When the first Poppy & Sam graphic novel was published in 2018, there were very few titles for beginning chapter readers in the graphic novel format, so the introduction of sweet Poppy and her quirky companion Sam was a delightful addition. Forward several years, the graphic novel landscape for young readers has expanded exponentially and the pair are still hunting down mysteries in their garden home. Fortunately, Poppy & Sam are still a unique and attractive option and I think they should be more widely known, especially in libraries and schools that serve young readers.

In their first adventure, The Leaf Thief, we meet brown-skinned, black-haired Poppy and her friend Sam, a little panda bear with a cheerful red scarf. The miniature friends live comfortably in a garden, their houses made out of pumpkins and squash and with all of the plants and garden creatures as their friends. When their friend Basil loses some of their best leaves, Poppy tries all sorts of investigation techniques until one of her ideas finally helps her identify the culprit. Their second adventure, The Mole Mystery, leads them on a fun exploration of the garden and surrounding fields and forest as they search for their friend’s missing glasses. Finally, in The Search for Sleep, it’s time for hibernation, but Poppy just can’t sleep! Will they find the solution?

Cathon, a Canadian animator and comic artist, has a few adult titles available, but Poppy & Sam are her only children’s titles available in the U.S. Her art is delicate and colorful, with a strong emphasis on the natural world the two small friends inhabit. Poppy usually appears in a red shirt and green shorts, her black hair in a big bun, with straight-cut bangs. Sam is a cartoon panda bear, his body consisting of two white balls, snowman-style, with black ears, eyes, and nose. He sports a red scarf, which becomes a red nightcap in their third adventure, and is a little more timorous than Poppy, following her lead on their adventures. While Poppy generally sports a cheerful smile, Sam is more likely to look worried, scared, or, most often of all, hungry!

Their tiny world will be most attractive to miniature-loving readers. Smiling ladybugs, bees with tiny handbags, and fluffy spiders busy knitting, populate the garden. In their first story, many of the flowers and plants have faces, like their friend Basil. However, in their further adventures, Cathon seems to have largely abandoned this plotline and the active characters are only bugs and small animals, from pink worms to fluttering butterflies. Poppy and Sam, and their animal friends introduced in each book, have cozy underground homes or rooms carved out of pumpkin and gourd shells, with furniture, little lamps, and tidy stores of berries, nuts, and seeds. Even in the fall, the garden proliferates with a variety of greens, picked out with bright spots of red, yellow, and softer autumn colors.

The panels are large and the illustrations, though detailed, are simple. The storyline is told through a combination of wordless art and simple dialogue, presented in brief, simple sentences. Young readers, even those new to the graphic novel format, will be able to follow the simple storylines while decoding the text without too many challenges. The books also introduce some more complex vocabulary and concepts, like hibernation, and encourage readers to look carefully through the different clues to follow Poppy to her conclusions. There’s gentle humor throughout the stories and they work equally well as read-alouds as they do for independent reading.

These stories are ideal for readers who are ready to move on from easy readers like Elephant and Piggie to more complex stories and text, but aren’t ready for, or interested in, the more raucous humor of Dogman and other popular graphic novel series. They are ideal for introducing the graphic novel format to parents and caregivers who are concerned about content and will especially attract readers who like gentle, comforting stories with attractive artwork.

Poppy & Sam
By Cathon,
Owlkids, 2018-2020
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781771473293
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781771473798
Vol 3 ISBN: 9781771474184

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
Creator Representation: Canadian

  • 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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