Tedd Arnold, best-known for his long-running and extremely popular easy reader series Fly Guy, branched out into a higher-level, comic easy reader series a few years ago, featuring Noodleheads Mac and Mac.
Mac and Mac are literally noodleheads—they’re macaroni noodles with completely empty noggins! These stories are based on folktales of the “fool” type, and Mac and Mac have had many silly adventures over the last few books. In three short chapters they go through a variety of dangers and complications, always realizing at the end of each how lucky they are. From a falling apple to a trick played by their friend Meatball (literally, it’s a meatball) everything always ends well for these two goofy guys.
These are more than just silly stories though; they’re based on very specific folktale types. For example, in one episode Mac and Mac are tricked by Meatball into begging for trouble and they get a bag full… of bees! Fortunately, however, it turns out that bees were just what their mother needed to get her hives going and the pair are lucky indeed. There are author’s notes in the back talking about the tale types and sources for the stories, as well as specific tales inspiring each chapter. The authors draw from fool tales all around the world, from the Jack stories of England to Nasreddin Hodja of Turkey and Juan Bobo of Puerto Rico.
The artwork will be instantly recognizable to Arnold fans, as it features his signature bulging eyes and wide smiles, but he adds a traditional feel to these folktale-inspired stories with a scribbled background that mimics a crackle finish. Although Mac and Mac wear contemporary clothes, boldly-colored t-shirts and shorts, the cracked background gives the stories a feeling of age and one could almost imagine them as traditional paintings from a book of old tales. Simple, bright colors and lines fill the rest of the panels, with a small group of goofy characters, from Meatball, in baseball cap and turquoise shirt, to their mother in a green dress and purple skirt.
Although the joke is usually on Mac and Mac, there’s no flavor of nastiness in these silly stories. The two have the occasional argument, but especially in this book they take everything in stride, reiterating how lucky they are as each adventure turns out right. Even Meatball’s tricks turn out well in the end, although readers will realize that he is certainly not intending to be nice! Intermediate readers will find these hit the spot, with a minimal of characters and not too much detail in the art, allowing them to focus on the mechanics of reading the more complex sentences and following the visual story through the panels. Kids will enjoy the wordplay and being “in the know” as they see the mistakes Mac and Mac make, but by the end of each story they’ll also recognize that the characters who feel superior to the Noodleheads never triumph, despite their supposed smarts.
These stories are not only a fun way to keep kids reading through the intermediate level, as they shift from early readers to chapters, but also would be great resources for a classroom focusing on folktale studies or social-emotional intelligence, discussing what it means to be “intelligent” and the intricacies of the English language.
Noodleheads Lucky Day By Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, Mitch Weiss Art by Tedd Arnold ISBN: 9780823440023 Holiday House, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
If your readers like creepy, grotesque graphic novels, then Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light? will be right up their alley.
The story begins with Dash and his friend Lily, setting out with Dash’s dad and his stepmother for a family vacation at the mysterious Black Sand Beach. Once they arrive and meet up with Dash’s cousins, purple-haired Eleanor and hyperactive Andy, the fun begins. Or not, as the case may be. It’s a creepy place, where the beach is literally covered in black sand, they’re not allowed in the frightening forest, the neighbors are reputedly dangerous, and they’re stuck with Dash’s aggressive and unstable aunt Lynne. Don’t forget Uncle Frederick—he’s very quiet. And gray. In fact, there’s some doubt as to whether he’s really there at all…
When the friends and cousins investigate mysterious lights at the abandoned lighthouse, they discover frightening ghosts—but are they trying to trap the friends or is there something even more dangerous in the lighthouse itself? Then there’s the annual stampede of cows under the beach house (it’s on stilts), but for the first time someone is awake to see it—Lily. And these are definitely not cows… The creepy episode ends with a troubling incident where Lily, the only Black character, is replaced by one of the nightmarish not-cows and the family completely ignores the real Lily. However, this could also be read as Lily being the sensible outsider, the only person unrelated to the family by marriage or blood, and the voice of reason who frees them from the creatures.
The art is predominated by purple and green hues; the foreboding, dark purples of the beach and sky, bright purple of Eleanor’s hair and dark violet of Lily’s, and the nauseating purple of the mysterious “potatoes” provided to put the family to sleep during the stampede of the “cows.” Spots of green, Lily’s shirt and Eleanor’s shoes pop up here and there, with swathes of sickly green around the mysterious presence in the lighthouse and a bright, chemical green of the freaky “cows.” The adults are all caricatures; Dash’s stepmother has brightly-dyed blonde hair and a fake tan and sports pink dresses and high heels and her main concern is the lack of cell service. Aunt Lynne has a sharp, angular face, leathery tanned skin, and a messy thatch of graying hair. Dash’s dad is kindly, but unobservant; he vaguely realizes something is wrong, but is never quite sure what to do about it. Eleanor and Lily are the voices of reason, keeping wild Andy in check as much as possible and reassuring and supporting the sometimes nervous Dash as more and more frightening secrets are revealed.
Black Sand Beach is published by Pixel + Ink is a new publisher from Trustbridge Media, owner of Holiday House and Peachtree Publishing, focused on series fiction from picture books to middle school readers. Richard Fairgray is an experienced creator of comics, from picture books to the popular Blastosaurus series.
The undependable adults and frightening creatures make this title something I would recommend to younger readers with caution. However, for those who can handle the scarier elements and like their horror grotesque and their mysterious secrets plentiful, this will be a popular pick. Recommend to readers who enjoyed Alabaster Shadows by Matt Gardner, Apocalypse Taco and One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale, or are looking for an alternative to Doug TenNapel’s work.
Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light? By Richard Fairgray ISBN: 9781645950028 Pixel + Ink, 2020
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Character Traits: Disability, Visual Impairment