punky-brewster-coverSmart, confident Punky Brewster and her dog Brandon are used to fending for themselves on the streets of Chicago. After they’re discovered in the mall after hours and picked up by the police, the quest to find a good home for Punky begins. Kind-hearted social workers discover that Punky’s mother has a cousin in the city, a middle-aged single man named Henry Warnimont. When they go to visit Henry, Punky decides that there’s a kind, lonely soul underneath his prickly exterior, and what he really needs is a fun, energetic kid like her around. 

Once Punky sets her mind to something, there’s no deterring her. She ignores or sabotages all the adults’ well-meaning attempts to find her a stable home with a traditional family in the suburbs, and escapes the halfway house (more than once!) to go be with Henry. Punky’s genuine charm, intelligence, and strong personality quickly win Henry over, and he realizes in turn that the best place for Punky would be with him. Convincing the social workers and especially the courts is going to be harder, but Punky never gives up. 

Punky’s personality and the sheer force-of-nature strength of her character is the most compelling thing about this series opener. Kids will appreciate how independent and self-sufficient she is, and her power to defy the wishes of all the adults around her while simultaneously charming them is something all kids would wish for.

Unfortunately, though it gets off to a good start, the plot stagnates in the middle and drags near the end, in what should be an exciting climax. It’s an endless cycle of adults telling Punky they know what’s best, and Punky finding ways to assert her independence and choose her own way to live. There are many, many pages during which not much happens to move the plot forward, while debates about where Punky should live are taking place. This is especially true of the courtroom scene at the end of the book. Kids will also be disappointed to find that the scene on the cover depicting Punky careening downhill in a shopping cart doesn’t actually happen anywhere in the story.

The artwork complements the story beautifully, echoing the palette and fashions from the original show in the 80s, but with a contemporary setting and diverse cast of supporting characters. The focus is on the characters’ faces and body language, with very little background detail. This is perfect, because this story is more about personality and a battle of wills than anything else. 

Babymouse graduates in grades 4-7 might appreciate this story, since Punky has a similar way of making ordinary events extraordinary, though it’s through her impetuous nature and sense of humor rather than through her imagination. Adults who enjoyed the TV series as children will probably also enjoy reading it.

Punky Brewster, vol. 1
by Joelle Sellner
Art by Lesley Vamos
ISBN: 9781631403149
IDW Publishing, 2015
Publisher Age Rating:4-7 years old

  • Kristen Lawson

    Past Reviewer

    Kristen Lawson is the Youth Services Department Manager at the Roselle Public Library in Roselle, IL. She has worked with children and teens in public libraries since graduating with her MLS from UIUC in 2006. Now she is working on making more space for kids’ graphic novels, in addition to other duties that fall under “making the library awesome.” Though very picky about movies and music, she has a wide range of reading interests and is constantly on a mission to read all the things.

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