are several named female characters who have conversations with each other about things that are not men. And as you can tell from the title and cover, this book is about a little black girl in her community. So far from the usual thing we’ve seen with a couple of faces in a crowd, this book is way above the bar we’ve set.

And, on top of all that, it’s a really great story. Jamela’s mother buys some fabric to make a dress for her friend Thelma’s wedding. Jamela falls in love with the fabric and ends up making off with it through the town, wrapped around her like a dress. In the process she ruins it, of course, and her Mama is understandably upset. Luckily Archie took pictures, and his picture of “Kwela Jamela, African Queen” wins a competition and he very kindly uses his winnings to replace the fabric. There’s even enough to make Jamela a dress of her own.

I’m very slightly put off by the deus ex machina resolution of this windfall of cash, but apart from that it is a great little story about how easy it is to do the wrong thing and accidentally cause real hurt to someone you love. “Even Jamela was cross with Jamela.”

The illustrations are gorgeous, the story is lovely, plus it shows black people living their lives like, you know, normal people (who woulda thunk), and not in any way with the ikky tokenism we sometimes see in kids’ books. So points all round! Read this to your kids.

Bad Habits – Babette Cole

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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

I have been a fan of Babette Cole’s work ever since I first discovered “Mummy Laid an Egg”, but this one I had not read before.

It does not pass the Bechdel, since the horrible Lucretzia Crum is really the only named character. (Unless you count Mr and Mrs Crum, but even then, they exist almost as a single parental unit and don’t really ever talk to Lucretzia independently. There’s also some kind of weird gender shorthand going on in terms of “Lucretzia as monster” and the reformed angel Lucretzia. Cole is usually quite good with gender stuff, but a lot (though not all) of the behaviour exemplified by Lucretzia being a “little monster” is traditionally masculine stuff – burping and farting, for example. And in the image where she’s ‘reformed’ she is portrayed as a very ladylike, haloed ballerina. It’s subtle, and there’s probably enough to counter it, but I notice these things. Also, I have to say that Ms Crum is also in the ballerina outfit during her ‘screaming and fighting’, so it’s definitely not clear cut, but I still have this inkling of a feeling that something is going on there.

Having said that, the Crum’s world is nice and diverse, showing a range of people in both the parent and kid groups. So that’s nice.

The story is great fun to read. Everyone loves a villain, right, and Crum is suitably delightfully horrendous. Her parents’ wonderful trick on her that eventually results in her turn-around is funny and clever. C loved it, though he was quite appalled by her behaviour, bless him. When she swears at her parents, his little round eyes – “That’s so naughty!”.

I also like the (albeit a bit orchestrated) ‘actions have consequences’ thing going on in this book. It’s fun to read. It has a clear message about not being a horrible ratbag. It’s not often a “messagey” book manages to have so much fun with the story, so two thumbs up from us.