Gustav & Henri: Space Time Cake!, Vol. One

Red Comet Press, a small publisher who has a carefully curated list of picture books with a few board books and graphic novel easy readers, Really Bird, is moving up another step with a new graphic novel series for beginning chapter readers.
Although there’s been an explosion of graphic novels for beginning readers, they have not yet really shifted into a broader range of genres, sticking closely to the classic easy reader format of the odd couple friends, pioneered by Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad and shifted to the graphic novel format by Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie. Gustav & Henri stays comfortable in this genre with the introduction of two complementary friends and their wacky adventures.
Gustav, a pig, and his dog friend Henri (short for Henrietta) are introduced to the reader with character profiles at the beginning of the story. Gustav is boastful, always snacking, and likes to wear hats. Henri is prepared for anything, very organized, and good at resolving conflict. When Gustav loses his shuttlecock, he decides they must go into space and instructs Henri to build a spaceship, designed like a pig, from his plans—but when they arrive on the moon they are faced with King Steve the Best, King of the Moon! In their second adventure, Cassandra the librarian shows up with terrifying news—Gustav has forgotten to return a library book and Henri’s library card will be permanently revoked! But what if they could go back in time? Will they be able to fix things? In their final adventure, the two friends set out to celebrate Pig Day and end up confronting all their previous enemies as well as a missing birthday cake! Can Gustav and Henri solve the mystery?
The art is in black and white, with spotlights of blue in speech bubbles, backgrounds, and a variety of random places. Gustav is shown as a tall, humanoid pig with a snout, single curl of hair, and insatiable desire for snacks. Henri seems content to be a follower, drawn a short figure in overalls with long floppy ears that look like curly hair, a retriever-like muzzle, and small black nose. She provides the logic and intelligence, building the machines Gustav asks for, providing information so he can “solve” problems, and acting as the voice of reason for his wilder flights of fancy. The layout is a mix of illustrated text, traditional comic panels, and a wild variety of fonts with plenty of onomatopoeia and silly exclamations like “By Santa’s trousers!”
There’s nothing particularly new or unique about this title, and the interactions between the two friends are frustrating to an adult reader, with Henri contributing most of the work while Gustav eats and comes up with wild ideas. However, it is humorous with lots of silly asides and wacky situations and the art is easy to follow with a simple color scheme. If libraries are filling in additional titles for their beginning chapter book collections, it is likely to be popular with readers who enjoy silly stories or have moved on from easy readers but still prefer the simple characters and “opposites attract” dynamic.

Gustav & Henri: Space Time Cake!, Vol. One
By Andy Matthews
Art by Peader Thomas
Red Comet Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781636550367

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)

I Really Want to Be First!: A Really Bird Story

Really Bird promises to deliver surprise twists, high drama, and a lot of laughs, but it falls flat.

This story begins with an introduction of our three main characters. Really Bird, our protagonist who really wants to be first and his friends, Pup, and Cat. They banter back and forth through a couple of different scenarios like climbing up a tree. This situation is pretty unfair to Pup, the dog, who isn’t not only not good at climbing, but he’s terrified about being up on top of a tree. Really Bird has Cat help Pup down and then Cat celebrates herself for helping Pup. Pup is the only polite and considerate character in this book, as we see him say thank you to Cat for helping him down from the tree that he was peer pressured to climb up. 

Next, we see the characters argue about who was first on the ground. This short story concludes with Really Bird declaring that he was first, and that he is going to be the leader to take them all home. Really Bird wraps up this tale by happily announcing that he wanted to be first today and he was. 

This was a very poorly written book. It delivers a terrible message to young readers and fails to hold your attention despite it being such a quick read. I read this to my child and he was bored and confused with the ending. Additionally, I wish that the text used a consistent sentence case for young readers to see correctly written English, however many words or letters are capitalized when they are not part of a name or a title, for example “OKay” or “Today I really REALLY want to be First”. This may be providing a poor example for the children that this book is designed for to start learning correct sentence structure.

The artwork is very cute. The style is sure to please any child from the beginning inside cover showing our three main characters walking into the story, to the three of them leaving together on the back cover. The drawings are simple, cute and have a bright color theme throughout. This is a picture book, so there are no panels or typical graphic novel page organization. Lastly, the text is a cute, but a large and easy to read font. 

Overall, this book shows selfish characters getting what they want, an example of peer pressuring a friend into a dangerous situation, and celebrating getting to be first. The lesson for children to take away from this story is unclear, perhaps it’s that being first is the best? On the back cover it states that, “Really Bird adventures deliver surprise twists, high drama, and a lot of laughs. Friendship and emotional learning are at the heart of every book.” I missed where there was a plot twist, as the plot was completely predictable, there were absolutely no jokes or obvious humor, and I hope that children don’t learn anything about how to treat others in friendship from the examples in this book. As an avid reader, mother, and librarian, I have read thousands of picture books and this one unfortunately, I couldn’t possibly recommend. 

I Really Want to Be First!: A Really Bird Story Vol. 1
By Harriet Ziefert
Art by  Travis Foster
OtherRed Comet Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781636550183

Publisher Age Rating: 5-7

NFNT Age Recommendation: Picture Books (3-8)