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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: 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: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: On the one hand, I was really epically impressed by the amount of detail research the author obviously did, and by the light hand with which she distributed the details to draw a clean, memorable picture. I was also massively impressed by the illustrator, Harrie Wood (definitely not the Australian civil servant), who did a full-page illustration in period style for the beginning of each chapter.

On the other hand, after a rather hopeful first chapter or two with spoilers ), the writing kind of devolved into "sympathize with THIS side!", and every single time it was the whiter side. (Except I don't know about spoilery conflict ). Was there a whiter side in that one?) Every time. I quit on the chapter about spoilery name ) the Muslim pirate, because the writing was all about how he was EVILLY EVIL and really he was a pretty cool guy. He just did his pirating at Europeans instead of at brown people, like proper European pirates do. *end ALL THE SNARK*

I learned a massive amount from all the Wiki-searching I did to check things this book was saying, though. It was packed chock-full of references to historical events and characters I'd never heard of before. I wouldn't have wanted to read it pre-Google - there wasn't quite enough background provided to help check anything - but I enjoyed it as it stood.

Conclusion: Three stars, out of five possible. It wasn't bad, it just could have been so much better, and all it would have taken is some more balanced writing. It came so close.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A young Navajo1 boy grows up in the contemporary Southwest.

1: Please note: There is an ongoing controversy over whether the proper term is "Navajo Nation" or "Diné Nation". ("Tribe" is deprecated.) The current official name is "Navajo Nation"; in 1994, the Navajo National Council voted not to change it to "Diné Nation". I have chosen to use the current official name, "Navajo", here. I apologize for any offense given.

Reaction: The author was apparently one of the first white people to study Navajo customs and beliefs in depth, and the book's tone reflects that. In two different ways about which I feel conflicted -- first, the protagonist's worldview is drawn in remarkable and beautiful detail, with no narratorial condescension about his belief in magic or spirits, which I found very refreshing; second, the protagonist's local Navajo group is shown to be on very, very good terms with the white man who runs the local trading post, and this white man is deeply involved with some of the protagonist's practices and secrets, in a way that made me... a little uncomfortable, because it sometimes felt intrusive / not always quite respectful.

And I really, really, really had to wonder - the whole Navajo village is always portrayed as being fine with the stuff the white trader does, because they know he's a friend and helper and Genuinely Interested etc etc, and I just really had to wonder how much of that portrayal the Native people Mrs Armer interviewed would've agreed with. Were they all really fine with her knowing and writing about their customs and beliefs in such detail? Or did some, even most, consider her a nosy white woman and wish she'd go away? How much of her portrayal of the beloved white trader here is accurate, and how much is her trying to feel better about all the prying she does in the way of research?

I had a hard time deciding on a star rating for this book, because the parts where the white trader doesn't appear seem very respectful and just interested in letting readers know that this group of people the author genuinely loves are awesome people and here's what they are like and see they're totally sympathetic people and not savages or stupid; but then the white trader shows up and the whole tone shifts, and there's an awkward sort of "this guy is being portrayed as awesome and sympathetic and Totally Not Doing Anything At All Wrong, but he says things like 'these Indians will always...' and does things like throw an awkward Christmas party for the Native kids at the trading post?" feeling.

Conclusion: Three stars, I think.
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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
...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: 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.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[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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