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Review: Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox, No. 1: The Meeting

Ginger has a problem: her mother, Mrs. Fox, wants the family to share a burrow with Mr. Badger. Worse still, Mr. Badger has two bratty, bossy boys who don’t know how to play proper fox games and who insist on doing things their way. Unable to discourage their parents from merging households, Ginger, Grub, and Bristle put aside their differences and hatch up a scheme to show their folks that "badgers and foxes are not made to live together."

Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox, No. 1: The Meeting
Story by Brigitte Luciani, Art by Eve Tharlett, Translation by Carol Klio Burrell
Ages 5-9
Graphic Universe, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-7613-5625-7
32 pp., $25.00

With humor and honesty, Brigitte Luciani tackles one of the most difficult events in a young child’s life: blending two families. Luciani validates kids’ ambivalence about the process, using her trio of protagonists to give voice to the normal range of emotions — jealousy, suspicion, excitement — associated with acquiring new siblings and parents. In particular, Luciani creates a complex, believable dynamic among Ginger, Grub, and Bristle, who compete with one another for their parents’ attention, clash over how to complete chores, and find common ground in hating their living arrangement.

Though the subject is handled with sensitivity, the dialogue is stiff. The children’s voices are almost indistinguishable from the adults’, and have the same faintly unnatural quality to them. It’s hard to know if that stiffness is a by-product of the translation, or an accurate reflection of the original text; either way, the script would have benefited from a looser, more idiomatic adaptation.

Eve Tharlet’s artwork, on the other hand, infuses the story with great warmth and feeling. Using a soft palette of greens, blues, and browns, she creates an inviting forest landscape that’s filled with the kind of small but charming details that characterized Beatrix Potter’s illustrations: a dining table made from a stump, a cake decorated with wild strawberries. That same attention to detail extends to Tharlet’s character designs as well. Though the animals have been anthropomorphized, walking upright on two legs and gesturing with their "hands," the badgers and foxes look like their wild counterparts. At the same time, Tharlet animates her characters’ faces with a nuanced range of emotion; from the way Mr. Badger looks at his children, for example, it’s obvious just how deeply he cares about them.

Given the sensitivity with which Luciani and Tharlet explore stepfamily dynamics, Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox deserves a place in elementary school libraries and classrooms. The script is best suited for first and second graders, though youngsters may need adult assistance with some vocabulary. The book’s beautiful watercolor illustrations will appeal to a range of tastes, even if the subject is not one of personal concern the the reader.  Recommended.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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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