Poiko, an anthropomorphic lion, and their friend Kensie, a bat, run a delivery business. The story begins when they set out into the woods with a backpack full of deliveries and a reminder from Kensie to stay on task…
Of course, the first time he meets a distraction, Poiko is off climbing a giant purple tree and launched on a series of quests to help the creatures he meets. He listens to the problems (and poetry) of each one, treasuring the wisdom they share and the new friends he makes as he wanders leisurely through a strange landscape. Each succeeding chapter follows the pair on another delivery. Along the way they meet a dragon-like creature who’s had to give up their dream of being a psychologist because of their allergies, a turtle-like girl who is struggling with her father’s heroic legacy and her own wish for a peaceful gardening life, and venture deep into a bunny-themed dungeon. The story ends with the two friends reaffirming their friendship and ready for new “quests and stuff” with their next delivery.
The art is cute and fluffy, with lots of imaginative creatures from glowing space fish to punk rock newts, purple bunny griffons and miniature elephants. Excepting the bird/dragon types, all the characters have a “cute” twist with fluffy hair or fur, pastel colors in blues, purples, and greens, and soft, rounded faces. The bird and dragon-type creatures are sleek with smiling beaks or pointed faces and perky ears. The landscapes are the most interesting part of the story, covered with odd vegetation and imaginative twists; under the ocean there is a vast school of cities on the backs of whales, turtles, and sharks. Odd creatures peek out of trees and caves, and cat mermaids sing air bubbles in the shape of music notes.
Although frequently promising danger and adventure, there is actually only one moment of peril, when a giant plant traps Poiko and Kensie and they are quickly released by a new friend. The dungeon, supposedly so dangerous the post office will not venture into it, features a guardian who asks riddles but assures them they can pass regardless—it is just so lonely it likes to collect peoples’ stories. A supposedly dangerous guardian is also lonely and delighted by the gift of a shell phone to call her family. Even Kensie’s worries about disappointing his mother are assuaged by her assurance that she loves him just the way he is and is proud of him and Poiko for helping other creatures. The bulk of the dialogue is composed of philosophical meanderings, reflections on what love and family means, and Poiko and Kensie’s discussions about the nature of friendship.
The art is cute and attractive, but readers who are young and sensitive enough not to want actual action and danger are unlikely to appreciate the reflections of grief, love, and self-identity. This is a niche offering, which is most likely to appeal to readers who like titles like Ferrier’s Hotel Strange, Porta’s Hidden Valley, or the Moomins.
Poiko: Quests and Stuff
By Brian Middleton
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)