This is the compilation of a popular webcomic, although I suspect most of its online readers are adults (in my experience, elementary-age readers don’t follow webcomics online). However, it’s nice that this gently humorous and charming story has been put into a medium that will reach a wider audience.
The story opens with Pebble, a yellow and brown striped little monster with horns, comfortably reading in a cave. Their parents appear and tell them it’s time to go live in the human world, much to Pebble’s distress. However, they reluctantly get ready to go and follows a fluttering purple butterfly out of the magical monster forest to…. the suburbs! Eventually they meet up with Wren, a black-haired little girl with two dads, who is happy to invite Pebble to live with her for a while. There are some initial bumps; Wren has very definite expectations of what a monster should be, and Pebble is determined to go back to their real home. However, as the two interact, both learn to appreciate each other and Pebble starts feeling at home in this strange new world. Eventually, Pebble gives up their plan of returning home and wants to stay, but they’ll need to unlock a special new ability to remain in the human world. What will happen if Pebble never gains a new ability? Will they have to say goodbye to Wren and her dads and give up their new family?
The backgrounds and setting of the story are simple blocks of color: a green couch, pastel walls, and bright brown tree trunks in the magical forest. This focuses the readers’ attention on the interaction between the two main characters. Pebble emotes with their whole body, using their shape-changing ability to elongate and reshape themselves as well as showing a wide range of exaggerated emotions through their eyes, mouth, stick-like arms and hands. Wren is more straight-faced, wearing a limited selection of clothes in a palette of light and dark purples, and she trades back and forth between simple frowns and smiles, with a few additional nuances conveyed through her eyebrows. Although Wren’s emotions are more subdued, her behavior and expressions show how she gradually befriends Pebble and is often amused by their comic mistakes and confusions over the human world.
This gentle story of friendship and resilience is sprinkled with plenty of humor and served up in short chapters. Those who remember classic comics like Jellaby or enjoy the newer beginning chapter comics that spin off the traditional “odd couple” motif of early readers, like Narwhal and Jelly or Pea, Bee, and Jay, will enjoy this story and look forward to more adventures of Pebble and Wren. There’s a nice range of diversity included, from Pebble’s pronouns to the comfortable adult relationship between Wren’s dads. This is sure to find a ready audience in most school and library collections.
Pebble and Wren
By Chris Hallbeck
Clarion Books, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 years
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)