readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[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.)
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[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.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[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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