I've said it before (here and here), and I will say it again. I LOVE Babymouse! For those of you have somehow missed this series, the Babymouse books are a series of graphic novels for elementary school kids, about a young girl mouse. In this eighth installment, Babymouse: Puppy Love, our brave heroine is on a mission to acquire and keep a pet. She tries goldfish (they either die or disappear), and then moves on to hamster, hermit crab, ferret, turtle, salamander, sea monkey, and Venus fly trap. But alas, her pets keep disappearing. After a particularly ill-considered experiment with an ant farm, however, Babymouse finds a stray dog, and makes Buddy her own. Having a dog brings a whole host of new challenges, but Babymouse is up to the task.
There are so many fun things about this book. It's a rare book indeed that makes the reader laugh aloud on the copyright page. Then there's what happens to the lost pets, living quite comfortably just outside of Babymouse's notice, eating cupcakes. They even have a disco ball. I think that kids will be rolling on the floor with laughter. But my favorite thing is that in a book about a child seeking a pet, the Holms manage to reference (with a trademark combination of sincerity and irreverence) several of the classic "child and animal" stories, including Charlotte's Web, National Velvet, Emily Elizabeth and Clifford, and even Calvin and Hobbes. For instance, when little Fern tells "Babypig" that "Daddy's going to kill you!", Babypig's response is "What kind of children's book is this, anyway?"
As with the other books in the series, this graphic novel features a combination of live action and dream sequences. The dream sequences have a pink background, making it easy for kids to visually distinguish them from reality (though this is usually also quite clear from the context). Deadpan humor is added to the live action sequences, in large part by the interjections of the narrator. He doesn't let Babymouse get away with anything. For example: "I'm sorry to say, but I saw that one coming a mile away" and "Uh, Babymouse? Hobbes isn't a dog. He's a tiger."
Babymouse's personality remains distinctive, hopeful and filled with big dreams, yet also wryly accepting of her less charmed lot. I love her trademark muttering of "Typical" when things don't go her way. Realities like mud puddles and dog poop make their way even into her fantasies.
Matthew Holm's black, white, and pink illustrations are a delight. My favorite in this book is one in which Babymouse's mother spells out her responsibilities in taking on the stray dog. We see a picture of Babymouse's smiling face, with the words streaming "in one ear" and "out the other". It's jokes like this that make the Babymouse books fun for adults, as well as kids.
Babymouse: Puppy Love is perhaps not as profound as my favorite in the series: Babymouse: Beach Babe (which showcases the relationship between a girl and her attention-seeking younger brother). But I think that the theme of a child seeking the right pet, and reacting to the joys, inconveniences, and responsibilities of pet care-taking, will resonate with many kids. I also think that the authors are doing a fabulous job at keeping this series fresh and interesting. It's clear that siblings Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm take joy in creating the Babymouse books, and their joy passes on to the reader.
If you have a relatively new reader in your house, especially a reluctant reader, or one who does better with illustrations than text, I highly recommend that you give the Babymouse books a try. Although the pink coloring and presence of hearts on the cover suggest that these are more girl-friendly than boy-friendly books, I have heard first-hand from parents and librarians that many young boys who like them, too. You have humor, you have themes that are of universal interest to elementary school kids, and you have a graphic novel format. This combination is tough to beat. And if you're already a Babymouse fan, Puppy Love will not disappoint. Don't miss it!
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: December 26, 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Well-Read Child (Where, I saw after I had written my review, Jill said "If your child is reluctant to read books with longer paragraphs and pages of text, give Babymouse a try." Great minds, I guess.) This book was also recommended today in the Chicago Sun-Times (via Matthew Holm's blog).
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.