The world of beginning reader comics and graphic novels is growing rapidly. Toon Books has dominated the scene for the last ten years with their leveled books, while blockbusters like Narwhal and Jelly bridge kids from leveled readers into Dog Man. A lot of beginning reader comics are very simple stories and full of silliness. While everyone loves silliness some of the time, older kids who are still struggling with reading might want something a little more substantial, but don’t have the confidence for more complex language and stories. Enter Pup Detectives. With a satisfying trade paperback size and format, the large font and efficient dialog deliver action packed mysteries that an emerging reader can easily digest. While I only read the first three books for this review, Simon and Schuster has published six books in the series this year in quick succession, created by the powerhouse international creative agency Glass House Graphics. Who doesn’t love handing a young reader a nice stack of comics to sink their teeth into?

The Pup Detectives series is set at Pawston Elementary where the student body is made up of anthropomorphized animals. While there’s a wide variety of animal types from cheetahs to rabbits to owls, most of our main characters are dogs. Book one, The First Case, has the team assemble chapter by chapter, starting with Rider Woofson. He begins the book with a hard boiled detective narration about the dark side of Pawston and the pencil theft ring he’s trying to crack. Rora Gooddog joins him early in the book, a practical and competent foil to Rider’s impetuous nature. Once they’ve joined forces they take on the mystery of a lunchroom thief terrorizing the school. Red herrings Westie Barker and Ziggy Flulffenstuff are added to the fold until the book ends with the group deciding on the name “P.I. Pack”. Books two and three, The Tiger’s Eye and The Soccer Mystery, follow the team as they foil the heist of a priceless artifact and save kidnapped soccer players in time for the big game. 

I have my doubts Felix Gumpaw is the pseudonym of an individual writer, but I wasn’t able to find out any details. The writing is clear and consistent. Each pup is an easily understood trope: Rider is going headlong into adventure, Rora thinks things through and gets the job done, Westie is an absent minded scientific genius and Ziggy’s running joke hunger lands him in surprisingly helpful situations. There’s not a lot of character development, the focus of the books is much more on hijinks and adventure. There are tons of puns, especially in The Soccer Mystery, with players Lion L. Messy and David Geckom. Most important for the emerging readers, there are very rarely more than four sentences on each page. Even some of the level 2 Toon Books have blocks of text that may intimidate readers, Pup Detectives manages a great economy of words to move forward the story. They aren’t brilliant or touching; as an adult reader I didn’t find them particularly interesting, but as a librarian and parent I see how they make a 2nd or 3rd grader still a little unsteady with reading sit down and read for half an hour straight. Popcorn reading at its poppiest and corniest, in the best possible way.

The digital art by illustrator Walmir Archanjo is cartoonish and bright. Some of the pups are recognizable as specific dog breeds, others are more generic. I enjoyed seeing the many ways different animals were fit into human form. Often the characters are clearly copied and pasted, similar poses repeating, but it’s not too disruptive. There are establishing backgrounds sprinkled throughout with most panels filled in by different vivid shades. The large print all caps text is beneficial to kids with vision problems and dyslexia, something I’m often looking for to satisfy elementary patrons who want something beyond picture books. Word balloons become jagged with intense emotions and energy. There is a great sense of movement that animates the many action sequences, an anime or manga sensibility coming through. The art serves the zippy fun of the books. 

Every children’s collection should carry this series with its fun filled adventures that will build confidence in shaky readers who feel like they should have moved on from beginning reader books. Kids who have been fans of Scooby Doo and Paw Patrol will step easily into the subject matter and kids who already enjoy more wordy series like Dog Man and Geronimo Stilton will find a lot to enjoy, too. Some continuing threads like the henchpup Rotten Ruffhouse and the mastermind Matty Meow run through the books, but the plots don’t build off of each other. You can easily enjoy them out of order. 

The Pup Detectives, vols. 1-3
By Felix Gumpaw
Art by Walmir Archanjo
Simon & Schuster Little Simon, 2021
Vol. 1: The First Case, ISBN: 9781534474949
Vol. 2: The Tiger’s Eye, ISBN: 9781534474970
Vol. 3: The Soccer Mystery, ISBN: 9781534478701
Publisher Age Rating: 5-9

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

  • Sunny

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian

    Sunny is a Youth Services Librarian in Fairfax, Virginia, running storytimes, tween tech programs and 3d printing clinics – and even the odd animal program. When she was in her late teens, a half-dozen kind spirits bestowed upon her their beloved comics, steeping her in ‘80s and ‘90s superhero canon, Sandman, Strangers in Paradise, Love and Rockets, JTHM, Gregory, and more indie comics than you can shake a stick at. From these humble origins grew great powers that she's honed for decades, as she is now tasked with purchasing graphic novels for her system. Outside of the library, she works on her side hustle editing audiobooks (a job that actually predates her library career by almost a decade) and reviews audiobooks for AudioFile magazine. Somewhere in there, she's raising a 7-year-old daughter who loves DC Super Hero Girls and Bone. She also wishes she had more time for messing about in boats or knitting or crafting or baking or blogging her library work or visiting craft breweries and cideries with her mom, waiting for the best coincidence of food trucks. She's equally aided and hindered in her quests by the antics of her faithful sidekicks: a barky but sweet mutt named Fiver and a cuddly, vicious gray tabby named Monkey.

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