Sunny and warm, this graphic novel combines a wildly implausible plot with distinct personalities—and lots of laughs.
Little Dee and the Penguin by Christopher Baldwin. Dial, 206, 128 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: 8-up
Little Dee, who appears to be about 5, lives happily with her park-ranger dad until the night he’s called to rescue a flood victim and doesn’t come back. Bound for the orphanage, Dee takes a side trail into the woods and bonds with Ted, a nurturing brown bear. Ted’s friends, snarky Vachel (a vulture) and dim-witted Blake (a lovable mutt) express their doubts about keeping a human child, but when Paisley, an excitable misplaced penguin, crosses their path and begs them to take her back to the Antarctic, Dee leads the quirky gang on a journey by land, air, and sea to get there—a journey complicated by a pair of hungry polar bears.
The fun of this story is contrasting personalities, all so distinct they’re easy to describe and anticipate. The author, a contributor to Mad Magazine, created Little Dee as an online comic; this is her origin story. Some of the humor is rather sophisticated (says Vachel as they escape a delegation from the orphanage, “Maybe we should submit documents in their direction. That always slows down bureaucracy”), but never inappropriate. The theme leans heavily on the “volunteer family” motif–that is, family is whatever you make of it, rather than what God makes of it. But the story’s heart seems to be in the right place: “The joys of life are made greater when they’re shared.” Vachel, who’s never shy about expressing his terrible attitude (i.e., what a lot of us truly feel in our worst moments), is balanced by kindly Ted and well-meaning Blake. The sub-equatorial animals they encounter on their journey south are uniformly helpful, and a good time is had by all. Except the polar bears.
Overall rating: 4 (0ut of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic value: 4
Categories: Middle Grades, Graphic Novels, Humor
Cover image from Barnes & Noble