Prunella, a young girl raised by an image obsessed mother, finds community among monsters she was raised to fear. Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring, written and illustrated by Matt Loux, is a fun middle-grade read about the power of acceptance and the danger of fear.

Prunella’s town has been consumed by fear against dangerous monsters just outside the city walls. In fact, those city walls aren’t enough, they must make them taller to protect against evil invading their town. Prunella isn’t interested in the fear mongering, instead she runs home to work on her backyard garden, where she uncovers a strange red skull ring. Out of curiosity, Prunella tries the ring on, the ring gets stuck, and Prunella turns into a skeleton.

Everyone in town, including her own mother, see a monster instead of a young girl and willfully ignore her pleas for help. Prunella is literally kicked out of town, exiled to the forest beyond the city walls. She is alone and lost in a place she has been taught to fear. With nowhere else to turn, Prunella decides to follow a small group of wisps who lead her deep into the forest to a thriving monster community. This monster community is everything her town is not. Instead of fear, they accept and instead of defensiveness, they help.

Upon learning Prunella’s story, a kind pirate skeleton offers to lead her through the monster territories for help with the cursed ring. Along the way she meets a number of monsters who each in their own way are happy to help her on her journey. The story is filled with moments of silly humor with clear examples of kindness and acceptance. Young children who are forming their sense of justice (and humor) will enjoy this fantastical journey. There are clear connections with politics and news stories that focus on fear and walls against neighbors across borders. The young children reading this book, however, will focus on the young girl who does not fit into her at home and instead is embraced by loving monsters.

Real danger is in a community controlled by fear. The monsters, of all kinds, are warm and welcoming to Prunella, open to learning more about her and quickly accepting her differences and strengths. For a story that is so clearly about the benefits of diversity and accepting the other, I wish there was a little more intentionality in descriptions. For instance, the different monster groups are described as tribes, a term that is often used as an othering term for non-western cultures. The monster city, Cedarton, includes Japanese inspired architecture and food. I appreciated the references and thought the illustrations of these scenes were beautiful, but I am also not really qualified to speak on the handling of those elements and diversity in the book as a whole.

Prunella is a hand-painted comic and I particularly appreciate the illustrations in the darker and more intense scenes of the story. In a dark forest, when Prunella is without a home or community, and deep in a cave with little hope, Loux uses dark blue and green hues. Most of the illustrations have a brighter color palette, so the pages filled with blue shadows immediately shift the tone and mood of the scenes.

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring is a very fun comic to read, and I imagine many young comic readers will appreciate the humor, fun illustrations, and affirming story. I recommend it for children’s and elementary graphic novel collections.

Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring 
By Matt Loux
Macmillan First Second, 2022
ISBN: 9781250162618

Publisher Age Rating: 6-10

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

  • Emily

    | She/Her Library Media Specialist, Shrewsbury High School

    Reviewer

    Emily is the library media specialist at Shrewsbury High School in Massachusetts. She has been in libraries for 9 years and education for 15. Before the high school, she worked as a librarian at an elementary school in Texas and before that a reading teacher. She has been advocating for and recommending graphic novels and comics to her students at every stage. Emily is also passionate about civic engagement for students and teens. She has presented about 10 Questions for Young Changemakers at local conferences and is helping as they build professional development opportunities for other librarians. In addition to the library and reading, Emily also has a toddler at home who screams with excitement every time she gets a new book.

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