As the first in a new series from Geisel Award-winner Greg Pizzoli, Baloney and Friends is a whimsical collection of short stories in graphic novel form.
This colorful comic, intended for young readers, chronicles the adventures of four friends. From dabbling with magic to swimming for the first time to getting through a case of the ”sads,” these short tales are full of silly humor that children and parents alike will enjoy.
For first-time readers, Pizzoli cleverly reveals each of the four main characters through a short introduction that uses repetition and humor to help youngsters remember each one. There’s the star of the show, fun-loving and likeable Baloney the pig, Peanut the caring horse, Bizz the sensible bumblebee, and Krabbit the crabby rabbit. Their interplay is engaging, providing the perfect platform to get to know the characters, their names, and distinct personalities. All of the characters are unique, but what brings them together is their unwavering friendship. While each animal has their fair share of imperfections, it is these idiosyncrasies alongside their connections with one another that makes them strong.
Visually, Pizzoli renders the characters in bright colors, with bold and simplistic lines that create expressive faces. Each dialogue bubble is color coded to correspond to the animal speaking, which makes the stories easy to follow. This is especially important for readers just learning how to navigate a graphic novel. The illustrations also include a lot of white space, perfect for young eyes still developing. They also facilitate the process of decoding text, eliminating distractions so children can use the straightforward and engaging pictures to boost their reading comprehension.
At the end of the book, children also have the opportunity to channel their own creativity by following step-by-step directions on how to draw each character. This is a fun way to encourage hands-on learning by building a strong foundation for more independent reading.
In fact, the chapter-book format extends similar reads like Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggy into a more advanced platform for those ready to transition out of picture books. With that said, children would benefit from an initial read–through with an adult. Pizzoli does not shy away from big vocabulary, and words like “marvelous,” “buoyant,” and “starving” (a good introduction to hyperbole), require some explanation. Besides that, reading out loud together is just plain fun, highlighting the auditory nature of the graphic novel, which features plenty of gasps, splashes, crunches, and munches.
The book also lends itself well to plenty of re-reads. The short–story format allows for breaks between tales, which is ideal for shorter attention spans and provides time for Q & A to test reading comprehension. The mini comics interspersed between chapters also are short, sweet, and funny, breaking up longer text while keeping children immersed in Baloney’s world. One quick note about the names: Some adults may find food-inspired titles like “Baloney” and “Captain Skypork” ethically questionable, so they will need to use their discretion if this is an issue.
Overall, the book is lighthearted and entertaining, serving as a great introduction to graphic novels and more self-directed reading. However, I couldn’t help but notice there was a missed opportunity to explore emotions in greater depth. I am a big proponent of books that encourage children to think about their own feelings, facilitated by relatable characters grappling with similar issues. Even at a young age, kiddos often have to process a lot of heavy stuff, and books can be a wonderful outlet to help them navigate through and examine their emotions in a safe way. Instead of lamenting about wet socks, falling down, or soggy cereal, Pizzoli could have included some more realistic situations that many children struggle with like divorce, illness, or poor self-esteem. However, in this current climate of stress and uncertainty, I also can see why we need reading material that has the power to make us laugh and escape, even for a little while.
This compilation of short tales would fit nicely with early elementary collections, especially for children ages 5 to 8 ready to start transitioning into chapter books. It’s always a positive to provide young readers with access to a variety of mediums, and graphic novels are an especially helpful tool when it comes to helping children learn (and hopefully love) to read.
Baloney and Friends 01
By Greg Pizzoli
Art by Greg Pizzoli
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 5-8 years
Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)