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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Science Comics: a quality quartet

Comics that are hilarious and instructive? That's impressive! What's less impressive about this “Science Comics” series, is that quite a few of the titles give a nod, or a full-on bow, to evolution, and others push climate catastrophism. For materials intended for kids, that's a good reason to give them a skip. But the quartet reviewed below are the exception, and just give us the facts and history and hilarity. So, two thumbs up for these four, but be aware that others in the series are not always as praiseworthy. Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by A. Wilgus & Molly Brooks 122 pages / 2017 This is the history of powered aviation as told by the Wright brothers' only sister, Katherine. She’s a lively and curious narrator, interacting with not only her brothers but other early aviation innovators as well. While this is history, as part of the "Science Comics" series, it digs deep into the science of how flight works, which makes this a comic even an adult could appreciate... though it is probably aimed at Grade 4 and up.  Skyscrapers: The Heights of Engineering by John Kerschbaum 128 pages / 2019 This is as funny as it is educational. The narrator is a flying superhero, and while he is never named, his red cape and boots and his blue full-body long johns sure look familiar. He’s also able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound… except that he just tripped over the tip of a new, really, really tall one. Boy, are they building them big these days! When his sort-of sidekick Quiz Kid show up, the two travel to and fro through time to find out how we learned to build up up and away! They get into why arches work, and how they distribute forces, the tensile and comprehension forces on stone, how concrete is made, and what technological leaps were made that’ll allow us to build a mile high. What makes this such a fun read is the comic duo: “superman” playing the straight man, and the Quiz Kid his foil. The only cautions would be a “Holy holes” utterance by Quiz Kid about how deep a foundation was. Rockets: Defying Gravity by Anne Drozd and Jerzy Drozd 120 pages / 2018 The comedians this time are all sorts of animals – pigeons, chickens, sheep, monkeys and even bears – who were the test subjects that served as the very first astronauts. There is a lot of science in this one, to the point that I'm not sure I understood it all. But I enjoyed it all! We're taken back in time, to meet Isaac Newton and get introduced to his three laws of motion. Then we're shown how those laws were in play with man's firsts attempts at flight, via balloons. We also get to meet some of the animals that were the first passengers. The animals, including a very enthusiastic bear, take us traveling around the world, to China and Europe, to see how rockets were used for both warfare and entertainment. We repeatedly pop back to the near present, watching the space race between the USSR and USA. Then the whole thing finishes off with some of the developments being made in private rocketeering today, by Elon Musk and others. There is so much packed into this one that I could see teens reading it again and again. There is a "dang" or two, but no other cautions. The sheer intensity of education on offer here means this is probably best for teens and up. Bridges: Engineering Masterpieces by Dan Zettwoch 122 pages / 2022 A quartet narrates this look at bridges all over the world. Each has their favorite type: Bea likes beams, Archie favors arch bridges, Trudy prefers triangles, and the youngest of them all and still a student, Spence likes suspension bridges. We are also introduced to the different loads that engineers have to consider, and the different forces they have to contend with, including compression, tension, torsion, and shear. This quartet also challenges readers to have a bridge-building contest at their school to experiment with what bridge types might be best. The only cautions? A passing mention of millions of years, and a bridge early on that, legend says, was built by the Devil to give himself a place to sunbathe. That's it....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Mister Invincible: local hero

by Pascal Jousselin 96 pages / 2020 My dad wasn't a fan of superhero comics because he figured that Superman and Batman were too much like God-substitutes. And when you consider how many DC and Marvel characters are gods (Thor, Hercules, Loki, Odin, Eros) or are super-powered beings able to fight toe-to-toe with gods (Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, etc. and etc.), he might have been on to something. But Mister Invincible is not that kind of superhero. His superpower isn't laser beam eyes or invulnerability: he's just the only comic book character to realize he's in a comic book!  As Gene Luen Yang explained it in his own New York Times review: "He can poke his head past the borders of his current panel to see into the future or the past. He can pass objects and even himself from one panel to another, moving through time and space." This is such a brilliantly original work that there's nothing else to compare it with. And that originality makes it a hard one to properly describe. But I'm going to give it my best go. In the opening one-page comic strip, we see Mister Invincible, in the top row of panels, look down and notice that further on down (in his future) a lady and her little boy are being robbed. So, he jumps down a row to land on one of the clueless villains. Then, to take down the second bad guy he relies on an intervention from future him, from further on down the page. Future Mister Invincible is looking up (to his past) and shoots the robber's gun right out of his hand.... using the bad guy's own gun, which future Mister Invincible picked up from the ground because, as we just saw in the past, the bad guy dropped it. You might have to read that last paragraph a couple of times before it'll start making some sense. That's true to the comic, which also requires repeated readings to follow. Normally, that kind of confusion would make a comic annoying. But what's different here is that it all really makes sense – it's like a puzzle most kids will be able to decipher, but one that no one gets at their first go. Still don't quite get it? Let me show, rather than tell, sharing an excerpt of a couple of rows from one adventure. I've handed this comic to just about everyone who's walked into our house this last week, and for anyone under 20, it's stopped them in their tracks. They've sat down and just started reading and rereading. I think a lot of adults will enjoy it too – anyone who appreciates a good logic puzzle. Cautions There are some minor language concerns with the bad guy calling his minions "morons," "maggots," and "toilet monkeys," and a bratty kid calling one of the villains a "fat loser big butt." Not a lot of that, but there is some. Also, one of the villains reforms her ways from caring only about money to caring about the planet, and that care is shown with her, in just one panel, marching with environmentalists singing, "We've only got one planet." True enough, but that sentiment is often used to justify policies that prioritize the planet over the people (particularly the poor) living on it. Those two concerns are minor when the comics' intended audience is considered. The little kids who'd titter at the juvenile insults probably wouldn't be interested in Mister Invincible because its puzzling nature would be a bit above them. The only other concern is a practical one. I think this is such an imaginative work it should be in every school library but, unfortunately, there is a foldout page that might not stand up well to library usage. Maybe librarians can reinforce that page ahead of time. Conclusion The French original is called Imbattable or "unbeatable" which is a better descriptor than "Mister Invincible." It's not that you can't hurt him - he's not invincible. It's just that with his creative comic-crossing abilities, you can't beat him. And I don't know whether you can beat this comic. It is utterly creative and so much fun to read again and again. I'd recommend it for ages 10 to 110....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Miracle Seed

by Martin Lemelman 2023 / 80 pages In 70 AD, after besieging Roman forces destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple, they went on a destructive rampage through the rest of Israel, killing thousands of Jews and enslaving thousands more. And, as this graphic novel shares, they also cut down and burned groves of Judean Date Palm Trees. Eventually, a small group of Jewish forces retreated to the hilltop fortress of Masada. Numbering under one thousand, they tried to outlast a Roman force ten times their size, but it was only a matter of time. And when the Jews lost, they left behind broken weapons, scraps of clothing, and pots to be buried by the drifting sands... only to be uncovered by archeologists millennia later. Amongst those pots was one that contained Judean Date Palm seeds. The Judean Date Palms that remained after Rome's rampage didn't fare well without people around to tend them. Even the wild varieties started dying off, though we're told it is unclear whether that was due to changes in climate or perhaps the activities of the Crusaders one thousand years later. All we are sure of is that in our modern day the Judean Date Palms were only known by their accounts in the history books – they had been extinct for hundreds of years. The comic continues the story in 1963, when that the jar of seeds was discovered. The six seeds inside were put in a drawer and forgotten about for 40 more years. Then a medical researcher got involved.  Dr. Sarah Sallon wondered if what she'd read about the Judean Date Palm's healing powers might have been true. And that got her wondering if those six seeds could be used to revive the species! As the title gives away, the trees did have an amazing comeback. It was quite a process, involving inventiveness and imagination – who would have thought it could be possible to sprout seeds thousands of years old? Caution The author is Jewish, and that comes out in a couple of quotes from Jewish commentaries. The first, opening the book, is nonsense, and a young audience might need to be told that nowhere in the Bible does it say, "There is no plant without an angel in heaven tending it and telling it, 'Grow!'" The only other caution is that the title miracle is never ascribed to God – He is not mentioned. Conclusion This will be fascinating read for students curious about science or history – there's more than a bit of both here. I'd recommend it for Grade 6 and up, including adults who will appreciate this as a quick, light read about an intriguing topic. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great

by Jessie Hartland 2015 / 216 pages What makes something a really good read? It can be the writing – some writers can turn anything into a page-turner. It might be the subject – newspaper accounts often lack artistry, but the facts themselves grab and keep our interest. And other times it comes down to the purpose of the piece. I've reviewed novels that didn't cut it as entertainment, but that was okay, because their main purpose was education. And this packaging of education as fiction made learning much more enjoyable than this same material would have been, had it been in textbook form. So, for learners, these novels would be really good reads. So if Steve Jobs: Insanely Great were read as simply a graphic novel biography, it is only middling. But if read to a different end? Well, this is an absolutely fascinating account of the tech industry's development from the 1960s through the 2000s. As a biography I picked this up because I am a bit of an Apple fan, based solely on the fact that my two Mac desktops both lasted twice as long as any of the five PCs that preceded them. I appreciate the quality. And that had me curious about the man who started it all – surely there must be lots to learn from an entrepreneur who turned his home-based business into one of the biggest companies on the planet! But as it turns out, in Jobs' life there are more examples of what not to do than examples worth imitating. He was a genius, undeniably, but genius is something you either have or don't. He was also driven, and while I think most of us could benefit from being a little more driven, we don't want to be like Jobs. He abandoned his young daughter for a time because she got in the way of his pursuits. So yes, he was self-absorbed, and also impatient; he smoked pot, and invented and sold a device which stole from the phone company. I'm not trying to say Jobs was an especially horrible person. It's only that I most often read biographies for examples who will challenge and encourage me. And this is not one of those sort of biographies. As a tech industry history For a generation who grew up with the Internet and smartphones and Netflix, it might be hard to imagine a world without computers. But when Jobs was born, personal computers hadn't yet been invented, and business computers were the size of buildings even though their computing power wouldn't match today's most basic calculator. In this account of Jobs' life, we also get an insider's look at the development of the personal computer and all the technology it spawned. As we go from decade to decade, author Jessie Hartland occasionally interrupts the story to provide a two-page spread on the technology of that time. For the 1960s, it was the record player, transistor radios, rotary phones and black and white TVs with no remote controls! And what a leap we see, in just a decade – in the 1970s there are color TVs, now with remote controls, and the first video game consoles have been invented. Invention after invention, we see it all progressing forward to our modern day. You might have to be a bit of a geek to like this, but that's all it would take – just a smidge of nerdy DNA – for anyone to enjoy this as a history of the tech industry. Cautions There is passing mention made of Jobs' interest in Zen mysticism, and as noted earlier, it shares that Jobs also smoked pot. So this is not one for young readers. But the style of the pictures, and the large amount of text means they wouldn’t pick this up anyway. Graphic novels are often a great means to grab reluctant readers, but I will note this is not that sort of graphic novel. It is much more book than comic, with lots of text, and the illustrations, while helpful, are not the eye-catching, action-packed sort of visuals that will draw the casual reader in. Conclusion So who would love Steve Jobs: Insanely Great? I’d recommend this to older teens and adults who have an interest in computers and technology. For them, this will be really fun, informative, and readable. I know I enjoyed it immensely. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Katie Luther: the Graphic Novel

Mother of the Reformation by Susan K. Leigh illustrated by Dave Hill 95 pages / 2016 My daughter recently asked, "Why aren't there more girl heroes? Why are the heroes always boys?" I explained that some of the heroes we read about are soldiers - generals and others – and that these are all boys because boys are bigger and stronger, so they make better soldiers. But that conversation also set me off in search of good examples of heroic women. And one very good example is Katharina Luther. An "ordinary" hero? This graphic novel biography is a sequel of sorts. In 2011 comic the same author and illustrator came out with Luther: Echoes of the Hammer. This sequel is slightly smaller, but every bit as good. Of course, not everyone will be impressed. I showed it to a friend and flipped through the page to share highlights from Katie Luther's life and he suggested that running a household was just something that women back then did. So, hardly amazing or exceptional. There's something to that. On the one hand, Katharina was extraordinary: as a nun she read Martin Luther's writings, even though that would have been a risky thing to do. Then, at the risk of grave punishment, she planned an escape from her convent. The first attempt was found out, and she was punished. But she tried again, and got out under cover of night, hidden away with 11 other nuns in empty barrels – she had conviction and courage! As the comic makes clear, she was also a remarkably capable woman – Luther's household was often very large, with 30 or more students, and as many as 11 children under their care (some of whom were nieces and nephews), plus many others, eating at the table. It was quite a feat to run this all, which was more restaurant and hotel than house. On the other hand, in many ways what Katharina did is what women have done through the ages: she was an able helpmeet, supporting her husband in his role, even as she took care of the children and managed the house. This supportive role is ordinary in the sense that many wives do this every day, but that hardly makes it unimportant. Supportive roles don't get the same recognition that leadership positions do, but they are every bit as vital. So this is a book I'm going to share with my daughter in the hopes that Katie Luther will inspire and encourage her in whatever role - whether ordinary or extraordinary - God sets before her. Conclusion At 95 pages, this is a comic that takes some time to get through, so it is not a casual, quick read. The artwork is just as the cover depicts - solid, colorful, and full of detail. There's also a lot of information packed in here, so anyone, whether teen or older, who wants to learn about Katharina Luther will enjoy it. That's why this would also be a good resource for schools. However, this is not a comic most students will pick up on their own. But if it were given as an assigned reading, the graphic novel format does make this pain-free reading for almost any student. It's a far easier read than any book, and more educational than many....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Super Pancake

by Megan Wagner Lloyd illustrated by Abhi Alwar 2023 / 170 pages Have you ever thought your breakfast could be heroic? If you have, this book is for you, with every character coming from the most important meal of the day. Our humble hero is Peggy Pancake, who comes from a suburban family of pancakes. Our story starts with Peggy late for breakfast (which seems to be cereal and milk) and missing the school bus. Not the best start to a day. When she gets to Winfred Waffle Elementary, a new kid, a croissant, is getting picked on  by the “bacon bullies” and when Peggy stands up for him they become friends. Things take a dramatic turn when Dr. Egg, the town’s leading scientist, gives a lecture to the kids, and the bacon bullies snag a vial from his backpack and put it in Peggy’s lunch. What they meant for ill, ends up giving Peggy superpowers. But because she didn’t know what the bullies had done, she doesn’t know why she can suddenly fly. There’s the usual, learning about her powers section, and then she has to face off against the villain of the piece, Dr. Breakfast Sandwich and his henchtoast. Fortunately, she has a sidekick to help her, Luc, the croissant. Cautions would be a little breakfast food violence as Peggy beats back the bullies, and Peggy not being as forthcoming as she should be with her parents about her superhero identity. She does this to protect them but I don’t like the idea of kids keeping any secrets from their parents. Still, it is a minor element, as she did tell them right away when she first got her powers; they just didn’t believe her....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Pea, Bee, & Jay #1: stuck together

by Brian "Smitty" Smith 2020 / 64 pages A bite-sized vegetable, a bug, and a bird wouldn't seem the most likely of friends, but hey, sometimes the oddest combinations just work, right? Pea is fresh out of the pod, and likes to roll. When he rolls right past the farm fence into the neighboring forest, the young-un gets a bit flummoxed, especially after a storm hits. Fortunately, he rolls right into Bee, a very smarter pollinator, who seems to be hiding from her fellow bees. That's odd, sure, but Bee is willing to help Pea learn the ways of the forest, and the two head off together. What's Bee's first lesson for Pea? To stay clear of birds because birds like to eat bugs and peas. Who do they meet immediately after? A blue jay, of course. But while Jay is indeed a bird, he's an unusual sort. First off, he doesn't fly. His nest fell out of the tree when he was but a lad, and he never knew his parents, so there was no one to teach him. Second, he doesn't seem to eat bugs or peas. This might be the beginning of a wonderful friendship! The three comrades go on to tangle with a hungry fox, three overzealous acorns, a host of loyal bees – it turns out that Bee is actually the queen of her hive, and as the adventure rounds up, it's time for her to head back to her royal duties. Cautions If there's a downside to the story, it'd be how Pea sets out on his adventure: he heads past the farm fence on a foolish dare from his "friends" to go check out a tree where he knows his momma wouldn't want him to go. But, at story's end, he does get grounded for it and mostly accepts that as a punishment he had coming his way. Added bonus: Pea learns to stop caring what these "friends" think. He was supposed to bring back a leaf to prove he made it to the big oak on the other side of the fence, but when he loses the leaf on the way back, Pea doesn't care, because even if he can't prove it, he knows he made it. Conclusion There are all sorts of farm-related puns in this one, whether it's raspberries giving raspberries, or Bee telling some of her subject bees to "buzz off." It didn't even hit me, but my kids all thought the PB&J combination of characters was super clever. There are six books in this series so far, and our family really liked the first three. In the second, Pea, Bee, & Jay #2: Wannabees, Bee's constant absence from the hive leaves an opening for a usurper named Lenny. Lenny goes over the top with all the trappings of royalty, arranging for a red carpet, trumpets-blowing sort of entrance wherever he goes. That's kind of annoying, but the other bees figure, well, at least he sticks around! Bee learns her lesson – her people need her to be dependable – and when she is able to prove that Lenny is embezzling honey, she's in again as Queen Bee. The third, Pea, Bee, & Jay #3: Lift Off, is still funny, but not quite as good, with Jay learning how to fly with a little help from his friends. It also has a passing mention of diarrhea that it could have done without. The last three didn't grab anyone. They weren't horrible, but certainly aren't worth recommending. In Pea, Bee, & Jay #4: Farm Feud, things take a turn as two of the friends are feuding for almost the whole book. Yes, they get back together in the end, but their constant fighting meant it just wasn't fun to come along for this ride. Pea, Bee, & Jay #5: Gotta Find Gramps starts with the three watching a professional wrestling match, and then discovering Grampa Pea used to be a professional wrestler too. Professional wrestling is often bloody and sexual, and while there's none of the sex here, it's just not a "sport" I want my kids to spend a lot of time learning about. Finally, Pea, Bee, & Jay #6: The Big Bully, is well-intentioned, tackling the topic of bullying. But I think it's also naive, encouraging kids to befriend their tormenter, because, after all, he's probably just been bullied himself. That might even be true sometimes, but other times the bullies are just bullies. Many kids won't have the smarts yet to tell one sort from the other, making this "befriending encouragement" unhelpful and possibly even harmful. So, three is company, and there's no need to get the rest. These would be great for Grades 1-3, though our older girls and their dad appreciated them too, as a quick light read....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

What's Darwin got to do with it? A friendly conversation about Evolution

by Robert C. Newman & John L. Wiester 146 pages / 2000 A graphic novel about evolution vs. intelligent design? Now that's got my attention! The plot here revolves around an upcoming forum put on by Professor Teller, a Darwinist who believes evolution is a "Fact! Fact! Fact!" Of course, forums involve speakers from two different sides, so Intelligent Design proponent Professor Questor steps in to offer up another perspective. One of the first points Professor Questor makes is how important it is to define terms in this debate. Evolution is often defined simply as "change over time"  and if that was all there was to it, even creationists would agree that evolution happens. (After all, we believe that all the dog species – the vast array of them – came from just a couple or so types on Noah's Ark. We certainly believe change can happen over time!) The actual debate is over the limits and direction of this change over time, so when we debate evolution, the disagreement is over whether molecules can, over millions of years, evolve into Man. But in defining her terms, Professor Questor also makes it clear she is not a creationist. She doesn't attack creationists, but in distancing herself from them, it does leave the impression that creationism isn't quite as... legitimate as Intelligent Design. But that's a minor quibble in a wonderful book. Other issues and topics the two professors discuss include: Is there room in science for any supernatural explanations? And if we rule out supernatural explanations at the start, then is it any wonder we don't find evidence for God in our scientific explanations? Are Peppered Moths a "proof" of evolution? Are the changing beak sizes of "Darwin's finches" really evidence for evolution? Why do so many creatures have similar (homologous) body structures if we aren't all descended from a common ancestor? What is the real role of mutation? Can it do all that evolutionists say it does? Is "bad" design evidence of evolution? (And is it actually bad?) This might seem like the discussion could get quite dry and dusty, but the authors bring in all sorts of analogies and illustrations to keep things hopping. For example, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes make a couple of appearances, and mutation and natural selection are personified as two superheroes (with less than effective superpowers) Mutaman and Selecta. And there's lots more! The result is a very fun book which is also highly educational. It would be a great resource for any high school science class to go through because it touches on a lot of the big issues, and it does so with wit and impressive clarity - pictures are used here to boil down pretty complex concepts into only a few pages or a few panels. And for any comic-loving teen, this would make a wonderful present, expanding and stretching them, without overly taxing them. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Officer Clawsome: lobster cop

by Brian "Smitty" Smith and Chris Giarrusso 2023 / 238 pages In the opening scene a fish peddler (the fish is the peddler, not the goods) calls out "Fresh fruit here! Get your fresh..." only to have something "ZOOOM!" past and purée all his oranges and apples. Momentarily at a loss, the peddler looks down at the soupy mess, only to, one panel later, start smiling again calling out, "Fresh fruit juice here! Get your fresh fruit juice." Comic genius? Not on its own, but just like a good dad-joke (are there any other kind?) the hilarity builds with every one you layer on top. And there are oodles here, including some awful/awesome puns, starting with the hero of our story, the lobster cop "Officer Clawsome," called "Clawful" by the villains he arrests. Like any good cop/buddy flick, Clawsome has a partner, the starfish Stariana who serves as both his badge of office, riding around on his chest, and as his ninja throwing star when needed. When the town's favorite bakery goes missing – the whole building, staff and all, are just gone – the twosome have to take on a whole host of underwater villains including Catburglarfish, the wrestler Masked Mussel, Brain Sturgeon, the Electric Eel, and a giant mechanized shark. It's all sorts of action, with all sorts of cinematic cliches thrown in just for dad to enjoy too – the best is the massive explosion in the background with Clawsome and Stariana strutting in the foreground. One reviewer called this a “safe grandma buying read for the grandkids” and I'd agree. No cautions needed - this is just good clean, very silly fun. And it's so good that even though it weighs in at 200+ pages, your kids won't have had enough. Unfortunately, at this point there isn't a sequel. But one can hope!...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Illiad

by Homer and adapted by Gareth Hinds 2019 / 272 pages The Illiad is a Greek epic that depicts just a part of the siege of Troy. It begins with a helpful intro that shares how Helen was kidnapped by the Trojan's Prince Paris, much to the dismay of her Greek husband, the Spartan King Menelaus, who rallied his allies to besiege Troy to get her back. But there was no quick rescue to be had. Our story begins in the tenth year of the siege, and focuses on all sorts of subplots and subcharacters including many a Greek god. The gods squabble, picking favorites among the soldiers, and offer secret help to them – secret because Zeus also has his favorites and he doesn’t want any interference. Two characters star: the Trojan's Prince Hector, brother of Paris, and the Greek half-god Achilles, who seems capable of defeating armies almost by his ownsome, in large part because he is favored by Zeus. However, neither he, nor Hector, are fated to live long. The story ends with Hectors death, and the story really doesn’t feel all that complete, even as it is loyal to the original in this respect. For how the siege of Troy ends, we’d have to turn to Homer’s The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds has an adaptation of The Odyssey too, but it is marred by a few panels depicting naked women). As a graphic novel adaptation, this is impressive. There is some gore – this is a war story after all – but any kid up for reading this would be old enough to deal with the not-overly graphic pictures of spear and sword wounds. The large size gives the author room to go quite deep (though it is still abridged some) and the visual format, along with key footnotes here and there, help make the story more accessible than it is in the original. Now, why should Christians even care to read about Greek gods and myths? We don't study much about Baal and Asherah after all, and they even make an appearance in the Bible. Well, whereas Baal is almost entirely forgotten, the Greek gods, and the mythos around them, continues to make appearances in today's culture, whether in teen fiction (Percy Jackson), the comics and TV (Hercules), or on the silver screen (Zeus, the Amazons, etc.) References to Achilles' heel, and the Trojan Horse are still in use too. Many of us may not have the time or inclination to study the book, but this comic adaptation allows a reader to quickly get a passing acquaintance with one of Western Civilization's key epics. That seems a very good tradeoff for the minimal time required. So who'd enjoy this? Most kids will find it too tough, so it really is limited to anyone interested in delving into the classics. Even those who intend on reading the book should give this a look – I suspect it could make taking on The Illiad much easier. Two thumbs up for a very good adaptation....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian refugees

by Don Brown 2018 / 104 pages This is not a pleasant read because it lays out a tragedy for which there seems no ready solution. In 2011, Syria descended into civil war after the dictatorial ruler, President Bashar al-Assad, used his military force to attempt to squelch protests. But the deaths that resulted only sparked more protests. Soon Assad's own soldiers were joining with the protesters. And for the dozen years since then, the country has been in a constant state of conflict. And with constant warfare comes refugees. Of Syria's pre-war population of 22 million, at least 5 million have fled after their homes were destroyed or their friends, neighbors, or family members were shot and killed. That's what this book is about: the millions of Syrian refugees' search for safety and security. As Don Brown explains, many Syrians were forced to leave with little or nothing to their name. While there was compassion for them early, as the thousands fleeing turned into millions fleeing, the refugees became an increasing expense for any nation that allowed them in. So borders started being blocked, barbwire went up, and anyone who wanted to leave had to turn to smugglers, some of whom would deliver on their promises, sneaking the refugees across the border. But others would prey on the fleeing Syrians, taking their money but doing little or nothing for them. It is a sad, sad story, and it continues to this day. What Don Brown doesn't get into much is the legitimate security concerns countries have about letting thousands and hundreds of thousands of refugees in. Most are Muslim, and many are undocumented, making it easy for radical elements to hide amongst them. So, countries would want to check credentials before letting a refugee in. But how can you check credentials they don't have? At the same time, the Bible tells us that whoever is generous to the needy honors his Maker (Prov. 14:31). So, how can help be offered on this enormous scale? Cautions While Don Brown is very restrained in showing the impacts of the war, there are a few panels where, even as most of the violence occurred just out of frame, some blood is shown. That, and the overall topic matter, means this is one for high school. Conclusion I think the strength of the book is that Don Brown spends his time explaining the problem without pretending to have a solution. There is no simple solution. But there is a pressing need. And there are some individual actions that can be done, like praying for God's intervention. The peace that no one seems able to bring, only He can accomplish. Another possibility is donating to Syrian relief efforts like the Canadian Reformed World Relief Fund....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Tiananmen 1989: our shattered hopes

by Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, and Ameziane 2020 / 115 pages I asked my 13 year-old and her friend whether they'd heard about China's Tiananmen Square and neither knew anything about it. I was surprised, but shouldn't have been: the massacre the square is known for – with the government's tanks rolling over protesting Chinese students, killing hundreds and maybe thousands – happened 20 years before they were born. Tiananmen 1989 is a lightly fictionalized biography of one of the student organizers, Lin Zhang – all the main figures are real, but some surrounding fictionalized characters have been added to round things out. The comic begins 30 years prior to the protests, with Lin Zhang's early years, and accounts of various Chinese Communist Party government leaders rising in influence, then getting purged, and some later being "rehabilitated." That's three decades covered in the first 25 pages. From there it slows down, and for the next 75 pages we get an inside look at the protest's 50 days, beginning on April 16, 1989. We learn that the tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of students arriving at Tiananmen Square was a spontaneous event, organized only after the fact. We hear students debate with each other about what a win would look like. We see hundreds of students decide to hunger strike en masse. And then we watch as the soldiers march in shooting. Cautions Thankfully the violence is depicted with moderation – we see a couple of people shot, and some bodies at a distance. This isn't a graphic novel you'd want to put in your elementary school library, but no high schooler would be shocked. Language concerns are limited to a couple uses of "bastard." The more notable caution would be ideological. The god of this book is democracy. That's what the students were after, and willing to die for. It's what they placed all their hope in. They spoke of their fight in spiritual tones, likening it to a battle of "light vs. darkness."  Near the end of the protest they even crafted a "goddess of democracy" statue. Young readers need to understand that democracy wouldn't have been the fix-all that the students thought it would be. Their communist state was founded on the sin of envy, and a turn to democracy wouldn't have done anything to excise the envy – it is prevalent, and every bit as destructive, in democracies too. While this is an insider's perspective, I was impressed with its moderate tone. He's criticizing his government, but also celebrates some within it. I did wonder if some bias might have been evident in the numbers: he wrote of a million protesters, whereas other accounts list as few as 100,000. Conclusion I think the memory of the massacre has faded even among those old enough to have seen it happen, reported live by CNN and the BBC, and carried by stations around the world. Do Canadians still remember what happened after martial law was declared, and thousands of Chinese troops descended on the unarmed students? Governments around the world condemned the Communist Party leadership for its violent overreaction. If Canadians still remembered, I rather suspect Prime Minister Trudeau wouldn't have dared invoke the Emergency Measures Act this past summer to turn the police on the Freedom Convoy protest on Parliament Hill. Connections would have been made. If our young people were taught about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, they'd be aware that powerful governments have done enormous harm to their own citizenry. Yet a recent poll of Americans shared that among the under-30s polled, 29% would favor an in-home government surveillance camera, installed in the name of reducing domestic crime. A third of these young people trust their government so completely they'd like it in their houses. There's good reason then, to get this book into our school libraries. God calls us to honor those He puts in place over us, but it is only when we understand how power can corrupt, and how power has been abused, that we will know the importance of limited, restrained government....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Fever year: the killer flu of 1918

by Don Brown 2019 / 96 pages In the Spring of 1918, even as the First World War was winding down, a more deadly foe made its presence known. An army cook, in Camp Funston, Kansas, reported sick, and over the next month a thousand of his campmates would also fall ill. Author Don Brown seems to be making the case that the Spanish Flu didn't originate in Spain, but in America, making the jump overseas with the soldiers that departed as the US entered the "war to end all wars." That, however, is a contentious point. The other sources I consulted agree that the disease was called the Spanish Flu only because the Spanish press was being more open about the numbers of citizens being struck down, and not because they were the actual source of the sickness. The true source of the illness seems to be a mystery. What's uncontested is the devastating nature of the epidemic. Before it was through, the Spanish Flu would travel around the world, and more than 50 million would die. By way of comparison, about half that numbered died during the entirety of the First World War, and as many as a third of those were from the Spanish Flu, and not weapons. The moral of Don Brown's story could be taken in very different directions, based on the particular bias of the reader. That this flu jumped from city to city via infected travelers could be seen as proving the need for lockdowns. That health authorities assured the public of facts not in evidence – that there was no reason to worry – could be used to argue health authorities have a long history of lying to us. That New York kept schools and most businesses open, and that the city had a lower than average death rate, could be used to argue against lockdowns. That San Francisco embraced masks but had the worst death rate on the west coast might be used to argue against masks' efficacy. Or folks could look to how San Francisco banned all social gatherings except church services and see that as evidence that their ban needed to go further. As you can see, there is a lot information offered up, and it points in all sorts of directions. What's more certain are the heroes: doctors and nurses who worked endless hours trying to aid the ever growing numbers in need. Neighbors and even the elderly all chipped in when whole families would get laid low. Brown details the search for a vaccine, and how there was a real mystery to be solved. Though the flu was obviously highly contagious, doctors weren't sure about the how. Sick patients could cough right in the face of volunteers without infecting them. Cautions This graphic novel came out at the end of 2019, 100 years after the Spanish Flu it chronicles, but just a few months before COVID-19 made its appearance. I've been wondering ever since if that was the very worst of times, or the best of times for this graphic novel to get published. If I'd reviewed this during the lockdowns, I might have added cautions about drawing too strong a conclusion from the information offered up in a comic book. That's still a good thought, but a little less necessary. While Don Brown illustrates the dead with some restraint – simple lines communicate discomfort and pain, but aren't realistic enough to really shock – this still isn't a comic for kids. 50 million people died from the Spanish Flu, so the topic is too grim for the very young. But I'd recommend it as a great one for a high school library. Conclusion Our recent history makes that an even more intriguing, and even more sobering read. What we went through parallels much of what the world endured then, though theirs was the far deadlier plague. That a virus can infect a third of the world reminds everyone to "seek the Lord while He may be found" (Is. 55). That's a lesson we were reminded of in the last few years, and one everyone would do well not to forget....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Murder of Abraham Lincoln

by Rick Geary 2005 / 80 pages Author and illustrator Rick Geary has created a series of graphic novels about Victorian-era murders. While I don't think I'd be much interested in reading others in the series (I don't feel a need or a desire to learn about Lizzie Borden or Jack the Ripper) The Murder of Abraham Lincoln is a title I would recommend to anyone interested in American history. It starts with Lincoln presenting his second inaugural address. Geary gives a brief accounting of the end of the Civil War, and intersperses it with parts of Lincoln's speech - it is a great opening to a great book. We are then told a little of assassin John Wilkes Booth's background, and his motivations, and are introduced to the co-conspirators. The last third of the book takes place after Lincoln is killed, and shows us the man-hunt for Booth, as well as the country's reaction to the assassination. A graphic novel is a compelling way to tell this story, first because Geary uses this format to show us the layout of Ford's theatre (where the assassination took place), escape routes, and other maps, and second because pictures, properly used, can tell, if not a thousand words, at least a couple hundred or so. This volume is only 80 pages, but there is a lot of information packed into it - it gives readers a great feel for the time, and insight into the still brewing conflict that had almost split the country asunder. The only concern I have with this volume is that it casts some suspicion on Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton. The author doesn't directly accuse Stanton of having a hand in the assassination, but he does raise questions about him: "Was he guilty merely of overzealousness in the execution of this office - or do his actions indicate an intent more nefarious?" I'm only passingly familiar with other accounts of Lincoln's life and death, but have never heard these questions before, so I wonder how legitimate they might be. But Stanton is a relatively minor character in this story, so this is only a minor concern. I would recommend this book for anyone 12 and over (the illustrations have been done with restraint - there is no gore to speak of) and I'm sure adults will enjoy it, and find it educational as well....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Harriet Tubman: Fighter for Freedom!

by James Buckley Jr. and Izeek Esidene 2020 / 94 pages Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was an American black woman born into slavery who escaped the South only to go back again and again to show other slaves the way to freedom. She also served in the American Civil War as both a guide for Northern forces, and as a nurse. Even during the war, she continued making trips to free slaves. Biographies can sometimes be dry and dusty, but one advantage of this comic-book format is that it allows for an era that survives only in black-and-white photos to be brought to life in full color. One wonderful surprise in this secular book, was how Harriet is shown repeatedly pleading to, praising, and thanking God. It was made obvious that what she was doing was based on a love for her Lord. She could be brave because she knew she was in God's hands. Like the other American-focused editions of this "Show Me History!" series, this comic is narrated by two kids, a boy and a girl, which makes it all the more accessible for early readers. Sam, is actually a young "Uncle Sam" and his friend Libby, clad all in green, is also known as "lady liberty" (aka the Statue of Liberty) and their back-and-forth banter really adds some fun, especially in Tubman's life, which is otherwise a pretty serious story. This has me excited to check out other titles in the series. Cautions In a book in which God is being praised dozens of times, I don't think it a stretch to presume that the one time someone "interjects" God's Name that it is been done as a short prayer of thanks. I include the instance here for you to decide. Harriet's niece Kizzy is escaping and desperately looking for her aunt. On spotting Harriet ahead, Kizzy says to her husband: "I see her, John, oh Lord... I see her!" Another caution concerns how the book presumes that the South's secession was a problem that needed to be solved by war. While estimates vary, at least 600,000 soldiers died in the war, or more than 2% of the population of the time. And that doesn't even include the uncounted number of civilian deaths. Southern slavery was wicked, but Great Britain ended slavery without a war, so it is worth considering if Abraham Lincoln did the right thing. The indivisibility of the country is also worth considering in our own time when up until just recently abortion was legalized nationwide for 50 years, leading to more than 60 million deaths. Might that number have been smaller had pro-life states had the ready option of leaving the union? I will add, though, that the fact this comic doesn't question the righteousness of the Civil War is hardly unusual, and in that sense, it is not all that notable. Conclusion At 94 pages, this has the room to go a lot deeper than most kids' biographies ever do. I think it'd be great for any kids 10-14 who wanted to learn about either US history, or about some of the Christians who helped fight slavery. So far, I've checked out two others in this "Show Me History!" series. Benjamin Franklin: Inventor of the Nation was also very good. The man himself is PG-rated – he had kids out of wedlock, and possibly two wives at the same time – so even though the comic only briefly touches on those details, that one might be better for teens than preteens. And, in sharp contrast with the Harriet Tubman title, there's really no Christian content. But his life as an inventor, printer, diplomat, and one of the American Founding Fathers is quite the read! Abraham Lincoln: Defender of the Union was also a quick and easy read, but it shares a caution with Harriet Tubman. The book presumes that the Union had to be preserved, even at the cost of 600,000 men's lives. That's an especially big part of this book, making it a bigger caution in this case, so I might go with a different comic Lincoln biography: Rick Geary's The Murder of Abraham Lincoln. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels


by Megan Wagner Lloyd illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter 240 pages / 2021 It's Maggie's 10th birthday and she's finally going to get the puppy she's always wanted! Of course, she's ready the moment she's dressed to head out to the animal shelter, but it takes a bit of prodding to get mom and dad out the door. Mom is pregnant and has to get her exercises in, and both her parents are more than a little distracted prepping for the baby's arrival. Maggie wants a puppy in part because she figures her parents are going to be focused on the baby and not her. Her younger twin brothers have each other, and Maggie figures if she has a puppy then she'll have her own best friend and someone who'll always pay attention to her. Those are big expectations for a little pup! The first plot twist is that, after finding just the puppy she wants, Maggie discovers she's allergic. And not just to this pup but everything with fur or feathers! Maggie is devastated. And feeling extra lonely. But she isn't defeated. Not all pets have fur and feathers, so Maggie makes a list and starts investigating options like turtles, hedgehogs, lizards, and even a tarantula. None of them are a good fit. Just when Maggie is feeling her lowest, a new girl and her dad move in right next door. Claire is just a grade older than Maggie and looking for a best friend – it's a wonderful match! Second plot twist: Claire gets a dog not realizing that means Maggie can't come to her house anymore. It's quite the rollercoaster ride for Maggie, with another big up and down to follow soon after, but thankfully it does end on a high happy note. Cautions There are a few cautions, mostly minor, with maybe the most notable simply that at one point Maggie sneaks a mouse and cage into her room without her parents knowing. Going behind your parents' backs isn't behavior we wanted modelled for our kids, but I'll add that Maggie gets her comeuppance. She thinks she knows better than her parents about what's good for her, but as the itching gets worse and worse, she discovers her parents really do know best. Language concerns amount to five instances of "OMIGOSH." Other considerations: the mom does yoga, but that pops up once, for a of couple pages, and then is over – the spiritual element isn't really hit on – and it's mentioned that the next-door neighbor's parents are divorced, but we're never told why. Another caution concerns the impact Maggie's disappointment might have on sympathetic young pet lovers. I'm sure this will get some sensitive souls crying on Maggie's behalf. Conclusion There are a number of pluses for this book, including the general education it offers on allergies. Maggie meets a boy at school who has his own food allergies, and we follow along as she gets her desensitization shots. As more and more kids these days seem to be getting various allergies, this is a book to show them that they are not alone in their struggles. And it can also clue classmates in on how hard those struggles might be. The reason I might buy this for my own kids (even though it is available at the library) is because a lot of kids' fiction today is about angst – about how no one else in the world understands them. That's something to watch out for because it reinforces an idea that's common enough, but isolating. What kid is going to turn to their mom or dad if they think their parents just don't get it? What I really liked about Allergic is that the parents, even when they are distracted and busy, aren't just written off as irrelevant. Maggie thinks no one is paying attention to her and that she's all on her own, but she learns that she's actually got it wrong. I'd say that's the moral to this story, but I'll also add that this point might evade many a young reader. But this is such an engaging story that I think you can count on your kids eventually getting it, because they're going to read this one again and again....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr

by Nicolas Debon 2007 / 27 pages This is a fun bit of Canadian history: Louis Cyr was a Quebec circus performer who, in the late 1800s, was known as the strongest man in the world. Even today, with the benefit of our modern nutritional and strength training practices, some of his lifting records remain unbroken. This is why he is also known by many as the strongest man who ever lived, (but those folk are obviously forgetting about Samson). This is an artistic but accessible graphic novel treatment of his life. By that I mean it is beautiful – simple but impactful – and yet it is the sort of comic that all but the youngest children would love to read. The book begins in the year 1900, and the doctor has just told Cyr he must retire. Cyr is going to listen... after one last performance. And as he prepares for his grand finale, Cyr looks back on his life, telling his daughter how his career began, how he met and married her mother, and how he is able to walk away without regret. Despite being a showman who had to toot his own horn to bring in the crowds, Cyr seemed like a humble man, which is what made this appealing for me. Many a sports book celebrating the seemingly superhuman abilities of this or that athlete can be written in such a laudatory way it is hard to tell if the writer thinks they are talking about an extraordinary man, or a god. In The Strongest Man in the World it is always clear Cyr is a mere mortal, the book beginning and ending with him heading to retirement, and his strength starting to fail, as all mortal strength eventually will. If I had to come up with a caution it might be that Cyr was also an eating champion, bragging that he could out glutton anyone, which, of course, isn't something to brag about. But that'd be it. So this is an interesting bit of Canadiana that would be a particularly good read for any boy, ten and up, who needs help getting interested in history....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus!

by Mo Willems 2003 / 40 pages Pigeon desperately wants to drive the bus. But the bus driver, who has to leave for a little while, tells readers before he goes, “Remember, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!” Pigeon isn’t going to make it that easy though – for the rest of the book he asks, begs, pleads, whines, and sulks about wanting to drive the bus. The drawings are pretty simple cartoons, but the artist lets us see all Pigeon’s emotions in his body language. Pigeon uses every excuse you’ve ever heard a child use: “I never get to do anything!” “What’s the big deal?” “I’ll be your best friend!” “No fair!” “I bet your mom would let me.” That, of course, is the point of the book, that no matter how inventive a child’s questioning – his whining – might become, no is still going to be no. That’s an important lesson for any child to learn, and this is a fun way for them to learn it. Parents will enjoy reading the book out loud, mimicking Pigeon’s angst and frustration, and kids will enjoy just how silly Pigeon acts. And it will only take a little prodding from mom or dad to have junior realize that sometimes he acts silly too, just like Pigeon. I’d recommend getting the hardcover version of this book because I think your children will ask you to read it again and again. And that’s not too bad, because it is a fast read – there are only about 175 words in the whole story, which means this review is actually a bit longer than the book! There are also 10 sequels, and with that abundance comes a warning. While Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series can be enjoyed with or without mom and dad's involvement, there is a real sense in which these Pigeon books should be rated PG for Parental Guidance. A somewhat bratty bird in a very limited dose is one thing, but with repeated readings, and with 8 books in total, parents will need to make sure their kids understand we are actually laughing at Pigeon’s ridiculous behavior, and shouldn't be looking to copy it. Don't let the Pigeon drive the bus (20003) – The Caldecott winner that started it all! The Pigeon finds a hot dog! (2004) – The Pigeon finds a hotdog but also meets a Duckling who has never had a hotdog. What's a self-absorbed, but not utterly selfish Pigeon to do? Don’t let the Pigeon stay up late! (2006) – Parents will love this for how it gives them a term for their kids can't-we-stay-up-5-more-minutes? pleas. “That’s enough guys,” I’ll tell them, “You’re being pigeons and it is time to stop.” The Pigeon wants a puppy! (2008) – This could be inspiration for parents who wonder if their kids really want a pet and the responsibility that comes with it. Pigeon gets a brief test drive with a puppy and changes his mind (now he wants a walrus). The Duckling gets a cookie!? (2012) – The Duckling reappears, this time to ask us, the readers, to give him a cookie. Pigeon wonders why Duckling gets one, and doesn't. The main message kids will get is that Pigeon has never asked... at least, not politely. The Pigeon needs a bath! (2014) – Pigeon hates bathes but once he runs out of excuses he gets to have some wonderful wet fun. The Pigeon has to go to school! (2019) – Pigeon shares his worries – in his usual bombastic way – about going to school for the first time. Reading this with a child who has their own concerns could be a great conversation starter. The Pigeon will ride the roller coaster! (2022) – Pigeon imagines the roller coaster will be exciting... but it only sort of is. This one struck me as only okay, and I'd ranked it 8th out of 8. There's also a book of Pigeon quotes that adults fans may enjoy. I'd borrow Be the Bus (2023) from a library rather than buy it, but there are a few laughs, like "You only get one chance to make a twenty-third impression." Take it or leave it Willems also has a couple of "smidgen of Pigeon" board books, but I don't really get the target audience. You'd already have to be familiar with Pigeon to appreciate these, but if a kid is old enough to appreciate the picture books above, are they really going to want to read a board book? The Pigeon loves things that go! (2005) – Pigeon sees a bus and a train that go. Up next is a hot dog. Do hot dogs go? Yes, says Duckling, they go right into his tummy! The Pigeon has feelings too (2005) – Pigeon doesn't want to smile. Getting asked to makes him angry and sad, because everyone tells him what to do. But when the Bus Driver says it's okay not to smile, that makes Pigeon happy, happy, happy. Don't bother While there's lots to love with this series, parents can give a miss to the 2023 Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh, which pretends that Christmas is all about Santa and, just to make it even easier to bypass, that Easter is about eggs and bunnies....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels


by John Patrick Green 88 pages / 2016 Hippopotamister isn't strictly a comic or a picture book – it is as much the one as the other – but regardless, it sure is fun. Hippo and Red Panda live in the City Zoo, which is falling down around them. Not only are the gates and habitats falling apart, the lion's mane "wasn't very regal" and "the walrus's smile wasn't very bright." So Red Panda decides to leave the zoo and get a job among the humans. And every now and again he comes back to the zoo to tell Hippo that "Life outside the zoo is great!" An observant child is going to notice that while Red Panda is always enthused, he's also always holding a different job whenever he reports back. It turns out, as we learn when Hippo finally decides to join him on the outside, that Red Panda is great at lining up new jobs, but not so great at holding on to them. So every day it's a new job and a new hat, and a new and funny way for Red Panda to mess up and get himself and Hippo fired once again. Hippo, though, turns out to be quite skilled at all sorts of jobs, and after trying on all sorts of hats, realizes that he might be just what his failing zoo is looking for. Maybe he can run it! The story concludes happily, bringing Red Panda back home, too, with a job that suits his own unique talents. CAUTION The only possible caution I can think of is that at one point Red Panda, instead of catching fish, ends up with a mermaid that may or may not be topless - we can't tell because she has her arms strategically and tightly crossed (see the picture). This is the only picture that is even mildly risqué. CONCLUSION Hippopotamister is a sweet funny story that any child in the early grades will enjoy, and it might be just the thing for a reluctant reader. RELATED REVIEWS: more picture book/comic book crossovers A great riff off of Abbot and Costello's famous routine Who's on First? I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy the Elephant and Piggie series Mo Willems has another fun one with Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Poppy & Sam and the mole mystery

by Cathon 2019 / 42 pages A little girl Poppy and her talking panda friend Sam are either very tiny, or they live in a land of giant people-sized mushrooms and strawberries. Whatever the answer, this is a charming book, with the twosome setting out to find their friend mole’s lost glasses. Along the way they discover all sorts of other lost treasures, start a “lost and found” and provide a happy ending for mole and the many others who now have what they were missing. It is a kind, whimsical, story. There have been three sequels so far. In Poppy & Sam and the search for sleep (2020, 42 pages) little Poppy and her panda friend settle down to hibernate for the winter. But she can’t fall asleep, and so goes off to gather advice from the animals all around on how they get to sleep. It’d make for a fun bedtime read. Poppy & Sam and the hunt for jam (2023. 44 pages) sees Sam wake up early from hibernation with an urge for some rosehip jam. But the ingredients are still hiding under the snow, so this is going to be more difficult than he first thought. Still, with a little help from some friends, including a full size bear – why is the bear the right size, and panda Sam the size of a mouse? I don't get it, but it's fun – a yummy result is had. Only caution: Sam use one mildly problematic word, wondering  "where did that darn pot get to." Another sequel, Poppy & Sam and the leaf thief is a bit too peculiar for me – the twosome are trying to track down which animal is eating leaves from their friend, Basil, a basil plant. It didn't strike my wife as quite as odd, since Basil was actually happy to give away his leaves to any who asked, rather than just took. But I am still stuck thinking friends really shouldn’t eat friends....

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