Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #8: The Little Grey Spot, Sleepless Knight, Lolly Poppet's Lousy Year

Lolly Poppet's Lousy Year, by Lupi McGinty. The talented cartoonist, best known by me for her contributions to Cartozia Tales, has crafted a book with irresistibly-drawn characters. It's not comics in the sequential sense, but each page is most certainly cartooned rather than illustrated in the typical sense. There's an amusing progression from page to page as the titular character has all sorts of failures in her efforts to have fun during the year, from a spilled popsicle to getting covered in grass clippings that she hoped would scatter like leaves. The winning expressions of Lolly are what make the book work, along with that cartoonist's sense of creating motion with just a single image. The book is translated into both English and Spanish, and my main quibble with it is the printed text. Hand-drawn text would have been warmer and more in keeping with the rest of the book's aesthetic.

Sleepless Knight, by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost. The latest entry from the Adventures in Cartooning! narrative/instructional series for kids, this book is heavy on the story and light on instruction. If there's one lesson the book is trying to impart, it's learning how to draw a particular character engaged in a number of different activities. Finding out how the character moves in space, what their body language is like, and simply experimenting with them doing different things can help young cartoonists solve a lot of problems on the page and make their characters come alive. The actual narrative is a funny story about a series of self-inflicted woes, as the titular knight is out on a camping trip with his horse and can't get to sleep because he can't find his teddy bear. It's a sort of hero's journey in reverse, as the knight meets a rabbit and a bear but manages to anger both of them instead of creating new allies for his quest. Indeed, the knight's tale winds up being incidental to the outcome, as the poor, beleaguered horse winds up having fun and eating marshmallows with the other animals. I read this one along with my daughter, who is learning to read. I was impressed by how the images provided excellent scaffolding for her to look at a word and instantly understand its context, giving her the confidence to shout it out. She also appreciated the humor and empathized with the anxiety caused by losing a sleep-comfort object. The brushy line of Frederick-Frost is a key to the book's success, as he keeps things simple but rock-solid in terms of storytelling.

The Little Grey Splot, by Nicholas Alan Straight. Published by Jordan Shiveley's Grimalkin Press, this is a straight-up kid's book without a specific comics narrative. Like McGinty's book, however, it is very much a book that was cartooned. Straight uses a cute design with the titular figure being greyscaled in contrast to the other bright blobs of paint that make up the other figures. Every other page of the book encourages doodling, scribbling and drawing in the book itself, giving the young reader examples to model and then encouraging them to use their own imaginations. The Little Grey Splot draws faces, bodies in motion, fears, ocean creatures and aliens and overcomes its lack of color with its imagination. I like the idea of a kids' book that encourages such active participation, with the added innovation of not being a coloring book but still giving kids direction and restrictions.

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