Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella -Constance Heward

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

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This is a great little story about a little girl who is resourceful and kind. Ameliaranne is going to a tea-party at “the Squire’s” but all her little brothers and sisters are sick and can’t go along. So Ameliaranne takes a green umbrella with her and proceeds to sneak cakes and scones away in it for her siblings. She is caught at this, but instead of being punished the Squire (who, it turns out, was watching her the whole time and saw that she ate nothing herself) rewards her kindness by sending her home with a packed tea for her whole family.

I love that Ameliaranne herself is such a strong, resourceful, kind girl. Given this book was written in 1920, it’s pretty cool to see a female protagonist show initiative like that. Also, honestly, I am a sucker for stories that show kids being kind, especially to siblings. C, apparently, shares this with me, because his response was, “That’s really nice of her, isn’t it, Mommy?”

Of course. there’s some class stuff going on here. For all the Squire responds to the situation with kindness, he apparently is doing nothing on a day to day basis about people like this poor single mother who does other people’s laundry for money and is forced to feed her six children gruel most of the time. He definitely seems to think that giving the children an annual teaparty is sufficient to be considered a jolly old chap.

The book does, however, pass the Bechdel. Ameliaranne has conversations with her mother (who is called Mrs. Stibbons, not just “Mother” or some such like in so many kids’ books), and a couple with Josephine, the Squire’s rather bitter nasty sister, who catches Ameliaranne at her sibling food hoarding in the first place.

Despite the dodgy class stuff, it’s really a very charming story, and C loved it more than I expected him to do. (He really does have a liking for stories about kindness, which is pretty cool, if you ask me.) So it gets points for that from both of us. Worth a read. 🙂

 

Dogger – Shirley Hughes

POINTS: 5 out of 10.

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

I’ve mentioned before that C has a Kitty that is a much beloved toy. We’ve lost Kitty once, and eventually found him again, and as a result there are now two Kitties floating around. I think this is a relatively familiar experience for many small humans and their parents, and Dogger tells the story really well.

It just squeezes a Bechdel pass because Bella (the protagonist’s sister) asks Mum for an ice-cream. In a longer book, I probably wouldn’t count this, but given this is a picture book with minimal text, I’m going to. There are a couple of kids of colour in the illustrations of the school fair, so I’ve given it one point for that. I always feel like that is such a low bar, but given how few of the books we’ve looked at do even this much, I’m giving it that point. None of them actually interact with the main characters in a meaningful way, however.

C and I both enjoyed the story. I’m not going to lie, I may have got a bit teary when Bella gave up her big teddy so her little brother could get his Dogger back. There’s a lot in this book about simple sibling kindness, and that’s something I always enjoy. Teaching kids kindness is always a good thing.

It’s a neat little book about something to which a lot of children and their parents will relate, and it’s  told with warmth and kindness and empathy. Good stuff.

A Baby Sister for Frances – Russell Hoban

More in the Series – Frances
“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: 0 points
Good story: 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 2 points.

I was fairly lukewarm about the first Frances book I reviewed on here, but, while this one scores only slightly higher, I enjoyed it a lot more than the first one. Where in the first one, Frances’ parents’ style of parenting felt far too indulgent to me, in this book it feels more like gentle reverse psychology than giving in to demands. And I have to love Frances’ spirit and fire.

It passes the Bechdel significantly more emphatically than the first book – Frances has a couple of much more in depth conversations with her mother. And it addresses the complicated feelings an older child may have about a new baby sibling with compassion and warmth. Frances is obviously a bit put out by her parents’ divided attention, but at the same time is pretty proud of her new role as big sister.

When she “runs away” (to under the dining room table), her parents have a really lovely conversation about her as if she wasn’t there about her important role in their new and changing family, and about how much they love the songs she makes up. I love how their appreciation and love for her is entirely connected with who she is and not just a simple lip-service to the parent-child bond.

There’s a lot going on in this book, given its audience. Hoban has a knack for addressing the complexities of the emotions going on, without making it too dense or even too saccharine. He doesn’t go for the simple answers, really, and retains a real sense of Frances as a character – no easy feat in a children’s book. Bedtime for Frances lacked, in my opinion, this nuance, but in this one, he has definitely hit his stride, and captured the complexity and warmth of real familial affection.

Good stuff.

 

What do you think? Do you agree that this is better than the first one? What’s your favourite Frances book? Do you know of other children’ books that manage to hit this kind of nuance?