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Summer Reading Challenge: Fashion Kitty

Katherine Dacey

Don’t be fooled by the sparkly pink covers: Fashion Kitty is a smart, funny series that recognizes girls’ summer icon Summer Reading Challenge: Fashion Kittyinterest in fashion without talking down to them or encouraging them to become pint-sized Anna Wintours. Though the titular character does, in fact, help classmates discover themselves through clothing, the series is as much about Fashion Kitty’s efforts to fit in with her peers and cope with her pesky little sister as it is about finding the right accessories or the purr-fect sweater.

Fashion Kitty
By Charise Mericle Harper
No rating (Recommended for ages 7-10)
Hyperion Books, 2005, ISBN: 978-078685134-8
90 pp., $8.99

Fashion Kitty versus the Fashion Queen
By Charise Mericle Harper
No rating (Recommended for ages 7-10)
Hyperion Books, 2007, ISBN: 978-078683726-7
90 pp., $8.99

Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero
By Charise Mericle Harper
No rating (Recommended for ages 7-10)
Hyperion Books, 2009, ISBN: 978-078683727-4
90 pp., $8.99

As we learn in volume one, Fashion Kitty is the product of an unusual household. Mother Kittie practices "free fashion," allowing her daughters to cultivate their own personal styles so long as "they wear jackets and hats in the wintertime." (Mother Kittie picks her battles wisely.) Kiki, a.k.a. Fashion Kitty, has a special gift for combining unusual colors and patterns to create one-of-a-kind outfits, a talent recognized by kids and adults alike. Kiki’s younger sister Lana, on the other hand, is a sartorial disaster area, wearing socks on her head and underpants over her jeans, thwarting Kiki’s interventions by yelling, "You’re not the boss of my fashion!"

fashionkitty1 Summer Reading Challenge: Fashion Kittyfashionkitty2 Summer Reading Challenge: Fashion Kittyfashionkitty3 Summer Reading Challenge: Fashion Kitty

A freak accident involving a pile of glossy magazines transforms Kiki into Fashion Kitty, a super-powered wardrobe consultant who can "hear the distress call of someone in need of fashion help" and "mix and match hundreds of outfits in a second." Kiki then does what all new superheroes do: she designs the perfect crime-fighting outfit, tests the extent of her powers, and helps her first victim, a sweet but clueless tabby who falls in with the wrong crowd. In the time-honored manner of a superhero comic, Fashion Kitty faces new, more powerful nemeses in volumes two and three. In Fashion Kitty versus the Fashion Queen, for example, Kiki goes toe-to-toe with Cassandra, a newcomer whose keen fashion sense and strong personality threaten to transform the student body into a group of wanna-bes, while in Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero, Kiki clashes with the school principal, a humorless automaton who imposes a dress code on her fashion-addled students.

Though the plots are flimsy, Harper’s delightful scripts keep the premise afloat. Her dialogue is tart and funny, yet never sounds like a lame attempt to imitate current tweenspeak, while her voiceovers have the breezy, knowing tone of a babysitter addressing her favorite charge. Her characters, too, are very accessible to grade school readers, especially those with siblings. Harper nails the dynamic between Kiki and Lana: Lana wants to be more like Kiki, but doesn’t know how to express that desire in a constructive way, while Kiki wishes Lana would stop pestering her for attention. Yet both characters emerge as sympathetic; younger siblings will identify with Lana’s feelings of being overlooked (Fashion Kitty’s exploits make the newspaper), while older siblings will share Kiki’s annoyance at her sister’s intrusive behavior.

Harper’s artwork is a little crude and static; her cats are really just stick figures with ears and whiskers, distinguished from one another primarily by hairdos and clothing. That same minimalist approach extends to Harper’s use of color, as she employs a limited palette for each book: pink and grey for volumes one and two, blue and yellow for volume three. Yet somehow it works. The simplicity of the art matches the script’s deadpan tone, and helps prevent Fashion Kitty from collapsing under the weight of its own cuteness. And while Harper’s character designs are a little flat (all the cats have the same limited range of facial expressions), she manages to achieve a pleasing variety of shapes, patterms, and outfits using just a few simple lines and colors.

The best thing about Fashion Kitty, however, is its underlying message. Kiki doesn’t magically create or buy new clothes for her fashion-challenged friends; she encourages them to explore their own closets, combining favorite pieces in new ways to express their individuality. That idea might not sound terribly radical, but in an age of rampant consumerism and instant television makeovers, Harper’s message is a welcome one: it’s OK to like and want new clothes, but most fashion emergencies can be remedied with a little imagination instead of a credit card.

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Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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