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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A young man in 1830s Minnesota becomes a logger and pioneers the technique of felling trees during winter so that the spring thaw will carry them to market.

Reaction: The distressing thing about Cornelia Meigs is that I always remember her other books I haven't reviewed yet as being better than the one I'm reading. :P Like The Windy Hill and Clearing Weather, this one suffers from a human villain whose actions don't come across as remotely realistic, either psychologically or (sometimes) in the realm of physical possibility. Our plucky young hero and his teammates on the side of Good have the same problem, actually -- physics and human psychology bend to their convenience, while twisting to hinder the villain's purposes. I mean, not just in normal storytelling ways, but in noticeable, "what the fuck does anybody here think they're doing" ways. :-(

Rating: One star. Because she did have the fools' gold identified as such from the start, which I don't think I've seen done in any other story that referenced fools' gold, and she described it accurately enough that my geologist's instincts twigged it straight off (though I didn't trust her enough to believe I was right).
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Ten-year-old Lucinda Wyman spends roughly a year in New York City, living with her schoolteacher Miss Peters while her parents have gone to Italy for the winter due to her mother's poor health. She befriends all sorts and conditions of (mostly white Christian) people while traveling all around the city on the titular roller skates.

Reaction: I genuinely do not know what the fuck to do with this book. It's unique, and weird as hell. It starts with a now-adult Lucinda (though that's deliberately not made clear) meeting her past self. I don't know that I buy the framing conceit of adult!Lucinda having completely forgotten all the friends and incidents in the book until past!Lucinda reminds her to reread her old diary, but it sure is a hell of a conceit.

I think if I had to pick one word to describe this book, I'd go with "daring". It's aggressively anti-classist, though casually racist in the way it ignores its black servants, and its one Jewish character is very strongly implied to have murdered his wife. It's structurally very odd -- you don't expect, when your heroine discovers the murdered body of a friend, to not have any investigative follow-up after she reports the matter, just her own internal attempts to deal with tragedy. There's no overarching plot, but it's so extremely unlike the standard "cozy" string-of-incident books it superficially resembles that I just... straight-up do not know what to do with it. How to file it in my head. Anything.

It reminds me, for some reason I cannot pin down, of Island of the Blue Dolphins. I don't know why! They're nothing alike! But there's something in the tone, the feel it gives me. Perhaps it's the ending, the bittersweetness of leaving this independent existence which was not always happy but was always good. The feeling, explicitly stated here, that our heroine has left a ghost of herself in this time and place, maybe? I don't know. I'm thinking (for reasons I cannot articulate) of this cover on my childhood edition of IotBD, and of Rontu, and of the creepy underwater cave of the ancestors. I don't have answers, so I'm giving you impressions.

Rating: Three stars. I think it might be Literature, though far more avant-garde (I keep wanting to say Art Deco) and perplexing than Hitty; I don't think I liked it, and I'm extremely glad I didn't read it as a child, but it sure as hell made an impression; I docked it a star for the racism, and one because Uncle Earle skeeved me out so badly. Not in a sexual way, I think, but the only word I have for his relationship with Lucinda is "grooming". For what, I don't even know.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A scholarly biography of Davy Crockett, intertwined with a selection of the contemporary stories and legends about him, aimed at middle-grade kids.

Reaction: I mean, I'm not being as harsh on this as I am on a lot of Newberys. Still and all, it's a childhood favorite that the Suck Fairy hasn't visited. :-) The writing and structure is genuinely really good, and like a lot of the best historical writing, it gives a really good sense of the atmosphere along with the facts. I mean, this is the book that established for me how you write history, it's not like it was going to come up lacking by that standard. ^_^

Rating: Five stars. Actually really good, I highly recommend reading it, though obviously there's also a nostalgia factor here for me.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A class of nine-year-olds from a Dutch school go on a day-long skating trip with their teacher.

Reaction: Well, that was a lot more action-packed than I expected. :-) Also a lot longer -- it's almost a novelette, not a picture book. The pacing is excellent, as is the sense of place, and the preteen boys who form most of the Plot act like preteen boys. The girls didn't seem to add much to the story at all, though, and Afke seemed a lot younger than her twin brother Evert, to whose adventures and mishaps she spent most of her time reacting.

Rating: Three stars. If the girls had had more to do (i.e. anything at all) I might have given it four. The art is also fantastic.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Traditional life in a Bulgarian village. Also a boy named Dobry has artistic talent, falls in love with the only available girl, and ends up going off to art school.

Reaction: It's clunky. I'm not sure if the prose is bad or just... I'm going to pull my favorite(?) line here: "[He looked] at the grandfather with the questioning wonder everybody feels when he sees a really living person who warms other people with that spark of God he always keeps burning in himself." I don't even know what's happening here, okay. ^_^ Nobody sounds like a human being, but -- well, it's a ride. :D

Rating: One star. I dislike Dobry as a character, the book isn't progressive or outstanding in any way, it's hard to follow what's happening or when anything is, and I yelled at the endgame kind of a lot. But it was entertainingly enthusiastic about whatever the hell it thought it was doing, which is more than you can say for a lot of these. *looks pointedly at The Old Tobacco Shop, still and hopefully forever the nadir of Newberys*
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A family of would-be homesteaders in Depression-era Wyoming get embroiled in the conflict between a heroic teacher of vocational agriculture and an evil alfalfa magnate.

Reaction: Well, it's... very 1930s, that's for sure. I might have liked it a lot better had I read it as a teenager. These days the character interactions read kind of... overblown to me, with all the main characters solidly Heroic or Villainous (until the last couple chapters when things move toward a sort of truce by way of resolution) and all the side characters split along the same lines, as Loyal to the good or Duped by the bad.

As a narrative of its own time and place, though, it is accurate as far as I can tell, and I got all the way through it -- the prose isn't bad. It might make a fairly good research resource; I just don't find it particularly compelling as a story.

Rating: Two stars. The research is solid, which is a hella relief after "The Jumping-Off Place", and the book is honestly pretty readable, just not stellar.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A sadly disjointed collection of Irish folktales that can't decide whether it has a frame story or not. Spans a lot more eras than just the standard Fianna and Tain Bó retellings that generally fall under the head of "Irish folktales", though, and in a couple of stories explicitly references the Catholic/Protestant political split that's so much a part of Irish culture for the last 400 years, which honestly impressed me -- children's books don't usually go there at all if they don't have to.

Reaction: I wanted to love this book, I really did. I love and admire Padraic Colum and what he did for Irish literature, and "Stories from My Own Countryside" sounds like a topic he should be brilliant on, but this just falls flat. :-(

Rating: Two stars. I couldn't bring myself to go lower, and even as good as the prose truly is, it doesn't deserve higher. :-(
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Retold tales from the Kalevala, surrounded by a frame story about the Finnish Civil War of the late 19-teens. The frame story follows a preteen boy named Vaino (presumably there should be diacriticals there, but the book uses none) and his family through the conflict.

Reaction: No suspense, a lot of "oh, war is fun and thrilling!", very little nuance, no character development at all. I didn't like it enough to finish it.

Rating: One star, because it wasn't as gobsmackingly bad as most of the zero-star offerings we've had. I don't recommend reading it, though; there are far better Kalevala retellings out there, and the frame story is boring as hell.
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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: The most heteronormative possible treatment of a set of cultural customs with a LOT of potential for questioning gender relationships. about spoilers )

(I use past-tense verbs because the Communist takeover of Albania included efforts at eradicating gender oppression, and I don't know the current situation very accurately.)

And it's treated of in a GAAAH ) and none of the gender oppression stuff is questioned at all, just treated as an integral part of the structure of the story. Which is one way to handle writing about oppressive cultures, but I VERY VERY STRONGLY judge Ms Miller's choice to write this particular narrative (rather than, say, spoilers )). :P

Also, it's an incredibly slow book, laden down with exhaustive detail about Albanian rural life of the (unstated) time period. And due to a couple of odd wordings about a festival Mass, I don't even know how much I trust the author's research. O_O

Also also, in the spot where changing one attribution would have made Pran the first female Newbery protagonist to have agency - just letting her, instead of her boyfriend, suggest that she go have an effect on the plot ), and then just not having her GO ALL WIBBLY AND UNSURE ABOUT IT! - she, well, doesn't. :P One word. I'd have given this book four stars (lopping off the fifth because it's slooooow) if that had been the case. :PPPPPP

Conclusion: One star. Because the use of language and the research is relatively good, but I'm so angry about how pointless it was to make our formerly quite assertive-seeming heroine into a wishy-washy catspaw of her beloved Man-Hero at that one spot. BLAAAAAAAGH.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Tells the story of one year in the life of teenage French orphan girl Marguerite "Maggie" Ledoux, indentured to an English-American family that settles in Maine in 1743.

Reaction: I like Maggie. I like a lot of the descriptions. The research is as thorough and accurate as I've come to expect from Rachel Field. I don't like the repeated emphasis on how out-of-place Marguerite is among the anti-French English settlers of the day, and I really don't like the... sudden realism, I guess: the one incident with a harshly unhappy ending in a book where almost everything turns out well. It's very like the twist in Hitty where spoilers for Hitty: Her First Hundred Years ) -- a relatively light, fluffy book at the start, with a sudden twist to the darker side of life. And this book's unhappy twist was really severely grim, involving spoiler; if this works right there should be another cut with warnings under this cut ); I'm glad I didn't read it as a kid. :-(

Conclusion: Two stars. It's well-written and well-researched, and I like some of the characters, but I don't like the book as a whole. I don't like the... feel of it, I guess. Call me unliterary, but I like fluff. ;P
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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
[Note: I'm planning to post Mondays and Thursdays for a while. Also, I have my laptop hooked up to a desktop monitor and it seems to be working okay.]

Summary: A fictionalized version of the year or so leading up to Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage to India, seen through the eyes of the young Ferdinand Magellan and a highly fictionalized Jewish banker named Abel Zakuto.

Reaction: Oh, where to start? O_O I only got 13% of the way in before I gave up on this mix of bad research and utter nonsense with a nice thick scoop of misogyny on top.

Every single thing that could be slanted to the glory of Western explorers has been slanted so. Every single reference to women in the book is derogatory and stereotyped. There are two female characters, but by the point I stopped, it hadn't passed the Bechdel test even by implication, because one of them didn't talk, even offscreen.

And as far as I can figure, the portrayal of the political situation in Portugal at that time was made up out of whole cloth... to the point that "Abel Zakuto" was made up as a separate character from real-life Portuguese Royal Astronomer Abraham Zacuto, and was given most of Abraham's true history and accomplishments, apparently just to separate "Sympathetic Hero Character" from "person who has any sympathy or respect for the Portuguese monarch"! O_O BECAUSE CONFLICT, that's why. If you don't have a villain, make one up! *sigh*

Conclusion: One star. Half because because Mrs Hewes has an enjoyably brisk writing style well-suited to adventure stories, and half because -- even though it wasn't actually meant to come across as a romance -- the budding gay teen romance between young Ferdinand Magellan and fictional character Nicolo Conti was adorably sappy and quasi-realistic.
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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
Summary: The story takes place just after the American Revolution, and follows three protagonists - a shipyard owner's young heir, a fugitive French revolutionist, and a young sailor-lad - in their twin quests, first, to save a New England town's failing economy via the two-year voyage of a trading ship carrying trade goods ventured by all the townspeople, and second, to discredit the traitorous townsman who SABOTAGED the economy out of jealousy for the shipyard owner! ...yes, it really is presented as that Dramatic, and that easily fixed.

Reaction: I may have just plain grown out of Cornelia Meigs's writing style, but everything in this book just felt so obvious to me. Sympathize with this character! Don't sympathize with that character! Here's foreshadowing for the ENTIRE PLOT! Everything will be fixed in the end when this one Bad Person gets his just desserts! :P Not to mention all the weird segments of racism and classism scattered throughout. :-(

I'm... I know I've never liked her "boys' books" as well as her "girls' books", but I'm really starting to wonder if any of her books are as good as I thought. I'm still going to have The Covered Bridge on the Mock Newberys list, even though it'll be an interlibrary loan, because I seem to recall that being a really good book, but -- I'm revising my expectations downward. :P Which is sad.

Conclusion: No stars. I feel like I've been giving out zero stars a lot, but actually this just brings "zero" up to par with "one", "four", and "five", at five books each. And there was really nothing in the part of this book I read that I would give a star for.
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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: 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: 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.

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