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[personal profile] justice_turtle
And then I finished the book in the scraps of time while waiting for my interwebs to load, so the rest of this liveblog is technically more of a re-read. *shrugs*

Read more... )
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Okay, so, yeah, wow. That was a hell of a year. But I'm back in stable housing now, going to college, got a car, got state-funded health insurance(!!!), ready to work on this "time management" stunt. ;-)

The library in my new area has a lot of the reliable-old-classic Newberys - Little House, Charlotte's Web - and a pretty up-to-date selection of this century's, but not a lot of the obscure 1930s ones I still haven't tackled. Rather than wait for interlibrary loans to trickle in, I think I'll first tackle what's available locally, in no particular order. We start with A Wrinkle in Time because it was part of the Banned Books Week display and caught my eye.

Read more... )

* Anyway. Where the hell was I?

* Okay, my room's enough of a wreck that I physically cannot find this book after I set it down for a minute. It's a big-assed hardback, this is untenable. I'mma go ahead and post this section of the liveblog and then clean my room. ;P
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: First-person narration tells the life story of a wooden doll named Hitty (short for Mehitabel), from the time she is carved in Maine in the late 1820s to her placement in an antique shop in the late 1920s.

Reaction: This is a really well-researched, really well-written book. Hitty's narrative voice is clear, distinctive, and always in character. There were a couple spots where I questioned Ms Field's decision to write a book that would naturally include this particular naive perspective on, e.g., post-Civil-War black life in the US South; but I never questioned that, given Hitty's origins, life experience, and her personality as established from page one, the perspective was the one she would have.

(I also don't question at all that the Major Traumatic Plot Twist around the 40% mark was a deliberate stylistic decision. It was obviously deliberate, and it works. It could have felt like Before The Twist and After The Twist were two separate books jammed together in an accidental train-wreck, but it doesn't. I may feel that it was a fairly upsetting stylistic plot choice - this is one of those books like Watership Down that should carry a warning, "Do not assume this book is appropriate for sensitive children just because it's about [a doll/rabbits]", although unlike Watership Down it is for mature kids rather than for adults primarily - but it makes the book what it is, and I can't argue with that.)

Conclusion: Four stars, because I don't want to give five to a book whose portrayal of non-white people I do dispute, on a Doylist level if not a Watsonian one. But this book did very, very definitely deserve the Newbery Medal it won. This is children's literature in the highest sense of the word.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
So. Hitty.

This is a really hard book for me to liveblog. It "seem[s] a bit above my likes and dislikes", to quote JRR Tolkien. It's... it's Literature, I guess, in a way that the other Newberys so far have not been: I can interrogate the text all I want, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks of it. The book stands alone.

but it's still a Newbery and I still have to deal with it )

...okay, you know what? I give up. This book has defeated me. It took me forty minutes to write the section above, and that covers four pages. It'd take me most of a forty-hour work week to finish the book at that rate. I'm not enjoying it enough to do that.

So I'll just run through a quick chapter-by-chapter summary of the plot here, with some Thoughts where appropriate.

summary and Thoughts )

DONNNNNNNNE DONE DONE DONE DONE!!!!! :D I skipped so many details. This is a long book. It's only 207 pages, about half the length of a lot of 1920s Newberys, but it's so very tightly packed! O_O
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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
Oh, good grief. Another story about Southwestern Native Americans by a white person? I'm so tired of this Random Indigenous Peoples trend.

Here we go again! )

Well! I liked that a lot better than I expected. :D I still have some reservations about it, but overall it was a very pretty, readable, lovely book. And apparently (more) accurate about contemporary Navajo culture, too!
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: also cut for spoilers )

Conclusion: Two stars. It has a clever plot with plenty of foreshadowing and twist reveals, hard to summarize in a sentence or two, and one of the female characters gets to save the lives of the two titular male heroes at one point. (Admittedly, by running to fetch male deus-ex-machina character spoilers ); it doesn't speak well to the general quality of adventure-stories that even this amount of agency for a young lady strikes me as very rare in adventure stories with a male main.) But its historicity runs to the dubious, and the levels of racism, classism, and especially ableism are really terrible.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
I'd like to polish off what I can of the 1920s here (there are about half a dozen books left I'll have to interlibrary-loan), so the next book I'll tackle is Trumpeter of Krakow. ...at least we're starting to hit things that are Children's Classics rather than Did You Ever Hear Of That Me Neither. Whether the "classic" status is deserved, we'll find out.

(I've read this book before, but it's been many years, and Shen of the Sea shook me badly. ;P)

Come away with me then, to... oh never mind. XD )

And I'm only up to page 48, but it's Monday, so here we are: posting time. :-)

I may not get back to this book by next Monday, as I've got an interlibrary loan in - The Dream Coach by Anne Parrish, a 1925 Honor Book - and it's extremely rare and fragile and I have to return it in two weeks. So that's priority.

After that's done, though, it's Trumpeter of Krakow and then (except for the seven interlibrary loans not yet gotten) we'll wind up the Roaring Twenties in grand style with Millions of Cats. XD
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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
Okay, I decided not to run the Mock Newberys of the Past strictly in step with the Newberys. Which allows for more flexibility in plugging in good books as I discover them! So, YAY.

So anyway: the next Proper Newbery Nominee on this list is Smoky the Cow Horse, the 1927 winner. In googling to un-confuse myself over the similar names "Will James" (this book's author) and "Will Rogers" (not this book's author), I learned that Will James was apparently the pen name of a Canadian cowboy, real name Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault.

I'll tell you, it's a lot easier to liveblog first-time reads than re-reads; WARNING for some animal abuse and racism )

In conclusion: I would call this book pretty solidly the Black Beauty of the USA, maybe even better than that. :-) It's so good and so well-written, I'm waffling on whether to give it five stars even despite the flickers of racism. O_O
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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
Hrum. Wikipedia assures me that the short-stories in this book are the original creations of Mr Arthur Bowie Chrisman, a Virginia native, but the back cover is trying extremely hard to convince me - without saying it flat out - that they are traditional Chinese folktales. I am Well Dubious. Granted, Mr Chrisman probably wasn't responsible for the back cover, as this looks like... yes, it is a reprint. 1968. O_O [ETA: He actually was responsible for the back cover - it's from an interview he gave. :P]

The thing is, being a pasty white person of whiteness, I am not really very familiar with what is offensive when writing about other cultures. But I suspect this book crosses the line.

Onward and, um, throughward! ;P Lots of racism under here... WARNING for implied domestic violence and blatant misogyny, too. )... and now I am done with this book, even though there are thirteen more stories and 150 more pages.
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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
I'll post a review of "The Dark Frigate" later; I'm in a bit of a hurry right now.

****

1925 had two Newbery Honor Books: The Dream Coach by Anne Parrish and Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story by Annie Carroll Moore. Neither one is available to me. The next book on my reading list, therefore, is "Tales from Silver Lands" by Charles Joseph Finger. It's billed as a collection of folktales from the natives of the South American back-country, which Mr Finger apparently explored.

Here goes! ) I'M DONE NOW. Jerk.

* Reading Charles Finger's Wiki bio, though, I'm struck by how many of the writers I've read here so far aren't American-born and/or don't set their stories in the USA. Finger and Lofting were both British-born, Van Loon Dutch-born, Padraic Colum Irish; Hawes and Bernard Gay Marshall, American-born, seem to prefer England and (in Hawes's case) the Spanish Main for their settings; William Bowen appears to have no biographical information anywhere. (Perhaps he disappeared from the timestream in shame, but couldn't erase The Old Tobacco Shop from the Newbery list. TOO BAD.)

Only Cornelia Meigs, so far, is both definitely American-born and set her Newbery Honor story completely in America.

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