When considering all of our modern conveniences, it’s really no surprise that encouraging kids to play outside can be challenging, if not downright impossible. Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors is a celebration of being out in the wilderness, enjoying the sunshine, and spending quality time with a best friend. Rack is an optimistic moose with a love for nature, while his buddy Rick is an unenthusiastic raccoon who doesn’t share Rack’s passion for fishing, hiking, and canoeing. However, Rack’s positive outlook is hard to resist, and though Rick never quite seems to learn the lesson that it’s wonderful to enjoy all that the great outdoors have to offer, readers will hear the message loud and clear.
Broken down into three short and simple stories, Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors is similar to the types of comic strips one might find in a Sunday paper, albeit fleshed out to a multi-page length. The art is full of vibrant, solid colors that expertly capture the book’s summer-time motif, and the stories unfold via panels that are presented in easy-to-follow layouts. I love how Ethan Long uses a coloring technique that pays homage to the pre-computer-aided methods used by comic creators, namely cutting and pasting from pattern sheets to shade in the world. The physicality of the book itself is also remarkable, consisting of thick pages and extremely rugged binding. It’s built to withstand the type of abuse little readers inflict upon books.
Sadly, the similarities to Sunday comics don’t just end with the art direction. The book’s content is cute and amusing, but there is also nothing memorable about it. As with the “Funnies” section of a newspaper, readers will probably go through the book once and quickly forget it. Rick and Rack are both likeable characters, but they lack depth and there is nothing about them that sets them apart from the competition. In the end, the book is just another collection of buddy stories, and it is bested by the likes of Mo Willems’ lovable Elephant and Piggie, Jeff Mack’s silly Hippo and Rabbit, and even non-graphic novel classics such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad.
Nevertheless, given its attractive artwork and humorous stories, young readers will enjoy Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors, even if it’s too much of a “me-too” effort to be of much note. Ethan Long is already a talented artist and I’m curious to see how he develops as an author, but the characters and stories he presents in the book are too throwaway to have a long-lasting impact on readers. Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors is a decent “What Should I Read Next?” book after kids have burned through stronger offerings, but ultimately that just means its sloppy seconds. I dig the artwork, appreciate the message, and can enjoy the simple humor, but sadly there’s not much about the book that differentiates it from the rest of the pack.