Friday, June 28, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Graphic Classics Volume 18: Louisa May Alcott (Graphic Classics)
Graphic Classics Volume 18: Louisa May Alcott 

This book contains a very abridged version of Little Women (both parts). This volume also contains some of Louisa's gothic and horror stories as well as poems and moral tales for children. It's an odd mix but I suppose as a sampler of Louisa's writing it may be interesting to teens.This volume was not at all my thing. The best part that saves this from being a total dud is that it uses some of Louisa's actual prose!

"Little Women", adapted for comics by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Anne Timmons is pretty thin. It skips a LOT of the plot, including Jo's hasty temper and Marmee's wise counsel, in favor of the romance and drama. yuck. T I did like how the adaptor used Louisa's own words to tell the story. The illustrations are dreadful-more mid-20th century than 19th.

"The Rival Prima Donnas, by Rod Lott and Molly Crabapple, is one of my favorite of Louisa's lesser known tales. It's dark and twisted but oh so good. Being Louisa, there IS a moral to the tale hidden in there somewhere: beauty and fame fade and love lasts forever. Also - don't kill anyone. The illustrations are weird and make the people look like creepy dolls.

"Buzz" adapted by Tom Pomplun with art by Mary Fleener is an odd little story I've never read before about Louisa's friendship with a fly. It's strange but it fits Louisa. Is this part of a larger work? The illustrations don't look like Louisa but they're halfway decent except when her face is in shadows.

"The Piggy Girl" adapted by Tom Pomplun and illustrations by Shary Flenniken is my favorite story in this collection. It's very much a moral tale for the young but not as didactic as some of her other stories. It's fun and funny. Too bad about the lame ending. The illustrations are cute and appropriate for a children's story.

"Lost in a Pyramid" by Alex Burrows and Pedro Lopez is a gothic horror story. The moral is don't mess with mummy's. I've never read this one before or it didn't stick out in my memory. It doesn't stand out from the other tales at all. The illustrations are creepy.

"The Lay of the Golden Goose" illustrated by Lisa K. Weber is by far the most important piece in this volume. It seems like a straightforward fairy tale like "The Ugly Duckling" but on closer inspection it's actually about Louisa and her writing. "rare birds have always been evoked from transcendental nests" says a lot about Louisa's feelings about herself and her family. It reveals how Louisa felt about her writing and the fame that followed. This is a great poem for understanding Louisa better. The illustrations are not my favorite but look like 19th century people.

Back to the gothic with "A Whisper in the Dark" by Antonella Caputo and Arnold Arre. At first it seems like a romance with a very saucy, willful young heroine. Digging deeper the dark tale actually reveals Louisa's proto-feminist side! She reveals thoughts on marriage (love only) and tossing women into insane asylums (men do it to get their hands on the woman's money). The plucky heroine grew on me but the drama in between was too much for me to want to read the whole thing. The illustrations are nice enough to be an animated TV show.

Comic books aren't really my thing. I was expecting a graphic novel of Little Women for young adults. This is worth perusing for some of the more rare gems and an insight into Louisa's mind but not worth looking at for literary or artistic merit.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still MattersMeg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux -- Non-fiction

Anne Boyd Rioux examines the life of Louisa May Alcott and her seminal classic novel Little Women and questions whether the story is still relevant for modern readers. (She argues that it is).

Section I, "The Making of a Classic", provides a brief biography of Louisa and how she came to write the novel. I didn't learn anything new there but when the discussion turned to the different editions of the novel and the illustrations featured within, I was more interested. It would be fun to collect each illustrated edition. Even though the author argues that later illustrators prettied up the Marches and turned them into fashion plates, my favorite illustrations are by Jessie Wilcox Smith.
Jessie Willcox Smith - Little Women
I missed the omission of Tasha Tudor's illustrated edition of the novel.

"The Life of a Classic," discusses the adaptations on stage and screen. It was interesting to see the parts of the novel that each direction chose to emphasize. I did not know about some of the very early productions and how many TV and movie adaptations there have been over the years. The author completed the book before the newest miniseries aired on PBS and before the Greta Gerwig movie was announced.

Chapter 5 of this section was my favorite. Rioux examines Little Women's literary and cultural influences. I think my TBR list is going to be increased exponentially! I do think the author stretches a bit with some of them. I don't think every work about women and female friendships is influenced by Little Women. What would Louisa make of Sex in the City?

The final section of the book, entitled "A Classic for Today" has chapters titled "A private book for girls: Can boys read Little Women?", "Being Someone: Growing Up Female with Little Women" and "Wanting to be Rory, but better. Little Women and Girls' Stories Today." These sections discuss how Little Women went from being a book for everyone to a book just for girls to one that isn't read much or taught in schools. I don't agree with Rioux's arguments. Rioux clearly finished her analysis before "The Great American Read" so people DO still read it and love it. I think the real issue here is timing. The book appeals most to children but the reading level is too advanced for the age group that would enjoy the novel. It also has to compete with a more kid-centric world: YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, video games all cater to children, not to mention kids have more required school work, homework, after school activities/daycare/camp and less emphasis on the arts and humanities. I do think kids should read the book on their own because the fastest way to get them to hate it is to make them read it in school! I also think readers need to understand the context behind the novel to truly appreciate it.

What surprised me was how the second wave feminists in the 1970s dismissed the book because it focused on marriage and the only feminist character, Jo, gives up her ideal career for marriage and motherhood. Not exactly and anyone who loves the novel will immediately want to read the sequels and Jo is way herself than Anne Shirley. Anne gives up writing all together and becomes a stranger to readers who loved her childhood mishaps and her dream of being a writer. Can boys read Little Women too? Sure why not. Laurie is bound to appeal to boys and I think they would like Jo too. I don't see my older nephew ever reading anything so slow or so much about girls but I could see my younger nephew enjoying it. He has a sister and cousins all close in age and can relate to the story about the importance of family.

I really disliked the author's assessment of Gilmore Girls. That section wasn't entirely necessary. The show is witty and filled with literary allusions and the parallel is a bit stretched in my opinion.

The writing style is accessible enough to be read by readers who don't read a lot of non-fiction. I think fans of the novel, Louisa May Alcott, Little Woman and women's fiction/stories would enjoy perusing this book.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little WomenMeg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

The March sisters live in contemporary Brooklyn with their mother, a nurse, in a five-floor walk-up apartment. Their dad is away from home with the army in the Middle East and all the girls miss him terribly. Money is tight and eldest girl Meg dreams of marrying a rich man so she can quit her job; Jo wants to read every Pulitzer Prize winning novel and write one herself; sweet, shy Beth has a passion for music but can't bring herself to perform in public, while youngest sister Amy is fabulous the way she is but would love to be an artist or play video games for a living. The girls navigate friendships and the opposite sex. face challenges in school, at work, fight with each other at home as all girls do. When a real crisis arises, the sisters have to look at what is important in their lives and come together as a family to survive the challenges life throws at them.

I am not the target audience for this book and I know and love the original too much to have enjoyed this adaptation of Little Women.

What I did not like

  • The girls were SO mean to each other! 
  • Jo is incredibly snarky and while I WOULD speak to my sisters they way she does, I would never ever dream of speaking to my aunt to her face the things Jo says to her. In the original novel, Jo knows she has to put up with Aunt March if they want any of Aunt March's money. She needs the job and if she sasses Aunt March, Jo won't have a job. 
  •  Meg is super whiny and a bit too obsessed with the "someday my prince will come" attitude for a modern young woman. 
  • Amy is absolutely horrid! She acts really immature for her age. Her overconfidence is astounding and her sassiness is downright rude. The original Amy may have be bratty at times but she wants to be a fine lady and has manners. This modern Amy has absolutely zero manners. Her mother and sisters let her get away with the most appalling behavior.

The graphic novel format just doesn't do justice to the story. 

  • Mom has to force the girls to go to a soup kitchen on Christmas instead of asking them to give up their breakfast. 
  • There are no lovely speeches from Marmee, no advice on controlling one's temper and hardly any loving Marmee at all. She works a lot. 
  • I didn't get much of the development of Laurie's storyline. Why does he want to kiss Jo all of a sudden when it seems more like he's friends with all the girls? He isn't a poor little rich boy. His grandfather loves him a lot and they live in the same building as the Marches.
  •  Jo's reason for not wanting to kiss Laurie does not correspond to the original or Louisa's. Jo's feelings of not wanting to grow up and change are part of what makes her an enduring heroine. The relationship doesn't develop well. 
  •  Meg and Brookes don't make sense. The original is so lovely with John helping to care for Father and bringing Father home, then going off to prove himself fighting in the Civil War. (I did like parts of the relationship stories which I shall get to in a moment).
  • Amy is being bullied in school. I did not like the mean girl plot and found the mean girl SHOCKING and APPALLING! You mean to tell me all through elementary school Amy has been bullied like this and not ONE adult has stepped in? This does not correspond to the pickled limes chapter.
  • Aunt Cath. What bug crawled up her butt? She acts completely awful in the first half of the book. Then she does a 180 and becomes a nicer person.

I missed the cozy charm of the little old farmhouse in Concord and the simplicity of life in the 19th century, even though women lacked choices and opportunities, as Jo nicely points out.

I'm not a crazy fan of the art work either. The people don't look realistic at all. Amy looks like a toddler and I kept confusing Meg with an adult. Mom looks like a mom though.

What I did like

  • The modern setting of Brooklyn allows the illustrators to make the Marches and their neighbors a diverse cast of characters. Meg and Jo are not biological siblings but they act like sisters anyway. Jo and her mom are white and Meg and her dad are black while Beth and Amy are biracial and brown skinned. Laurie and his grandfather are brown Latinos and other characters reflect the diversity of modern life.
  • Meg's choice. It's not 1868 anymore, as Jo points out. In 1868 a girl was limited to her home, her family and maybe 2-3 eligible men in the area. She made the best of whatever man she chose to marry and that was it. Today girls of 17 are not expected to marry and don't have to marry for money.
  • Jo's secret isn't much of a surprise but it also doesn't correspond to Jo or Louisa herself. I was expecting something a little different but similar. I did appreciate her coming to terms with it and preaching about tolerance. Her speeches got rather corny at the end but obviously this is geared for 12-year-olds and not adults.
  • Beth!!!!!!!!!!!!! A million stars for Beth! I just adore her so much and want to hug her sweet little nerdy self. Adorable Beth is not as shy as her original counterpart. In fact she's not that shy expect for her music. She has a passion for music and thinks it sounds better on vinyl. She loves Disney movies and not scary horror movies and is generally the sweetest and best of her sisters, without being a do-gooder or nauseating Victorian angel. She is content to be a nerd. Beth does dream of growing up and her illness corresponds very well to the original scarlet fever. What the sisters do for her during her illness is wonderful and more true to the spirit of the original novel.
  • The e-mails to Dad. Dad sounds like an amazing man! I can see why Mom fell in love with him. I don't feel the same way about her but maybe that was deliberate on behalf of the writers. Here it is Dad who is the big influence on the girls and teaches them important lessons. The e-mails are very sweet and really develop the characters' personalities.

Honorable mentions for minor things I liked

  • Kennedy. Kennedy is supposed to correspond to Sallie Moffatt. She does not thankfully. I was pleasantly surprised by her.

  • The blink and you miss it Jane Austen Easter Egg. Look at Aunt Cath's ring.

Final verdict
Read the original.
If you have young girls in your life unable to get through the original just yet, give them
The Penderwicks
The Sisters Club
Littler Women: A Modern Retelling

If you're an adult looking for a good modern retelling try The Little Women Letters