Publisher Blue Apple’s Balloons Toons books are hit or miss. On the one hand, there are outstanding efforts like Elise Gravel’s A Day in the Office of Doctor Bugspit, a book so strange and charming that it immediately grabbed my interest and demanded I reread it multiple times before I finally put it down. And, on the flipside, there are the likes of Daniel Cleary’s Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies, which I couldn’t wait to finish and be done with because I found it so unappealing and inane.
Before I even delve into the plot, I have to take a moment to discuss the artwork, which instantly turned me off. As a librarian, I know better than to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies, the cover art is a true indication of the book’s quality. The cover is adorned with a dreadful-looking orange cat, eyes at half-mast, surrounded by a few ink smudges that resemble rodents (spoiler: they’re the dust bunnies!). Once you open the book and start reading, it doesn’t get any better. You would swear you were looking at laughable Garfield fan art that was accidentally sent through a cycle in the washing machine. I’m sure there are probably some Daniel Cleary fans that would argue his style is unique and has merit, but I had an aversion to it from the get-go.
Sadly, the story does not fare much better. One day Prickles is hanging out at home with his mouse pal Squeeky when he notices dust bunnies about, which is a strict no-no in Prickles’ house. Prickles orders the dust bunnies to leave, but unfortunately they are too afraid to venture outdoors, so Prickles and Squeeky consider solutions to let the dust bunnies live in the home in such a way that it won’t anger The Big Cheese when he returns home from his vacation. Who is the Big Cheese, you wonder? Why, a massive yellow mouse that is apparently the head of the household. Sure, that makes plenty of sense… Luckily for the dust bunnies, Prickles and Squeeky demonstrate some quick thinking and devise a scheme, thus allowing the dust bunnies to stay in the house without The Big Cheese knowing any better. Though I suppose the narrative of searching for ways to solve a problem provides a good lesson to kids, the delivery is so bizarre that the message gets muddled. Imagine Steven Wright teaching kids about problem-solving, subtract the subtlety of his deadpan humor, and you’ll have an idea of how flat the story falls.
I hate to come down so hard on the book because I’m sure Daniel Clearly put his heart into his work, but there is nothing about Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies that I was able to find worthwhile. Both my wife and I attempted to read the book to our kids at bedtime on a few occasions, and they actually requested we stop and read something else. If that is not a bad sign for Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies, I don’t know what is. With such dreadful artwork and a forgettable story, it’s difficult to recommend this book for inclusion in any library collection. There are better graphic novel options available to kids, including other Balloon Toons releases as well as the majority of the output from the Toon Books series. Unless someone takes an ironic amusement in becoming a fan of Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies, I have trouble seeing how anyone would actually appreciate it.