unicorn-vs-goblinsThe third volume of Phoebe and Marigold’s adventures begins packed with possibilities as summer vacation begins. Phoebe and Marigold attend summer camp, where Marigold makes friends with the lake monster. Marigold discovers that her sister, Florence Unfortunate Nostrils (Florence sneezes spiders) is dating Marigold’s crush, Lord Splendid Humility. Instead of letting jealousy consume her, Marigold realizes that now she and Florence are mutually envious of each other, and finds peace and closeness with her sister in that realization.

Once school begins, Phoebe and Marigold negotiate the consequences of temporarily lowering the Shield of Boringness at school. Later, Phoebe befriends a small girl after an initial misunderstanding at recess. Other storylines involve dodgeball, putting off piano practice, standardized testing, and the quest to find out what on earth makes coffee so great for parents.

Toward the end of the book, Marigold notices that despite some earlier encounters over the summer, they haven’t seen Dakota, Phoebe’s frenemy from previous volumes, in a while. When the pair investigates, they discover that Dakota is being held by goblins in an abandoned burger joint. The goblins are after Dakota’s magic hair, but when Phoebe and Marigold arrive, Dakota is well on her way to winning her own freedom by beating the goblin queen in a staring contest. Marigold helps the process along by transferring the magic in Dakota’s hair into a nearby plate of spaghetti. Distracted, the goblin queen looks at the spaghetti and loses the staring contest, meaning they are all free to go. This plotline surrounding Dakota’s hair ties the book and the series as a whole together, and it’s what pushes it over the line into graphic novel territory as opposed to a collection of loosely related comic episodes.

One thing I really love about this series is that conflicts between the characters are usually solved by making an effort at mutual understanding and acceptance rather than through violence or unkind words. Sometimes Phoebe and/or Marigold outsmarts the enemy, as in the case of the goblins (and Dakota in earlier volumes), but relationships generally grow healthier and better instead of becoming toxic or contentious. Phoebe and Marigold have their flaws, true, but they also set stellar examples for kids on how to manage friendships and familial relationships. Amazingly, Simpson manages to do this while also consistently making each page funny, sometimes delivering true laugh-out-loud moments in the punchlines.

The artwork shows Simpson’s webcomic roots. The focus is entirely on the characters, with a bare minimum of background imagery. This is perfect, because the stories mainly revolve around the relationships between characters and their emotional lives. All the details that readers will use to add to the plot or make the joke even funnier can be found in the characters’ faces and body language. Panels are sparingly used as well, giving the artwork a loose, breezy, here-and-there feeling that compliments the storylines well.

Elementary-aged and young middle school kids who liked the first two books will also definitely enjoy this one. Hand it to Calvin & Hobbes fans, of course, but kids who like Frank Cammuso’s work will also really get a kick out of this series, though the vocabulary is a bit more advanced.

Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure, vol. 3
by Dana Simpson
ISBN: 9781449476281
AMP, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • 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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