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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.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: Was... was this an experiment of some sort? Was Ms Montgomery trying to see how much irrational behavior by everybody involved she could fit into a Girls' Story? Or how much gratuitous emo!whumping it would take to make us keep sympathizing with a thoroughly dislikable protagonist surrounded by even more dislikable antagonists? WHAT IS THIS BOOK, Ms Montgomery? Was 1923 just a terrible year for children's books? I didn't expect much from Charles Boardman Hawes, but I know L.M. Montgomery could write. She just hasn't done it here. O_O

Nobody had a consistent personality. Nobody's actions made any sense. In the third of the book I managed to slog through, there was no humor and very little of the eerie or macabre - and LMM's pairing of humor and horror has always been her strongest point with me. The author kept protesting that Emily was mostly happy and mostly loved her life, but what we saw was UNRELENTING MISERY; not a speck of happiness was portrayed that did not get ruthlessly smashed in a predictable manner.

Had somebody in Ms Montgomery's life recently died? Wiki claims she suffered from depression; had she just plain run out of cheerful? Was the collapse of the post-WWI idealism bubble on which she floats Rilla of Ingleside (her previous book) getting her down? Did the demand for more stories cause her to pull out an old pre-Anne manuscript and not rewrite it sufficiently? (It reads a whole lot like the stories Anne is said to have written as a teenager, down to the heroine's raven-black hair and violet eyes.) WHAT HAPPENED?

Conclusion: No stars. I feel like I'm giving out the low ratings with a bit of a free hand here, but there was nothing in this book that I could hang a star on. Even the descriptions cloyed, and the one sympathetic character was a Magical Intellectually Disabled Person whose "disability" consisted solely of sassing at the over-serious characters, writing poetry, and occasionally going a bit psychic. I could have borne him as a 1920s portrayal of a high-functioning autistic person, but his "disability" was supposed to come from a bump on the head which materially changed his personality, and just... just, no. No.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Four siblings, seventeen years old and younger, move to South Dakota to live on a homestead there for fourteen months, beginning in summer 1910. They encounter not only blizzards and hard work but evil claim-jumping neighbors. Eventually they triumph over all odds.

Reaction: I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. The first few pages were so well-written in a spare, casual, well-pruned style. And it's set in South Dakota! Land of my heart. :-)

But. :P this got long )

And then there was the bit where I flipped to the end and found the author agreeing with seriously nasty victim-blaming, and just ugh. I'm going to link the online edition for completeness, but I really don't recommend it.

Conclusion: No stars. Which is a shame. It had potential. :P
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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: A Southwestern Native American toddler gets lost in the desert, makes friends with a shepherd boy, and spends the rest of the book trying to find her family again.

Reaction: Oversimplified baby-talk narration, inaccurate representation of Navajo folktales, a protagonist of an unnamed tribe that is definitely not Navajo, and it takes ten pages for anything at all to happen? Plus bonus fat-shaming and chauvinism! Must be a 1920s Newbery, huh? *dry grin*

The setting showed fairly detailed research, but the "What tribe is she? Not Navajo! What tribe is she like? Navajo!" deal really made me eyeroll; it seemed like an excuse for sloppiness. I was reasonably impressed, though, by the existence of a subplot about a white man kidnapping Native children by government sanction to make them go to White-run boarding schools and forget their culture; I've never seen that historical fact addressed in any other work of fiction. Ever.

(I don't know if that says more about my reading than it does about the state of fiction.)

Conclusion: One star. For the boarding schools subplot.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: In the English port town of Boston, Lincolnshire, near the beginning of the fifteenth century, three plots are getting started at once. One concerns a mysterious man who's been repeatedly sneaking into the town in different disguises; one concerns the master of customs, who has gotten (honestly) rich off export tariffs on English wool and sheepskin, but is now starting to act in favor of home industry and the expansion of England's sea power in defiance of the Hanseatic League with which he treats - all of which makes his colleagues on the town council mistrust him; and one concerns Tod of the Fens, a rogue japester, and his band of merry wastrels, who fish for their livings and befool their fellow man at every opportunity for fun. There's also a romantic subplot involving the customs master's teenage daughter. I won't spoil anything further for you. ^_^

Reaction: I was a bit dubious at first, as the book's front-loaded with a chapter full of research and set-up, and another one introducing Tod with, hm, a certain amount of confusion and obfuscation all round. But after that, things get moving at a good pace, and every one of the characters except the major villain (an evil pirate captain! :D) gets a well-rounded characterization... even the Scolding Housewife and the Noble Popinjay. This book is full of the BEST BANTER EVER - I swear, I wouldn't know Shakespeare hadn't written it if it weren't prose - as well as the BEST RESEARCH EVER. The 15th-century characterization is absolutely spot-on perfect in every particular, even to the casual belief in the supernatural with not one occurrence of "of course we 20th-century humanists know better". The clothing is perfectly accurate period, as are the ships, and the geography and even the wind directions are well researched. I can't swear to the political climate but I will lay odds it's perfect. ;-)

Plus, after their first chapter or so, the antics of Tod et alia are way less embarrassment-squicky than I had feared. The romantic subplot with the customs-master's daughter is wonderfully handled; the author works around the social necessity of arranging a marriage by letting the boy and girl meet first, and having them become fast friends so naturally that I squeed over their relationship every time they took the spotlight through the whole book. :D The town's politics and the way everyone's individual purposes interact are extremely well-drawn. And while the pirate company of Evil Germans are Evil, they're not opposed to a uniformly shining company of Englishmen (or Englishwomen), nor do they cause everything that goes wrong in the course of the book. In fact, they're a bit of a distraction. :-) And the goodness or reliability of the characters is not predicated on their social class, or even on their preoccupation with class status. In short - this has the least simplistic characterization and the least OMG 1920S I have yet seen in a Newbery, iirc. :D

Conclusion: Five stars. All in all, a truly remarkable book, and you should read it here posthaste if you have any interest in Merrie England with politics and banter and subplots and RESEARCH. :D (And if you're okay with a lot of "thou" and "shouldst", because the language is pretty accurate, at least compared to Malory. But I found it very readable. Admittedly I find Shakespeare very readable.)
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: This is a book about unpleasant people having dysfunctional relationships while terrorizing themselves and each other with punitive religion. I don't like it.

(On a different note, this is the first book on the Newbery list to have a female protagonist. It's a shame she had to be this... painfully agency-lacking little thing whose entire character development, as far as I read, centered around being manipulated by A Boy. :P The really snarky part of me wants to say, no wonder this book was recently republished by a conservative Christian publishing house....)

Conclusion: Two stars, for the admittedly very good research and well-handled stream-of-consciousness emotional evocation. The characterization is actually quite realistic too, given the background of all the characters - it's an extremely accurate portrayal of the terribly strangling way over-structured religion causes people to beat themselves up. It's just, all of that seems to be considered a good thing. Including Dencey's drastic lack of agency. O_O
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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: 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
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
Summary: A live Dutch doll about eight inches tall, named Nicholas, visits a fantasyfied New York City to see the sights.

Reaction: This book could have been so, so, so good. I love "virtual tour" stories about places I've never been; if this had been a good example of that genre, I would've had no complaints.

Sadly, it's not an example of the genre at all. It belongs to the very close but distinct genre of "tour guide disguised as fiction" - landmarks aren't clearly described, just mentioned offhand, with very specific directions as to finding them "on the ground", and it's really hard to stay interested in the storyline when whole chapters consist of "they went to this really awesome little place! and this one! and this one!" with no atmosphere to give a sense of the places. It's really clearly aimed at kids who live in 1920s New York and have the ability to follow in Nicholas's sightseeing footsteps.

WHICH IS SAD. A book that did give the atmosphere of these little hole-in-the-wall shops and big department stores would be an invaluable time-capsule story for its era! There are tiny hints of time-capsule things anyway, like the NYC-dwellers counting time by the flashes of the (then brand-new) stoplight at Forty-Second and Fifth - but just not enough. :-(

Conclusion: Two stars. I'd mark it much higher, but it was clearly never intended to go beyond its own place and time, and therefore doesn't really belong on the Newbery list.
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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
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: 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
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.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Attempts to tell the history of the human race from caveman times to 1922, that being "the present". Succeeds in telling the history of white people, sort of, with a strong anti-religion skew.

Reaction: I had high hopes, because it was acclaimed the first Newbery winner by 163 librarians and has remained in print ever since, being repeatedly updated with chapters on the end - my 1980s edition finished with "Looking Toward the Year 2000". And the writing quality is really, really fabulous; if nothing else, I recommend opening the Gutenberg version and reading the author's preface for a large dose of gorgeousness.

But that does not excuse the repeated blatant distortions of history the author pulls out of his hat! Things like asserting that Sparta didn't care at all whether the Persians invaded northern Greece, and then going straight into a retelling of Thermopylae that skips the part where Leonidas - King Leonidas, thank you very - and the fabled Spartan 300 (actually 7,000) were volunteers on a suicide mission DURING. THE. OLYMPICS. I may have flailed a lot about that.

Honestly, I learned a lot via this book, but most of the actual info came from Wiki after I said "WHAT?!" and googled something. ;-) Also, it's very much The Story Of White People, with a few suitably pale brown people graciously whitewashed. :P Black people are almost completely ignored, except for a couple of sentences using them as the nadir of uncivilization - I ditched out after cut for racism ) :P

Conclusion: Three stars. Because the writing really is that good (I do highly recommend reading the prologue, a gorgeous paean to the importance of history books; you can find it here), the history at least attempts to be a lot more comprehensive than the Brit-centric '50s Eurasian history I grew up on, and he did teach me some things. I think toward the end, we were just about breaking even on things I had to google because he was wrong versus things I had to google because I was wrong.

ETA: ...there's a movie. A Marx Brothers movie. With Vincent Price as the Devil, Peter Lorre as Nero, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc - it sounds like a hot mess. "The council of elders of outer space is deliberating on a very important subject: Must mankind be allowed to survive, or is it so essentially evil that it must be destroyed? A devil and an angel act as prosecutor and defense for the human race", presenting (I assume) scenes from human history as evidence. It's a Cold War moral tale, it seems: if the human race is found wanting, we're going to blow ourselves up with nuclear bombs. O_O

I'm so glad I'm not trying to watch all or any of the movies that have been made based on Newberys. ;-)

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