Brother and sister ghosts Fitz and Cleo join the growing ranks of early reader graphic novel duos such as Pizza and Taco and Unicorn and Yeti in this collection of eleven short stories by the author/illustrator team responsible for picture books Llama Destroys the World and Don’t Feed the Coos. This is the first volume of an intended series, and its clean layout and gentle humor will appeal to new graphic novel fans as well as lovers of all things cute.
The opening story, “Something in the Attic,” quickly establishes the sibling dynamic: brother Fitz is science-loving and slightly cautious, while sister Cleo is imaginative and adventurous. Fitz rolls his eyes at Cleo’s ebullience and Cleo playfully teases Fitz for his stodginess, but they venture up to the spooky attic side by side, clearly in it together. When they find a cat in the attic, Cleo falls instantly in love and names the cat Mister Boo, while Fitz enumerates the logical reasons for not keeping him. When Mister Boo falls asleep on Fitz’s head, however, he sighs in acceptance. This chapter, the longest one, ends with a comic-within-a-comic drawn by Cleo entitled “Cats are the Best,” which in turn ends with Mister Boo once again falling asleep on Fitz’s head and emitting a noise that Cleo thinks is adorable, while Fitz is pretty sure it’s a cat fart. This is Fitz and Cleo in a nutshell: sweet and cute, with just a little bit of potty humor.
One of the best things about this book is the layout, which is perfect for new-to-comics readers. Illustrations are clean and colorful, and the sharp lines and simple backgrounds make it easy to focus on the expressive faces of the ghost siblings and Mister Boo. Pages are uncluttered with six panels at the most and the text never overwhelms. Dialogue is attributed with a short black line and the occasional speech bubble. Panel sizes and shapes are also varied effectively to add movement and interest to each chapter. There are several delightful full-page illustrations, such as the one depicting the two ghosts and their cat happily eating ice cream cones together, with the only text being the words “LICK LICK CHOMP LICK” floating above their heads.
Although the heft of a 70-page volume may intimidate some new readers, each chapter following the opener is no more than six pages, and each ends with a satisfying punch line. Readers looking for the high energy of Dog Man won’t find it here, and there’s certainly nothing new about the curmudgeon-versus-optimist character dynamic, but these stories are fun, silly, sweet, and are perfect for readers intrigued by graphic novels but not yet ready to tackle works with more crowded or frenetic pages.
Fitz and Cleo
By Jonathan Stutzman
Art by Heather Fox
Holt Books for Young Readers, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 6-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)