Yee-haw! The Wild West can be a fun-filled time with bandits, musical shows, card games, horse races, and a lot of colorful characters. Andy Hirsch’s graphic novel Varmints has all this and then some. It’s an action-packed adventure with hilarious scenes and touching moments that come together to create an entertaining story.
Opie, short for Calliope, and Ned are on a mission: to find the criminal kingpin Pa, the man who was responsible for their mother’s death. Along the way, they infiltrate a group of horse rustlers, board a train filled with disguised criminals, take part in a crazy race, and meet a few friends along the way. But when tensions rise, the siblings must find a way to overcome their difficulties and work together.
Hirsch’s graphic novel provides a comedic take on the Wild West with a sweet story of familial love. His use of the western setting adds humor and action to the story, from smart and dimwitted criminals to musical saloon patrons. Children who enjoy the Wild West will be entertained with the antics of each character and the dangerous situations they get themselves into. Most of the characters are crazy and expressive, especially the criminals, but this adds to the overall humor of the story. The author’s artistic style is similar to humorous comic strips, with its bright color palette, comic onomatopoeia, and the character’s noticeable facial expressions. As for the story itself, there are moments of suspense that will keep the reader glued to the page, along with drama that creates a sweet story of family and honesty. Opie and Ned both have secrets about their parents that they keep to themselves, but when everything comes out, their trust and love is tested as they make their way to their destination.
Varmints will make a great addition to any children’s library. Its comedic style and colorful panels will intrigue devoted graphic novel readers, especially those in elementary and middle school. But with its Wild West setting and engaging story, you may have no difficulty in selling this book to any child.
by Andy Hirsch
First Second, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12