The Pigtail of Ah Lee Ben Loo by John Bennett

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The Pigtail of Ah Lee Ben Loo with Seventeen Other Laughable Tales and 200 Comical Silhouettes by John Bennett (published 1928) is an uneven collection of original stories and poems taking place around the world. The varied settings of the stories include somewhat realistic to fantastical and magical other worlds. About half of the stories were also racist, where the author took a very cursory stereotype of a foreign culture and developed a story around that stereotype, such as the story mentioned in the title of the volume about a Chinese man with a long pigtail.

The plots of the each of the stories in the volume, while meant to feel like folktales, just fell flat to me as a reader. I found some of them plainly boring. Others were okay but overdone, with a romance plot where the underdog gets the princess by his clever cunning, or an underestimated peasant gains a kingdom with his skill or wit. Nothing felt truly original, and language use and structure met every standard of mediocre. It is completely forgettable.

Meanwhile, the stories in verse are painful to read. These stories likewise are either racist, ridiculous, or plainly boring, but now add to this subject matter awkward rhymes that do not always smoothly flow in rhythm from line to line. Poetry does nothing to improve the stories and settings, and the format makes them even worse as a medium for an engaging children’s volume. Some people should avoid poetry.

With the major racist and inaccurate depictions of other cultures as a centerpiece of the settings for these stories, the awkward rhyming sections, and the cliche folktale-like stories, there is little to recommend the volume of stories in The Pigtail of Ah Lee Ben Loo.

This book was awarded a Newbery Honor (previously known as a runner-up) in 1929. I rate it “blah” and say “don’t bother.”
Newbery rating scale: FANTASTIC | REALLY GOOD | PRETTY GOOD | OKAY | BLAH
What to do with this Newbery: KEEP IT AND READ IT | MAYBE IF YOU HAVE TIME DON’T BOTHER

Reviewed on July 5, 2024

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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