Oh, Grapes! Garlic is a ball (or bulb, rather) of anxiety. She struggles to make it to market day on time, has an unfortunate experience with spilled celery, and constantly worries how the witch, Agnes, will react. However, Garlic is more than her anxiety or her mistakes. With the help of Agnes and Carrot, Garlic begins to see herself as the brave and capable vegetable she is.
Garlic and the Vampire, by Bree Paulson, is an uplifting (and frankly, adorable) graphic novel about friendship, community, and self-discovery among anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables. Sometime ago Agnes, the witch, imbued life into her fruit and vegetables to help around her farm. Garlic, Carrot, Celery, Pumpkin, and the others plant seeds, tend to the growing plants, and harvest the produce. They are a hardworking community that takes pride in their work.
After a day at the market, someone notices smoke coming from a nearby abandoned castle. A vampire has taken up residence, and their farm community is in danger. To Garlic’s utter horror, it is suggested that garlic’s natural vampire repellent properties make her the perfect candidate to confront the unwanted visitor.
This is a heartfelt and unique story that exceeded my expectations. This is not the type of story where a witch holds power over her constructs. Over the years, the plants have grown into their own individual beings with their own thoughts and ideas. In a scene I found to be particularly touching, Agnes takes the time to reassure Garlic’s anxieties by reminding her that she is an individual who has grown beyond the silent helper Agnes once created. Garlic has her own thoughts and feelings, is free to make her own choices, can take care of herself, and is able to go on her own adventures. In a children’s fantasy about anthropomorphic constructs, it’s refreshing to see respect for identity, choice, and consent.
This is also not the type of story where a community comes together to battle a vampire. Upon reaching the vampire’s castle, Garlic finds her bravery and her voice. She boldly confronts the vampire, with a threat to vanquish him should he not surrender the castle. Bree does a beautiful job illustrating this scene. We see a small garlic bulb threatening a vampire who towers above her. Garlic’s bravery is no longer in question; however, the vampire is not the monster they assume him to be.
Garlic’s best friend, Carrot (they/them), is also worthy of note. They are a calming force for Garlic, quick to offer support and guidance. And while Garlic is away in the castle, Carrot sits atop a water tower in vigil waiting for their friend’s return. Other characters use they/them pronouns when referring to Carrot, but it is handled as natural rather than with ceremony, another important touch in this story.
Paulsen uses the colors of a garden to illustrate this novel: tints of green throughout with natural reds, oranges, and browns. Drops of water land on leaves in the garden or come out of hysterical eyes. The characters are drawn with a cartoon feel. They have human-like bodies, and farmer clothes, with heads shaped like fruits and vegetables. Their eyes also hold a great deal of expression and character. For instance, there is little reason to question the character of either the vampire or the witch when you can see their eyes.
This book warmed my heart (and made me giggle a few times) from beginning to end. I strongly recommend this for elementary libraries and young library patrons. But honestly, I loved it, and I am sure its appeal will stretch beyond the intended audience. This will be a hit among readers, and I will, without a doubt, buy a copy for my high school library. I am sure many of my teens will eat it up (pun not exactly intended).
Garlic and the Vampire
By Bree Paulsen
Harper Collins Quill Tree Books, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 3-7
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)