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01:04 pm: recent reading
I've spent quite a lot of the last few weeks pre-reading books to check if they are appropriate for my favorite 8-year-old. Her parents thought the Prydain Chronicles and The Dark Is Rising would be too scary for this year, but that she'd love some of Lloyd Alexander's books for younger kids. So I've been going through as much of Alexander's work as I could carry home from the library.

Discovery 1: There don't seem to be many adventure stories as exciting as the Keladry books and Wrinkle In Time (which she loved even before she was such a big girl) that aren't scary.

Discovery 2: I don't like Lloyd Alexander's books nearly as much as I used to. The sexism fairy hit them awfully hard.


The Arkadians. I read this when it came out in 1995 (when I was an adult), and remembered it vaguely as slight and funny, a cute string of myths with the numinous taken out. The child likes the Goddess Girls series (which gets on my nerves) so I thought she'd like a different approach to mythology with the numinous taken out, even though she's too young for something like Esther Friesner's more straightforward Nobody's Princess. Unfortunately, it's pretty scary--lots of highly credible threats of death. (See discovery 1.) Worse, it's packed full of the idea that women are incomprehensible. Often beautiful or wise. But fundamentally alien. Women never mean what they say, and people can never understand their words or actions. All these are part of what makes them so desirable.

The Gawgon and the Boy aims to be funny and just isn't.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio. Yikes. The moral of this story is to read the back cover before buying a book! I quote, "Led by Baksheesh, the world's worst camel puller, and Carlo, the world's most foolish daydreamer, a caravan of misfits winds through the Arabian Nights-like realm of Keshavar." I ask you, could this book go anywhere good? It doesn't even try. Baksheesh is lazy and dishonest. The girl is an exotic beauty, of course. I didn't finish this one.

In some contexts, "racist" means "significantly more racist than your neighbors." So a book full of this kind of stereotypes bothers me more when it's published in 2007 than a movie from 1924 or a book from 1706.

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian starts out with a fat-shaming scene I found much funnier in the 1970s. (Because I was thinner then? Or just because I was so much less compassionate?) Fat shaming is so pervasive I'm not sure I would rule out a book if that was the only reason it was objectionable. But the story of Sebastian fleeing through the oppressed countryside felt seriously scary to me, in the same direction as Westmark (though not as intensely.) I wonder if I am more sensitive to this sort of thing now that I live in something closer to a police state?

The Rope Trick depends heavily on girls being unreasonable, not saying what they mean, or not saying anything at all. It's infuriating. It's much less sexist than Alexander's other work, because it's seasoned by men being unreasonable, and one of the girls whose adorable refusal to communicate sensibly is more of a child than a woman. (The other is a young woman starting out in her career.) I thought it was going to be like Philip Pullman's The Firework Maker's Daughter which is emotionally realistic but doesn't quite hang together. But this is just nonsense clear through, and neither the funny nor the moving kind of nonsense.

Time Cat isn't really an adventure, but it is cute. It devotes a lot of attention to how wonderful cats are, and I didn't think it was scary. That must be the trick to non-scary wars...bring a time-traveling cat along.

The Wizard in the Tree is another book I remembered from the 1970s, but I'd thought it was by Joan Aiken. I loved it when I was in elementary school, but it's scarier now. The threat doesn't come from monsters--it's a different scale and closer to home, with a rich man taking poor people's land to destroy their homes, and later to falsely accuse our hero of capital crimes. I did like this one, though.

I also read A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. I LOVED it. It is wildly, completely, inappropriate for the 8 year old. (Not that I ever expected otherwise.) Sweetest proposal scene I've read in ages. And I love how the unreliable narrator gradually becomes less clueless about both dragons and foreigners. She starts off being painfully, realistically, appropriately (for her class and culture) insensitive to "those people," but it's pretty clearly the character being a jerk, not the author. (Unlike other books where a character suddenly become more enlightened between a book and its sequel, and the most likely reason seems to be the author's friends saying "yo. this is a problem.") Anyhow, Isabella learns a little better and it's perfectly plausible and I love her to bits. I returned the book to the library's "Awesome Box," and may get 2 copies. One for me to keep and hug, and one to hang onto and give the child when she's a teenager...

And furthermore, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper is really problematic. The first part of the book is the story of a Native American boy growing up in what is now Massachusetts. The strange customs of his people are described in ways that reminded me of Julie of the Wolves. First person description, yet somehow the strangeness of the customs felt exaggerated (unlike historical fiction that makes strange customs feel ordinary, as they do to the people who live with them.) Hawk dies as a young man, killed by Puritan settlers. The narrative then switches to a sympathetic Puritan boy, to whom Hawk's ghost eventually speaks. I can tell Cooper is trying so very hard to be sensitive and not racist, and it just doesn't work.

This entry was originally posted at http://adrian-turtle.dreamwidth.org/18289.html. Please comment there using OpenID, or here as usual.

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[User Picture]
From:hobbitbabe
Date:October 31st, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
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I'm going to be visiting my own favourite 8yo in a few weeks, and I hope to find out then what he's reading and what he's having read to him. Last year I found out that So You Want To Be a Wizard was actually scarier than I remembered, so there's no rush on acquiring those sequels.
[User Picture]
From:adrian_turtle
Date:October 31st, 2013 11:54 pm (UTC)
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I really love So You Want To Be A Wizard, but I agree that it's kind of scary.
[User Picture]
From:boxofdelights
Date:November 20th, 2013 04:09 pm (UTC)
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Eight-year-olds I know offer two thumbs up for The True Meaning of Smekday.
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