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Summary: Four unconnected short stories of children having fairy-tale-esque dreams. Very, very Hans Christian Andersen in tone.

Reaction: Story #1 seemed kind of unbalanced for the "happy" ending it was trying to have - it focused mainly on the princess's daytime unhappiness, with no prospect of anything changing in the future, and her only happiness occurring in dreams that are usually flattened the following day. The story ends on a dream, not a flattening, but it's hard to avoid the implication that the princess is in for more unhappiness after the story ends.

Story #2 was, I think, really the most realistic dream of the four. It was very neatly set up and didn't quiiiite make rational sense, but did make excellent dream-sense. I found the snowman's predicament upsetting (especially since he couldn't get anyone to listen to him, which admittedly is quite a normal childhood fear), and that again takes up a little more of the story than is quite balanced, but overall I'd say it's well worth reading.

Story #3 was eminently skippable - racist, moralistic, and just all-around WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE. It's still quite reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen, and I don't mean to imply any kind of plagiarism or anything offensive to either author when I mention The Nightingale specifically, but... it doesn't quite have the scope or panache that make The Nightingale memorable.

Story #4 was an excellent, excellent nature-personification story of the day; it should have been issued alone, with lavish full-color oil-painted illustrations in a Jessie Willcox Smith sort of style, and it should have been famous and should still be in print due to nostalgia. And it should definitely have taken the Newbery Medal over Tales from Silver Lands and Nicholas, A Manhattan Christmas Story.

But it didn't. In fact, the copyright was never even renewed, so now it's in the public domain. At least that means you can go read it here! :D Story #4 starts on Page 87, and Story #2 on page 29; there are internal links in the Table of Contents. All original illustrations are intact.

Conclusion: Four stars. I'd give it five, but story #3 was really pretty racist in a mild, unintentional, fairytale way that's (imo) kind of worse than intentional racism. :-( And there was just a tad bit of the same in story #1.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A live Dutch doll about eight inches tall, named Nicholas, visits a fantasyfied New York City to see the sights.

Reaction: This book could have been so, so, so good. I love "virtual tour" stories about places I've never been; if this had been a good example of that genre, I would've had no complaints.

Sadly, it's not an example of the genre at all. It belongs to the very close but distinct genre of "tour guide disguised as fiction" - landmarks aren't clearly described, just mentioned offhand, with very specific directions as to finding them "on the ground", and it's really hard to stay interested in the storyline when whole chapters consist of "they went to this really awesome little place! and this one! and this one!" with no atmosphere to give a sense of the places. It's really clearly aimed at kids who live in 1920s New York and have the ability to follow in Nicholas's sightseeing footsteps.

WHICH IS SAD. A book that did give the atmosphere of these little hole-in-the-wall shops and big department stores would be an invaluable time-capsule story for its era! There are tiny hints of time-capsule things anyway, like the NYC-dwellers counting time by the flashes of the (then brand-new) stoplight at Forty-Second and Fifth - but just not enough. :-(

Conclusion: Two stars. I'd mark it much higher, but it was clearly never intended to go beyond its own place and time, and therefore doesn't really belong on the Newbery list.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: spoilers )

Reaction: Uh, it's... very, very slow-moving. It reminds me a bit of Albert Payson Terhune's Lad: A Dog books sometimes, with its careful focus on realism and the wisest way to train pigeons (Terhune was a collie breeder with strong opinions on the treatment of dogs; I can't find out how serious a pigeon fancier Mukerji was), but at other times it's very much more like the stories of Thornton Burgess ("Old Mother West Wind", "Jimmy Skunk", etc), with the way it ascribes a slightly awkward combination of totally human emotions and pointedly non-human "perceptive outsider" understanding to the animals, in order to make its points. Overall, I think the only coherent tone it has is "inner peace is Important and here are the Buddhist(?) principles of peace and love and unfearfulness you ought to follow". It does, however, take that tone really solidly.

Conclusion: Three stars. I didn't hate it, weird though it was in places; I didn't love it. I think Mukerji's style, very Indian though the book was (as all Newberys must be) originally published in English, is so unfamiliar to me that I was never really going to appreciate its good points properly, but it does seem to have a good many of them.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
...unless I forget it's Monday, oops. ;S

Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: The use of language in this book is amazing; Elizabeth Coatsworth was a poet, and she does exactly what she wants with every word. I can't speak to the accuracy of the Buddhist stories which make up most of the book, nor to the realism of the portrayal of Japanese culture at whatever time this book is set, but the fairy-tale atmosphere is perfect, and as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no exoticization of anything at all. The tone of the book is very much "here is a story" which just happens to be a non-Eurocentric story without assuming explicitly, as so many (oh lord so many) of these books do, that the listeners are going to be of Euramerican background and here is a Strange Exotic Story of exoticness *blargh*.

There is the one rather awkward East-West patch job shown in the title, that cats are repeatedly stated to be "barred from Heaven", "have the gates of Paradise shut in their face", and other such usages, while the concept of Nirvana as... not being a place you go to?... is not brought up at all. And I may be missing other similar problems through my almost complete unfamiliarity with Buddhism. But as a story that completely ignores the existence of white people on several levels, and also as a very good story by any objective metric, and also as a prose-poem of sorts and as the first "short chapter book" I've encountered in this project, this is an AWESOME and extremely notable book.

I haven't even touched on misogyny - of which there is none, and very little even of disparity between the treatment of male and female characters. And though I've focused so much on the bad things this book lacks, it also has good things in abundance. The set-up of possibly-unfamiliar concepts is perfectly done, the middle few chapters are a series of briefly retold stories about the lives (life?) of the Buddha which tie in neatly to the main story about the artist and the cat, and the ending... even though it should be completely predictable to one who knows the tropes of children's literature... still made me sniffle, because of how well it's told.

Conclusion: Five stars. I would place this above Golden Fleece, the only other five-star book so far. I haven't read Ms Coatsworth's oeuvre in so long that I can't give any further reading recs here, but I'm definitely adding her other books to The List.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Tells about the life of a cowhorse in the early 20th-century West, from birth to old age.

Reaction: THIS IS AN EXCELLENTLY WELL-WRITTEN BOOK OKAY. If you have any interest in horse books at all, you should probably read it. :-) The rest of this review keeps being about its drawbacks; this is because I am running out of different ways to say AWESOME BOOK, AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME. And because, when I like a book this much, I keep wanting to just flail and say "everybody should read it, full stop!" but then I backpedal and think "but other people might not like it so much, because of Reasons! I should let them know about things they might not like!" And then I wind up with more criticism per ounce of review than I meant to. ;P

So. Women (and mares) and people of color don't come off so well, but it seems clear to me that - while the "casting" was a bit of-its-time - the writer does actively try to point up that it's these specific characters of his who were thoughtless or evil, and other women or other people of color wouldn't necessarily be the same.

As always, disclaimer: I am a pasty white person of whiteness, so if anyone darker than me or even just more familiar with That Is Very Racist wants to argue that something is worse than I am counting it, I will be happy to listen.

I would warn, if you're sensitive about treatment of abuse - the emotional aftermath of abusing an animal is really well-depicted here, a lot more accurately and pointedly than you get in Black Beauty or Beautiful Joe. (Good grief, how many take-better-care-of-animals books have I READ? *g*) I found it fairly upsetting in spots, where I'm not usually upset at all by books that are more graphic about the actual abuse but portray the animals as staying sweet-tempered throughout and understanding the difference between nice and nasty humans.

Conclusion: Four stars. I really, really want to give it five because it is THAT WELL-WRITTEN both in use of language (in a cowboy way) and plottery, but there are no lady characters who are awesome and the only PoC character is evil, so it does not get full marks. Sorry, book, you really do have some of the tightest plotting I have yet seen. :P

(ETA fix extra "not")
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Short stories set in China, written by a native of Virginia, USA. It is unclear to me whether the author had been to China (as he claims in one story that he had) and collected folktales for inspiration, or whether (as Wiki asserts) they are simply "original creations". Okay, this review on the collaborative Newbery Project blog tells me that the closest Chrisman got to China was San Francisco's Chinatown, where he claimed to have gotten Chinese folktales from a shopkeeper with the aid of translators, and that Chrisman spoke no actual Chinese (of any dialect).

Reaction: OH JOHN RINGO ARTHUR CHRISMAN NO. AUGH. I got through four stories of the lot - a third of the book's length - and then STOPPED BECAUSE NO. Loads of cultural appropriation! Pidgin English! Blatant misogyny! Domestic violence as comedy! Everybody acting like idiots! MISOGYNY WAY MORE BLATANT THAN CHARLES BOARDMAN HAWES, and that's saying a bit.

Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy is this, this, one of the early Newberys that I have heard mentioned as Recommended For School and still in print? :P

Conclusion: No stars. Because I told him on the second page, domestic violence, blatant misogyny, racism, pidgin English )

So. Um. Yeah. I would like to state, this is a shame! He was really good at funny, catchy writing that kids would appreciate! He just also needed to have all his attempts at interacting with or referring to non-white-male-adult people BURNED WITH EVERLASTING FIRE. O_O
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Retellings of South American folktales apparently collected by Mr Finger in his youth.

Reaction: I didn't finish, because the retellings were... well, about half of the ones I read were pretty good but could have been better. The other half had this blatantly colonialist kind of "look at the quaint natives!" attitude going on. Also, whitewashing, and hints of sexism. I quit after a wise old man advised a guy who'd fallen in love with a star-maiden that he had a chance with her if he only wanted her for her beauty and not to make others envious. Because CLEARLY those are the only two reasons to romance a woman. I know fairy-tales aren't much on the "you don't actually know her, why don't you look around down here?" thing, but EVEN SO.

Conclusion: One star. For not being The Old Tobacco Shop. ;-)
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Spoilers )

Reaction: There are no awesome ladies whatever in this book, only nasty and/or boring ones. The writing is a bit better than in "The Great Quest", but people are still given to doing things for either plotty reasons or bad excuses a lot more than for anything that makes sense. I did get all the way through it, mainly because the slave trade is not involved, thus racism is barely hinted at. But the protagonist is still a dope, just not quite as much of a one. And it's a lot more gory / violent in places. Plus, there's quite a lot of incredibly weird mental sophistry / gymnastics trying to defend the plotty reasons, and a fair bit of "making fun of less fortunate people is something all good and true men should do!" :P

Overall, I'd say he was becoming a better writer but still wasn't a good one.

Conclusion: Two stars. For having something resembling a coherent plot, and for not addressing questions of race at all.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE RUN OF THE MILL SO FAR I CANNOT EVEN. It's got pacing! And good dialogue and overall good writing, and is not creepy! And is really, really environmentally sensitive and awesome - Dolittle has rants against keeping tigers and lions in zoos, and against bullfighting, and a Bird-of-Paradise snarks about being hunted for her feathers, and all the things. It's glorious. Plus, the little boy actually sounds like his right age, and generally... if I had read this book as a kid I would have loved it most entirely to pieces forever. :D

Dolittle is a bit colonialist when he tries to rant about politics (the whole spoilers ) arc has some pretty colonialist overtones), and there are a couple of n-bombs dropped by a parrot who's generally a sympathetic character, plus an African prince serves partly as embarrassingly comic relief - although only partly. Get through his first two or three chapters and he mellows down to a sort of... blend between Thor and Jeeves, I want to say. It's kind of epic, and definitely ahead of the rest of these books that've portrayed people of color! :P Just not far ENOUGH ahead, in this particular category. o_O

Conclusion: Four stars. FOR BEING AWESOME. If it weren't for the N-bombs and the colonialism, I'd flirt with giving it five. Definitely worth a read if you can get through those chapters.

ETA Oct 6, 2012: There is a bowdlerized version, but apparently it's very badly done. That link has a good overview of it. The Gutenberg version is complete and unabridged; so is the most recent Penguin paperback, which I read.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: SPOI-LERS! )

Reaction: Well, I only got through 120 pages, and I was quite happily reading Moby Dick at bus-stops before I started this project. ;P The writing is... I can find no other word for it than "hilarible". The book reads like it was written by a young Anne of Green Gables, with "instinctively felt" and overuse of italics all complete. None of the characters' actions make any sense beyond the thinnest of tissue-paper Plotty Reasons; I can't even introduce the thought of them having coherent personalities long enough to dismiss it with dignity, it merely pokes its head into the room and retreats holding its nose. :D

In addition, it becomes more drastically racist and offensive as we get closer to Africa; I gave up in Cuba, after flipping forward a few times and discovering lines like "three of us [were] arrant scoundrels, but all of us at least white of skin, surrounded by a black horde". And as if that weren't enough - I hesitate to use the p-word, but there are at least a great many very strong homages to Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, starting indeed with the frontispiece. I went into more detail in the liveblog post. You can, if you care to, also read the book itself via Project Gutenberg.

Conclusion: One star out of five, for doing quite a good pastiche of Mr Stevenson's writing voice (English-style, not Scottish-style; I would have forgiven a good deal for Scots dialect), and for not being The Old Tobacco Shop. It's a bit nice to have had the nadir set so early... ;P I just hope I never have it reset any lower.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Sorry, that was kind of an epically busy week I didn't plan for. Note: Read All The Newberys will be on a more official hiatus August 6-15 while I'm offline, in case I don't post again before then.

Standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, books are not, Newberys belong to the ALA. No profit is being made from this endeavor. Anonymous commenting is enabled, IP logging and CAPTCHA are on, anon comments are screened for review.

Summary: Dickon, the teenage son of a lord in feudal England, meets Cedric, the teenage son of a yeoman or forester, who is a crack shot. Adventures ensue.

Reaction: Well, the language is fabtabulous. Mr Marshall balances readability with accurate quasi-Shakespearean English better than anyone else I've encountered. All the characters are well-drawn, most of them are likable, and Dickon manages to be a hotheaded teenage boy without making me want to knock him over the head at any point. :D

The plotting is INCREDIBLE. Wikipedia (warning: major spoilers in the book's Wiki summary, that's why I don't link it) mentions that the author was compared favorably to Sir Walter Scott but also quotes a critic disagreeing with this assessment. I have to say - the only way in which Mr Marshall falls short of Sir Walter's standards, imo, is that things HAPPEN in this book, at breathtaking speed. XD Every time I thought I'd figured out what the main story arc might be, it was wrapped up in the chapter and another one introduced. My liveblog post (spoilers at link!) is full of "I'd predict such-and-such, but I'd probably be wrong".

The research isn't the best, though; I'm pretty sure crossbows - a major plot fulcrum - don't work that way, and I'd've sworn the book was set in the 15th century till most of the way through. SPOILER ) For me, the excellent writing made up for that. YMMV. I especially liked the way not everything turns out perfectly but the book isn't a paean to bleakness either; it seemed very realistic to me.

Conclusion: Four stars out of five. I'd have given it five, but I hated the ending, which altered historical events in a way that had some pretty awkward implications. And I refuse to bog myself down in partial stars. ;P

Still highly recommended. To quote my liveblog post, "This is the kind of fast-paced excellent writing I expected from the much-adulated G.A. Henty; why is this book not better known?" Read it here! Talk to me about it! Seriously, fantastic book, I want to read his other four novels now. (Well, not right now. *g*)
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summary and reaction both cut for spoilers )

Conclusion: No stars. I said in the liveblog that this author should have been set to write acid trips behind the scenes of the universe instead of anything near kids, and I stand by that assessment. This book doesn't deserve to be dredged out of obscurity, although for completeness' sake I include the Project Gutenberg link. ;P

If you want a kids' book with better writing, equally unexpected silliness, and lower creepiness levels, I recommend anything by Edward Lear. I know he's not American; I think I had something else I was going to recommend that this reminded me of, but I've forgotten it. :P
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: An anthology of Ancient Greek myths tied together by the frame-story of Jason and the Golden Fleece; most of the stories are told to the Argonauts by Orpheus at appropriate points in the narrative, as backstory to their own adventures.

Reaction: This is some of THE BEST English epic prose I have ever read in my life, and that includes the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

And, as if that wasn't enough recommendation on its own, it's also a surprisingly feminist-friendly story: Jason's mother gets a personality, Atalanta is one of the Argonauts (only one of whom puts up any fuss about "omg a GIRL", and he's explicitly characterized as a boor), Medea has actual character conflict over betraying her family to help Jason... seriously, considering that this was written by a man in 1921 and is based on well-known traditional stories - one of the world's better excuses for leaving things misogynist, not that there are any good excuses - I am boggled by how far out of his way he goes to pull in gender equality.

I'm also rather amused and pleased by the way Mr Colum extends his delicate 1922-style handling of the many sexual relationships in the myths to Hercules/Hylas and Hercules/Iolaus, treating them exactly like the het pairings, so that I didn't even have to check Wiki to make sure they were pairings. :D

Furthermore, there are a LOT of stories included here, in detail; it's not a short book, and it's well worth putting in the time to read. (Also, the satirical tale of the Battle Between the Frogs and the Mice is gloriously hilarious. The quality of all the writing, in various tones, is amazing.)

Conclusion: Five stars out of five. Highly recommended. And because the universe is a wonderful place, it's on Project Gutenberg.

I'm looking forward to the other two Padraic Colum offerings on the list.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Review: I should mention up front that until the ending, this book's plot is very similar to another of the author's books ), so I was (consciously or unconsciously) comparing them throughout. Therefore, while this book does have good sections and excellent prose, I was most struck by its relative fail compared to the other book, cut for length and vague spoilers )

Conclusion: One star out of five, where a three-star rating is "meh". I'd strongly recommend reading other books by the same author instead, because she has done a lot of much better ones. Three suggestions:

* The Covered Bridge is arguably her best, certainly her most excerpted; it's set in post-Revolutionary War Vermont, and guest-stars Ethan Allen. Also, a little girl and an old lady are the central characters, and as I recall (it's been a while), the flashback stories are much better integrated than in most of her other books: not gems in a setting, but well-crafted parts that fit with the whole.

* Wind in the Chimney, also set in post-Revolutionary War times, is another excellent story, with a much more nuanced portrayal of the antagonist's motivation for her actions; it also features a good balance of male and female characters, with the female ones a bit more memorable imo, and the pacing of the various subplots is extremely well-handled.

* The Kingdom of the Winding Road, set in medieval-esque European-fairytale times, is a set of short stories with no frame, tied together by featuring the same mysterious wandering minstrel in bit roles. It's one of my very favorites - slightly reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Mysterious Mr Quin in tone (with fantasy replacing the murder-mystery elements), and absolutely beautifully written. Worth a look.

Overall, I'd say Ms Meigs's historical fiction is much better than her contemporary work. The Windy Hill is possibly the least good of her books I've read, partly because some things that wouldn't be as discordantly faily in a historical setting (feudal-style landownership, attitudes toward characters of color) stand out badly against the "latest improvements" modernity. It's a shame this is one of the ones that made it onto the Newbery list.


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Read ALL the Newberys!

October 2014

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