Gravel has created a number of simple comics for intermediate readers that combine fact and fiction in a humorous way. Best-known and loved, at least at my library, are the Disgusting Critters series. I like to read the titles à la Monty Python’s tree sketch: The Bat. The Toad. Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds is similar, but includes more narrative.

Arlo the crow, a large and sleek black bird, is ready to meet his fans! He has a crown and everything—after all, he is king of the birds! Pips, a small, nondescript yellow bird, is not so sure. After all, Arlo is just plain black, his caw is a bit… raucous, and he eats everything, including dead fish! But as they talk and travel, from the city to the beach, Arlo explains just what makes crows—and Arlo himself—so special.

This is a humorous blend of fiction and fact. Arlo shows his intelligence when tricking another crow into abandoning his tasty french fries, displays his tool skills by opening a clam, and even gifts Pips with a special shiny object as the two build their friendship. As the two interact, Arlo tones down his over-the-top personality and boasting, and Pips learns to appreciate Arlo’s skills as the two become friends.

Gravel’s blocky art fills numerous small panels and a few large, full-page panels as well. Red, pink, and cream backgrounds predominate, with occasional blue and darker yellow, especially as Arlo and Pips move around outdoors. Pips is a bird-shaped yellow teardrop with a black eye dot and stick beak and eyebrow, and Arlo a smooth black curve, with massive gray beak and expressive eye. There are panels showing Arlo’s “collection of shiny things,” the litter that humans leave behind (and the two bird friends clean up) and a frenzy of hungry seagulls.

This is an entry in HarperCollins’s new graphic imprint, Harper Alley, and blurbed by popular author Ben Clanton, creator of the intermediate comic Narwhal and Jelly. I am a little curious as to how this could be continued as a series; Arlo and Pips seem to have shared all their information and stories with the reader already, but perhaps this was just the introductory volume and they will go on to have more adventures together.

Readers who aren’t yet ready to tackle Science Comics‘s volume on crows and fans of Ben Clanton and Elise Gravel will be delighted with this new title, whether or not it ends up turning into a series. It’s got humor, information, and a not-so-subtle call-out of careless humans who litter. This is sure to please your beginning readers who are looking for easy graphic novels as well as placate parents and teachers who worry that comics are too “frivolous,” since it has plenty of nonfiction and text for young readers to tackle.

Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds
By Elise Gravel
Art by Wharton
ISBN: 9780062982216
Harper Alley, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library


    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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