Picture Books 2016 #4: A Blast from the Past

This review contains spoilers for various picture books.

Full disclosure: I actually read these in the final days of 2015. But they're being reviewed in 2016, so I think it's perfectly reasonable to put them under the umbrella of 2016 regardless.

Imogene's Last Stand by Candace Fleming

Imogene Tripp is a little girl who loves history. So when she turns her attention to her town's neglected Historical Society, an old building that the major plans to have gotten down, this determined junior historian is determined to fight. There are historical quotes and references throughout the book (all of which are explained with brief biographies at the end, which is awesome), and there are several moments of genuine amusement. But more importantly, Imogen is an appealing female character with ambition and determination, and I would love to read more about her.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

Across four centuries, four different families make the same recipe, using different techniques and technology but sharing the same great and the same familial love. I am, however, deeply uncomfortable with the inclusion of a slave family. On principle, I approve of the inclusion, but in execution, I really don't; the fact that the family are slaves is so glossed over that a child might not even pick up on it, and there's no sense of the oppression and even potential inherent in the slave family's experience with the desert. Instead, a child would be forgiven for failing to realize that anything is off at all, since the book definitely doesn't bother pointing anything "uncomfortable" out. It's all rose-colored glasses here, folks, and it kind of destroyed any chance I had of genuinely enjoying what might have otherwise been a fun, diverse story.

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

I don't have much to say about this one other than to gush about how cute it is. It's a child-appropriate dramatization of the true story behind Milne's Winnie the Pooh, and it's utterly adorable. Read it.

Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall

I can't not read this as a gender story (and I'm 100% sure I'm not supposed to not read it as a gender story), and in the context of it being a social justice book... I can't pretend I agree with its message. And while I'm sure that sounds like a controversial opinion, I don't mean it in the way that you think!

Honestly, I'm totally not surprised that the most "progressive" gender book for young kids that I've ever seen (as of November 2015, when I read this book) is still clinging to the idea of labels even as its entire point revolves around questioning their legitimacy. And there's a point to be made there, of course (if your label makes you feel good, I would never try nor even want to stop you from claiming it!), but it's far from the only point to be made and, in my opinion, far from the best. In my ideal world, the Red crayon who didn't fit the expectations of a red crayon would've shed the concept of labels entirely (along with its literal crayon label), not announced a new one for itself.

And frankly, as a metaphor for transgenderness, crayons are far from the best way to go; crayons really do have color, while gender is an imaginary (and often oppressive) social construct. It's not an equal comparison at all. I really think, then, that the story would work much better as a metaphor for something more concrete than gender identity.

So, yeah, I guess I'm disappointed by this one. Wish I would've enjoyed it, but the author and I clearly have very different ideas about gender and the legitimacy of such social labels. Oh well.

Note: For a vaguely similar opinion of this that comes down on the positive side of the stars instead of my own less-than-impressed side, I recommend checking out Carmen's review over on Goodreads.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

The illustrations here are utterly gorgeous! The story itself is devoted to what happens when you plant seeds--both literal seeds in a garden and figurative seeds of thought and emotion--but I'll be honest; I'm interested in reading the author's other books on the sheer beauty of his illustrations alone!


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