Mellybean, an energetic little terrier, really wants her cat siblings to play with her, but they’d rather nap! So they trick her into going outside, and when she starts digging Melly falls, Alice-like, into another world. There she meets a huge, rabbit-eared orange beast called Narra. Melly loves humans – they rescued her from a shelter, she loves playing with “tiny humans” (kids) and she thinks that everything can be solved if she sits nicely! But Narra was betrayed by his first human friend, who stole his magic and betrayed him to the king. Now he’s hunted for the gold he produces and constantly attacked by the soldiers of the selfish, cruel king.
Narra doesn’t intend to be friends with anyone, let alone humans, ever again. However, Melly has different ideas. When they discover a trio of orphans, left alone when their caretaker Ms. Oliver was thrown into the dungeon by the king, they decide to try to save her. Will Narra trust them enough to help them and does Melly have what it takes to win this tricky battle and save the kingdom?
This debut graphic novel is rather uneven in plot, but there’s no denying the adorability of the animals featured (all based on real pets belonging to the author) and the charm and humor of the brisk, colorful art. Most of the humans present as white, but two of the orphans have darker skin. The kingdom is shown as quasi-medieval, with a castle, mounds of golden treasure (most of it collected from Narra’s “eye crusties”) and loose, earth-colored clothes for the populace and armor for the soldiers. However, there are also glasses for several characters, including a hapless sculptor employed by the king and bearing a bit of a resemblance to the author himself. The king is a slightly pudgy redhead, very proud of his athletic prowess and confident in his privilege and selfish indifference to the people he rules. Most of the panels have green and blue backgrounds, focusing on the action of the small cast of characters. Humans shown only briefly look very much alike – Narra’s betraying friend, Melly’s humans, and Ms. Oliver all have very similar facial structures, lank hair, and pursed, red lips. The furry protagonists are well-done, and I especially enjoyed the subplot of the cats arguing, cat-like, about who is going down the hole to rescue Melly.
The plot of this series opener throws a mix of loose ends into the story, from the theft of Narra’s magic to the ultimate fate of the selfish king. The bits of “gross” humor, like Narra’s eye crusties and the discovery of a portal up her nose, feel like afterthoughts, thrown in under the mistaken assumption that kids need at least a modicum of farts and boogers to enjoy a story. The more serious aspects of the story are confused as well, from the king who ranges from cruel (off-scene) punishments to being a ridiculous braggart, much like his advisor who at first tries to argue with him to cut taxes and then abruptly turns against the band of rebels, instructing the soldiers to attack them.
However, despite the confusion of the plot, it’s overall a fast-moving and satisfactory story. Presumably more loose ends will be tied up in future volumes and there are frequent moments of genuine humor and an overall emphasis on kindness and doing your best without being didactic. An additional purchase for readers who enjoy graphic novels, cute animals, and a gentle, low-stakes fantasy story.
Mellybean and the giant monster 1
By Mike White
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)