Andy Warner’s Oddball Histories: Pests and Pets

Andy Warner’s previous collection of short comics, A Brief History of Everyday Objects, detailed a wide variety of inventions from the toothbrush to the bra. In this new series he has refined his focus to reach younger readers, taking out the more mature humor of his earlier book, and starting what I hope will be a long-running series of quirky historical facts with a volume focused on domesticated animals.

A comic introduction explains Warner’s own history with animals and how they are intertwined with the lives of humans, especially in the three categories the book is divided into: “Creatures we find cute”, “Creatures we find useful”, and “Creatures that find us useful”. Within these categories, Warner explores animals like horses, from prehistory to modern times, chickens, “from the jungle to the nugget,” raccoons, rabbits, bees, and many more. Each mini-history encapsulates the origin of the animal and their first domestication or contact with humans, their significance in history, and how they interact with people today. Warner finishes up with another comic-style afterword, some additional drawings and maps, and an index.

Warner’s detailed cartoons show a diversity of skin tones, hair textures, and cultures, although a number of prehistoric people have lighter skin than seems historically accurate. The various animals shown are from across the world, from cockroaches in ancient Egypt to guinea pigs in Peru, horses in Mongolia and dogs from South America to China. Warner’s cartoons are humorous, but he generally stays away from stereotyped depictions, especially of older and non-Western cultures. The scope of each cartoon is limited, but he makes room to show the perspectives of indigenous and non-Western peoples. For example, the history of the horse includes the role of horses in the Spanish invasion of South America, the changes they brought to indigenous peoples in the southwest of North America, and their role in the expansion of the Mongolian empire. The chapter on rabbits includes their role as a food source in ancient Rome, their devastating introduction to Australia via British colonization, and their shift to pets.

Warner’s comics have fun while staying as realistic as possible. The animals he shows are drawn in a quasi-realistic style, with magnified drawings showing details of their anatomy and a sprinkling of smaller images showing them interacting with humans. Prehistory humans are generally shown wearing skins or rough clothes toga-style, while later images are more historically detailed. Warner depends for his humor on unexpected and quirky facts and humorous asides from the various historical people. When faced with a massive aurochs and the fact that, “they had enormous horns that could gore and hooves that could trample,” a dark-skinned and curly-haired woman nervously says “Ha-ha. Ok! We get it. Can we talk about something else now?”

This is a strong addition to the growing genre of nonfiction graphic novels. Readers who enjoy the humor of historical comics like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales and Action Presidents and those who like the information and narrative style of the Science Comics are sure to enjoy this smorgasbord of furry facts. This will also draw in readers who enjoy browsable nonfiction like National Geographic fact collections and would make a good starting point for class assignments on different animal and historical topics.

Andy Warner’s Oddball Histories: Pests and Pets
By Andy Warner
Little, Brown, 2021
ISBN: 9780316463386
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Ballet Cat

Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests–making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade–goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles’s leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what’s wrong. Sparkles doesn’t want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won’t want to hear. What Sparkles doesn’t know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.

Ballet Cat
By Bob Shea
ISBN: 9781484713785
Little, Brown, 2015
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
Volumes available: 3

Baloney and Friends

As the first in a new series from Geisel Award-winner Greg PizzoliBaloney and Friends is a whimsical collection of short stories in graphic novel form. 

This colorful comic, intended for young readers, chronicles the adventures of four friends. From dabbling with magic to swimming for the first time to getting through a case of the ”sads,”  these short tales are full of silly humor that children and parents alike will enjoy. 

For first-time readers, Pizzoli cleverly reveals each of the four main characters through a short introduction that uses repetition and humor to help youngsters remember each oneThere’s the star of the show, fun-loving and likeable Baloney the pig, Peanut the caring horse, Bizz the sensible bumblebee, and Krabbit the crabby rabbit. Their interplay is engaging, providing the perfect platform to get to know the characters, their names, and distinct personalities. All of the characters are unique, but what brings them together is their unwavering friendship While each animal has their fair share of imperfections, it is these idiosyncrasies alongside their connections with one another that makes them strong.  

Visually, Pizzoli renders the characters in bright colors, with bold and simplistic lines that create expressive faces. Each dialogue bubble is color coded to correspond to the animal speaking, which makes the stories easy to follow. This is especially important for readers just learning how to navigate a graphic novel. The illustrations also include a lot of white space, perfect for young eyes still developing. They also facilitate the process of decoding texteliminating distractions so children can use the straightforward and engaging pictures to boost their reading comprehension.  

At the end of the book, children also have the opportunity to channel their own creativity by following step-by-step directions on how to draw each character. This is a fun way to encourage hands-on learning by building a strong foundation for more independent reading.  

In fact, the chapter-book format extends similar reads like Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggy into a more advanced platform for those ready to transition out of picture books.  With that said, children would benefit from an initial readthrough with an adult. Pizzoli does not shy away from big vocabulary, and words like “marvelous,” buoyant,” and starving” (a good introduction to hyperbole), require some explanation. Besides that, reading out loud together is just plain fun, highlighting the auditory nature of the graphic novel, which features plenty of gasps, splashes, crunches, and munches. 

The book also lends itself well to plenty of re-reads. The shortstory format allows for breaks between tales, which is ideal for shorter attention spans and provides time for Q & A to test reading comprehensionThe mini comics interspersed between chapters also are short, sweet, and funny, breaking up longer text while keeping children immersed in Baloney’s world. One quick note about the namesSome adults may find food-inspired titles like Baloney and Captain Skypork ethically questionable, so they will need to use their discretion if this is an issue 

Overall, the book is lighthearted and entertaining, serving as a great introduction to graphic novels and more self-directed reading. However, I couldn’t help but notice there was a missed opportunity to explore emotions in greater depth. I am a big proponent of books that encourage children to think about their own feelings, facilitated by relatable characters grappling with similar issues. Even at a young age, kiddos often have to process a lot of heavy stuff, and books can be a wonderful outlet to help them navigate through and examine their emotions in a safe way. Instead of lamenting about wet socks, falling down, or soggy cereal, Pizzoli could have included some more realistic situations that many children struggle with like divorce, illness, or poor self-esteem. However, in this current climate of stress and uncertainty, I also can see why we need reading material that has the power to make us laugh and escape, even for a little while.  

This compilation of short tales would fit nicely with early elementary collections, especially for children ages 5 to 8 ready to start transitioning into chapter books. It’s always a positive to provide young readers with access to a variety of mediums, and graphic novels are an especially helpful tool when it comes to helping children learn (and hopefully love) to read. 

Baloney and Friends 01
By Greg Pizzoli
Art by Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9781368054546
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 5-8 years
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure

The Secret of The Unicorn
The classic adventure story is back! Tintin, boy reporter and detective, and his dog Snowy team up with their friend Captain Haddock in a wild search for lost treasure. Along the way, they’ll meet kidnappers, thieves, sharks, and more!

In The Secret of The Unicorn, Tintin discovers an antique model ship, which turns out to be the ship commanded by Captain Haddock’s ancestor Sir Francis Haddock. After several confusing and hilarious encounters with a pickpocket and the indefatigable detectives Thomson and Thompson, Tintin is kidnapped by the Bird brothers, criminal antique dealers who have set up a thieves’ den in historic Marlinspike Hall. Tintin escapes and discovers a secret message leading to the legendary treasure of the famed pirate Red Rackham, killed in battle by none other than Sir Francis!

In Red Rackham’s Treasure, Tintin and Captain Haddock sail in search of the pirates’ treasure. They encounter the brilliant but absent-minded and extremely deaf Professor Calculus and hijinks with Captain Haddock’s beloved whisky ensue. Eventually, the friends and their crew, find the treasure island…but no treasure! Further research unearths the undersea wreck of The Unicorn, but still no pirate treasure. Returning home, Captain Haddock buys Marlinspike Hall, his ancestral home, and he and Tintin make a stunning discovery in the cellars where Tintin was held prisoner!

Herge’s art is crisp and efficient. He excelled in using simple lines and shapes to communicate action and emotion. Every panel of the comic strips is a smoothly interlocking puzzle piece in the plot, and every line and figure counts. Herge’s text is lengthier than most contemporary comic strips or graphic novels, but his economical and masterly art pulls the breathless reader through the funny, exciting and mysterious twists and turns of the plot.

These two titles are new editions, published to correspond with the release of the Spielberg film in December 2011. Each title includes an enlarged gallery of characters with brief descriptions at the beginning of the story and bonus material at the end. It begins with a brief timeline of Herge’s life and work and some trivia “Discover something new and exciting about Tintin and his creator Herge!” and then additional context for the stories is given. Then there is the “Explore and Discover” section, which matches Herge’s art with real-life photos and people and adds more trivia about the stories.

I carefully compared these new editions to both Little Brown’s hardcover omnibuses from the 1990s (vol. 3 and vol. 4 – both are out of print, although new editions were reissued in 2007) and their full-size paperbacks from the 1970s and 80s which are still available. I compared them panel by panel looking for changes and updates and was pleased to find only a few minor changes in punctuation and layout of the text. The biggest change is the font, which is a much lighter and more italicized form of the original. This may discourage kids from picking up these titles, since they are already more dense in text than most contemporary graphic novels.

Parents may be concerned about Captain Haddock’s heavy drinking. However, it is an integral part of his character and although usually played for laughs, is also frequently shown as a problem that gets both the Captain and Tintin into trouble and can be very embarrassing to the Captain.

Parents and librarians eager to introduce Tintin to a new generation will be pleased with these new, affordable editions with their fascinating additional features. While the full-size editions remain my personal favorites, the bonus features in the new editions make these an enticing option for filling in or starting a Tintin collection in your library!

Recommend this exciting pirate/mystery adventure to parents who are reluctant to allow their children to read comics – the amount of text will reassure them that these are indeed “real” books. Fans of mystery and adventure will also enjoy these classic comic strips.

Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn
by Herge
ISBN: 9780316133869
Little, Brown and Company, 2011

Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure
by Herge
ISBN 9780316133845
Little, Brown and Company, 2011