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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Retells in English the life story of Fionn mac Cumhall, one of Ireland's great mythic heroes, and of his comrades the Fianna, from Fionn's boyhood through to his old age.

Reaction: Ella Young, like Padraic Colum, was a member of the Gaelic Revival and Celtic Revival movements in the early 20th century. Like Padraic Colum, she is an AMAZING writer in her field -- incredibly talented at use of language and at structuring a retelling so a reader without background knowledge can follow it and find it fascinating.

Conclusion: Five stars. Highly recommended for anyone with any interest whatever in Ireland, Irish mythology and legend, or good writing.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Tells the simple story of a rabbit who runs away from various scary loud noises, meets various other animals, and goes back home in the evening. Includes an ABC song consisting of the entire book sung to a tune composed by Ms Gág's sister Flavia.

Reaction: Disappointing. The music and the pictures are both good, but the lyrics which link the two are terribly flat. There is no plot, no humor, very little logical connection or progression from one letter to the next, and not even a funny turn of phrase to lighten the slog. A book with something like twenty pages shouldn't be a slog. O_O

Conclusion: One star, mainly because I can't give Wanda Gág zero stars. :P The tune and the pictures between them do actually deserve a star, though.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: I think I like this one maybe even a teeny bit better than Millions of Cats, since it doesn't have the slightly gruesome turn of that book, but keeps the Grimm's Fairy Tales feel and the truly glorious pen-and-ink artwork in double-page spreads. Babar artist Jean de Brunhoff pioneered the oversize picture book a child could "climb into", a few years after Millions of Cats and The Funny Thing came out, but I'll definitely argue in favor of Wanda Gág as a precursor of the same trend.

I also really enjoyed Bobo's gentle, genre-savvy sporking of the "sermonizing" type of child's picture book in one place. :D

Conclusion: Five stars. I wouldn't say this book should have won the Newbery over Hitty, but I'd definitely give it a Mock Pre-Caldecott for the year. ;-) (The actual Caldecott medal wouldn't be awarded till 1938.)
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A collection of eighteen short stories and poems, previously published separately in a children's magazine, here gathered as a book and illustrated with 200 silhouettes by the author.

Reaction: Humor is a very subjective thing. Let's just put that out there. Me, for instance, I've never heard a Joss Whedon joke I unequivocally liked, but 99%1 of geeks seem to think he's the last word in humorous adventure writing.

1: 55% of all statistics are made up on the spot - including these. ;-)

So it's hard to criticize a book like this whose only stated purpose is humor. But, well, I didn't like it. I only managed to get through the first two stories, one of which was a long poem set in a "China" which only resembled any historical or traditional version of China in that the men wore their hair in braided pigtails and the women had tiny bound feet -- oh, and one character was a mandarin. ;P The other story was about a Caliph of Definitely-Not-Baghdad (this does not seem to refer to a Caliph in the specifically religious sense, the leader of a whole sect of Islamic worshippers, but to a more-or-less secular ruler of a city) who buys a clock from a Yankee con man in order that Mr John Bennett may try to write a parable on Daylight Savings Time, and fail miserably. You don't spork DST by ignoring how it actually works.

And the inherent racism in having a city full of "laughable" brown people conned by a Yankee deus-ex-machina, which left a bad taste in my mouth by itself, is followed up - in a later story (I flipped forward) about the same fictional Caliph - by an entire court of Persian astronomers and mathematicians who didn't know the earth was round. :P On which I gave up.

Conclusion: One star. I'm really tired of giving no stars to book after book, and this one's illustrations are impressively detailed and lively for silhouette-work, even though I am well prejudiced against them because of the offensive subject-matter: they started with a Chinese laundryman using his queue or pigtail as a clothesline, and didn't get any better. :P

I don't know if Mr John Bennett's older book Master Skylark, set in Shakespeare's England, is any good, but you can read it from Project Gutenberg at that link if you want a sample of his writing. ;S Like I say, humor is subjective, and he might not be as racist in Elizabethan England.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: spoilers )

Reaction: It's a fairy tale. Wanda Gág grew up on a German-speaking New England farm where Grimm's fairy tales were told regularly; when she grew up she did wonderful English translations of Grimm, but she also wrote and illustrated some excellent, high-quality fairy tales of her own. "Millions of Cats" is one. For very good reason, it's also the oldest American picture book still in print; Ms Gág's distinctive art is some of the best storytelling art, rather than merely supplemental art, I've ever seen. Every pre-reading toddler (except the ones who would be genuinely scared or upset by even this light treatment of the climactic spoiler ) incident - I've known, not to say been, kids like that) should have a board-book of this.

Conclusion: Five stars. I can't criticize Wanda Gág. It's like critiquing Richard Scarry or Dr Seuss. ^_^ MY CHILDHOOD, and objectively good enough to be a recommended part of other people's childhood too.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Tells the story of the Gubbaun Saor, the greatest builder in all Ireland or all the world, from the time he finds his trade until his death. Retold in English from traditional Irish folk tales collected by Ms Young.

Reaction: THIS IS SUCH A GOOD BOOK OKAY. The quality of the writing! The artwork! The way all the Gaelic or near-Gaelic words are explained just enough for the reader to understand them! And the way that, despite the male-centric title, all but the very first couple stories revolve in some large part around the cleverness of the Gubbaun's daughter Aunya - who is the cleverest woman in all of Irish folklore, and that is saying a very great deal. (And the incipient misogyny in the first part of the book, when the Gubbaun bewails having "only a daughter" to leave his cleverness to, is only there to make the story work, and is smacked down well and thoroughly as soon as may be.)

Conclusion: Five stars! :D *hugs book a lot* FIIIIIIIIVE. STAAAAAAAARS.

(Why are all the good ones out of print? I don't know! :P Why did "Gay-Neck" beat this? Well, maybe because it's about India, which is much rarer than being about Ireland. And it's not like "Gay-Neck" is badly written - just incredibly slow.)
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
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
...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: 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: In the first half of the book, Prince Henry the Navigator gathers learned men and explorers to discuss the possibility of land across the ocean at a great banquet. We hear four main stories - Atlantis, Maelduin (I never heard of him before), St Brendan, and Leif Ericson. The second half of the book focuses mainly on Columbus, with a chapter on Ponce de Leon, one on the exploration of Virginia by the English, and an epilogue in which a young Martin Waldseemuller meets Amerigo Vespucci.

Reaction: Well, it's a good thing he titled it Legends And Histories. Given that qualification - it's a good book. Not quite up to Golden Fleece standards; it suffers a lot more from "then this happened, then that happened!", which I think is partly because the bits I recognize are very close translations of the original tales. The Leif Ericson chapter, especially, is just about as detailed (in a Padraic Colum writing style) as the translated-into-prose Vinland sagas that I read a few years back!

It is not entirely historical - not that I quite expected it to be. ;-) The Ponce de Leon chapter, of all things, was the one where I kept having to tell myself "it's a fairy-tale, sit back", because it's a lot more fantastical than some of the other chapters for the same time-period.

Conclusion: Four stars. I'd give it five, but by sticking so closely to the original European sources he chose, he very firmly sidesteps any questions about Spanish or English treatment of the First Nations peoples in the Americas. *frowny face* I'd like to be clear, he does try very hard to paint the First Nations people in a good light, and even gives some of their own names for places (as Guanahani for San Salvador / Watling Island) - but he also does not cast ANY shadows on Columbus and his ilk. For which I judge him. *judgey judge judge* *ilk ilk ilk* ;-)
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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: 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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