This two-part graphic novel/illustrated prose hybrid introduces 10-year-old Cici, a would-be author with a nose for a good mystery. In part 1, Cici is intrigued by the sight of a man carrying paint buckets through the woods near the “hideout” she shares with her best friends, Lena and Erica. The mystery deepens when she notices that the man, who regularly walks on the same route through the woods, is also sometimes carrying animals in cages. Cici evades her disapproving mother and pushes her friends to corroborate her fibs as she tries to figure out what the man’s story could be.

Part 2 begins several weeks after the end of part 1. Summer vacation is beginning, and Cici is keen to sniff out another mystery. She finds it when she notices a woman who goes to the library every week to return a book, only to check it out again a few minutes later. This woman is searching the book for answers about the past, and Cici is sure she’s just the girl to dig up those answers. However, Cici’s previous patterns of using lies and manipulation on her friends and family intensify until she gets a wake-up call from her neighbor and mentor, Mrs. Flores.

Cici’s big character flaw—the fact that she treats everyone in her life like a character in a story she’s writing, rather than real people with feelings that should be respected—is portrayed realistically and makes the moral of the stories come off as less didactic than it could have been. Also, the mysteries that drive the two plots are very gentle and simple. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to young mystery fans if it weren’t for two disturbing elements.

Cici describes Erica at the beginning as someone who complains a lot. However, with a closer look, it’s clear that Erica is simply strong-minded and doesn’t hesitate to object to Cici’s disregard for her friends’ feelings. At times when Erica feels included and respected, she is portrayed in the illustrations as smiling and playful. When you consider that Erica is the only black person in this entire book (crowd scenes included), Cici’s portrayal of her as the squeaky wheel is troubling. At best, Erica’s presence in the story is a “sassy black friend” character (a tired stereotype), and at worst, because of her token status, it could be interpreted as a negative portrayal of black people in general.

Secondly, as a public librarian, I found a major plot point in part 2 upsetting. In trying to solve the mystery of the woman with the library book, Cici travels to the library with a dropped checkout slip with the woman’s name on it in hand. She interviews the librarian, and in response to Cici’s questions, the librarian gives her the title and author of the book the woman checks out every week, in addition to a detailed description of the woman’s weekly routine. Since the author of this graphic novel is French, I’m not sure whether he is just ignorant of the high importance librarians place on the privacy of their patrons, or whether the norms are different in France. Either way, to most American public librarians, the librarian character’s actions are a gross breach of ethics.

The artwork is by far the most appealing part of this graphic novel. Neyret’s illustrations do beautiful things with light, giving a soft, warm glow to Cici’s world. The drawings in every panel are rich and detailed, with backgrounds especially breathtaking in watercolor. There are no firm edges to the panels, further softening the look of each page. The illustrated prose sections of the book are equally interesting; a mix of newspaper articles, Cici’s rounded printing, and small sketches and margin notes add appealing and varied elements.

These objections I outlined above are the only things that would keep me from recommending this book to fans of the Thea Stilton graphic novels, since they have many other elements in common, like their intrepid main characters and gentle mysteries.

Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training
by Joris Chamblain, translated by Carol Klio Burrell
Art by Aurelie Neyret
ISBN: 9781626722484
First Second, 2017
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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