Since Mo Willems first released the consistently popular Elephant and Piggie series, there has been a slow but gradual increase in the marketing of comics for beginning readers, culminating in an explosion of titles in 2019 that continues through the present. Along the way, many have sought to recreate the enduring appeal of Elephant and Piggie from Mac Barnett’s somewhat controversial Jack books to a scattering of series by Charise Mericle Harper. Perhaps the closest in appeal and popularity is Narwhal and Jelly, with a variety of titles by Jonathan Fenske coming in a close second albeit without the name recognition of Mo Willems.
This latest offering marks the debut of a “husband-and-wife creative duo” who started this transitional comic book series for their young daughter. It blends the classic odd couple format of easy readers with the more child-like outlook, showcasing the silly adventures of two fox friends.
Their first two adventures were released simultaneously and there is no introductory matter, so readers will only know from the publisher’s blurb or the author notes at the back that these are two fox friends. Archie, a fluffy white fox with pink cheeks who looks rather more like a sheep with pointed ears and Reddie, a more traditional-looking red fox with perky red bow, tackle a number of simple friendship issues and mysteries. In one story, Archie hides a pizza he finds and when Reddie tries to solve the mystery, he tries to convince her there’s nothing to find. In the other story, Reddie is trying to get Archie to a hat party with her, but he refuses to go until he has his favorite, just right hat.
The simple stories don’t really include any lessons, other than showing how a friendship works, but they are silly and light-hearted stories of two friends. Neither conform to gender stereotypes; Archie has fluffy white fur and pink cheeks, and spurts into tears (completely with a runny nose) when he’s upset while Reddie’s only decoration is her plain red bow. Reddie is marked out by her super active mind (and body) and she bounces through the pages, the sharp orange and white angles of her body, dressed in just a pair of white pants, dancing and gesturing.
Most of the backgrounds are pastel with slightly darker polka-dots, with bold lines showing the two characters, a handful of friends, and a sprinkling of set pieces like hats, the occasional plant, pizza box, etc. It’s hard not to compare any new transitional comics to the classics, and this new series doesn’t have the bold simplicity of Elephant and Piggie, where the humor rests on a few simple phrases and lines, but it’s still quite funny and the silly adventures of Archie and Reddie will intrigue young readers who are ready for something more challenging and can decode panels and speech bubbles that move the story through dialogue. There are a few more complex textual challenges, including some wordplay and some longer words to intrigue readers as well.
While it’s too soon to tell if this will have the staying power of other classic couples, all the way back to Frog and Toad, it’s a fun addition to a genre and format that’s rising rapidly in popularity and shows promise of attracting young readers who like simple comics and silly stories. Purchase where you have young readers who just can’t get enough transitional comics.
Archie & Reddie series
By Candy James
Penguin Random House Razorbill, 2021
Vol 1: I Really Dig Pizza ISBN: 9780593350102
Vol 2: We Will Find Your Hat ISBN: 9780593350133
Publisher Age Rating: Preschool – grade 3
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)