A Great Big Cuddle – Michael Rosen/Chris Riddell

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

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


This is a collection of poetry for young children. The poems themselves are a bit… random. Some are definitely better than others. What makes this book are Riddell’s amazing illustrations.

Confession: I am a long-time fan of Riddell’s work. He works with Gaiman quite a bit (he illustrated Gaiman’s Chu books and also the endlessly entertaining “Fortunately, the Milk”) and his illustrations have a depth and personality that is just exquisite. So I was predisposed to like them.

But seriously. They’re just charming as hell. Look:

On to metrics! So, as with a lot of poetry, it’s a bit hard to pass the Bechdel, especially since most of the poems seem to be a kind of internal kid monologue. No names really. However, due, again, to Riddell’s pictures, the book gets points for diversity because he has included kids from multiple backgrounds it appears! Yay for a kids’ book that isn’t just white kids!

C and I both enjoyed this. He recognised it was aimed at kids younger than him, but he still liked it. He said it was weird and funny and the pictures were cool. Which is a pretty awesome endorsement from a small human. 😉

I probably only like it because of the pictures. I found the poems a bit random, to be honest. But, full disclosure, I’m not one for poetry that isn’t narrative most of the time anyway, so it’s already hard to win me over. Kids often love the sort of repetitive nonsense verse thing, so chances are many of them would disagree with me.

It’s a pretty great book. I am tempted to get a copy, just cos I love beautiful books. Worth a look.

Pest in Show: The Buzz of Broadway – Victoria Jamieson

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

C found this book utterly hilarious – possibly, I suspect, because of the rewritten songs in it, which I sang with great gusto. Because they were fun.

This is the story of a diva ladybug and her annoying kid brother (who is a spider – I assume there was an adoption in the family; this is never explained). The ladybug is doing some most excellent musical theatre, but her brother wants some of the limelight. This culminates in a bug dance off, after which they discover that if they pool their talents, they can both be superstars!

It’s a pretty cute little tale of sibling rivalry and the benefits of working together. There are plenty of inside jokes if you know musical theatre – posters for ” Pest Side Story”, “Antie” and “Bugspray” that deliberately echo the iconic imagery of the originals. The songs are new lyrics to the tunes of such hits as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, lyrics composed by “Wolfspider Amadeus Mozart”. The book has plenty to make the adult reader smile to themself.

It’s clever and cute, and, while it doesn’t do extremely well by our metrics – despite being anthropomorphised bugs, the characters in the book don’t feel diverse, exactly, and the gender roles are pretty explicit, with the diva older sister and the prankster little brother who showers her with garbage and so forth – it’s still a fun read.

A Child’s Garden of Verse – Robert Louis Stevenson

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

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

This is one of the books that pops up time and again as being so very entrenched in our canon that we’re expected to just accept it as wonderful.

But, you guys, it’s not wonderful. C did say he liked it, but I can tell you it took us ages to get through because mostly he didn’t really understand the poems, and the ones he did understand he seemed largely bored by.

On top of that, several of them are outright racist. Oh my god the travel poem is just a bunch of stereotypes, and there are actual “red indians” and it’s just very cringe-worthy and has not aged well.

I was sort of expecting that at least some of the poems in the book would be ones that have drifted into the realm of nursery rhyme – that they would be things familiar to me, but none of them actually were. They all lacked that timelessness of nursery rhymes.

Mr Stevenson should probably have stuck to adventure stories. :/

There are probably beautifully illustrated versions of this book floating around but the one we got from the library was pretty average in that regard too.

I just, I don’t really have anything good to say about this. Disappointing.

The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

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

So, I have a total weakness for Christmas, and all things Christmassy, and a bit of a soft spot for this poem. There are many, many picture book versions of this floating around in the world, and the one we read isn’t even the one I’m linking to above, but most of the ones I saw follow roughly the same illustrative gist.

Unsurprisingly, there is no Bechdel pass and not a person of colour to be seen. This isn’t really surprising given the poem’s origins. And there may well be versions of it that at least show people of colour, but the one we got was pretty ordinary, predictable fare.

So it scores pretty low, but you know, there’s something very timeless and charming about this piece of writing, and it is a classic for a reason. It is one of the more iconic bits of poetry in the Western canon, and it actually mostly stands up pretty well to the passing years.

C loved it – but C, like his mother, loves all things Christmas related, so this isn’t really much of a surprise. He was most put out that there was no sign of Rudolph, and I had to explain that this particular story was from before Rudolph joined the team. Ahem. When your five year old doesn’t realise the story is fiction… 😉

It’s still great though, after all these years. If you’re the sort of person who loves Christmas, well, you probably already are familiar with it, but if not, you should pick it up. Solid stuff.