Mimi is a happy-go-lucky girl with a charmed life—literally. Her stuffed dog, Penelope, is alive and equipped with sparkly magic that, among other things, allows Mimi to change her outfits at will. (This is not an ambiguous Calvin and Hobbes situation: everyone knows that Penelope is a living, magical plushie.) Mimi and Penelope are best friends, and they play together every day.

Mimi loves using Penelope’s magic to dress up in cute clothes. But today, being cute doesn’t seem as fun as usual. Mimi’s mom tells her not to get her cute clothes dirty. A friend’s dad won’t let her help out with moving things—he just says it’s cute of her to offer. And when the cool girls at the playground say Mimi is cute, they make her sound like a baby. Mimi gets frustrated. She’s more than just cute!

With Penelope’s dress-up magic, Mimi can try on different personas. What if she looked like a mighty superhero? Or a smart, in-charge teacher? Or a cool girl? Can Mimi find a version of herself that feels right—and remember to be a good friend to Penelope?

Shauna Grant is the creator of the webcomic Princess Love Pon, which stars a Black magical girl and draws on classic magical girl tropes like the cute companion creature, the pretty costume, and the sparkly magic powers. Unlike the heroine of that comic, Mimi is not a classic magical girl—being very young, she spends her days playing rather than fighting evil—but she certainly has some magical girl hallmarks. She even changes her outfits in a sparkly sequence with magic words!

The art style is somewhere between chibi anime characters and a Western cartoon. The colors are mostly soft, with lots of pink and purple, especially in Mimi’s room and wardrobe. The characters have big, expressive eyes and rounded features, and are decorated with fluffy details like Penelope’s ears and Mimi’s pigtails and puffy skirt. They are all, whether Mimi likes it or not, cute. The human cast is comprised entirely of Black and Latino characters. Race is never discussed, but there are some nice touches that readers of color may relate to, like Mimi waking up in a hair bonnet.

As a graphic novel designed for younger readers, the artwork is clear, and most pages have four or fewer panels. The dialogue is straightforward, but not overly simplistic or babyish. Besides Penelope, the main characters are all children, and they have interests that will be familiar to kids: wanting to have fun with friends, but also to be seen as cool and capable.

The story is a magical take on a common theme: being yourself. It has some strong emotional beats, as when Mimi begins to get frustrated with everyone calling her “cute” and Penelope hugs her, saying, “Maybe no one meant anything bad by calling you cute… but how you feel right now is what’s important.” Mimi is surrounded by caring, supportive people who did not mean to belittle her, but the book acknowledges that sometimes we feel things that aren’t what others meant to make us feel… and that we can do the same thing to others, as Mimi does to Penelope when she decides that cool girls don’t play with plushies.

This gentle, feel-good story will appeal to young readers who like sparkles and (sorry Mimi) cuteness.

Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe Vol.
By Shauna Grant
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
ISBN: 9781338766684

Publisher Age Rating: 7-10

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Black, Character Representation: Black,

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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