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