Someone in his pet shop keeps stealing Mr. Venezi’s sandwich and he assumes it’s the koalas, er, hamsters. (Mr. Venezi isn’t very good with telling animals apart.) Hamisher, a new hamster in the shop, knows it isn’t the hamsters who are stealing the sandwich. If it isn’t the hamsters, though, then which of the animals in the pet shop is guilty? Hamisher wants the guinea pig Sasspants to solve the crime, but Sasspants just wants to be left alone with her books. Maybe if she just catches the thief, then Hamisher will leave her alone!
Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye #1: Hamster and Cheese
Author: Colleen AF Venable, Illustrator: Stephanie Yue
Ages 8-11, Grades 2-5
Graphic Universe, April 2010, ISBN 978-0-7613-4598-5
46 pages, $6.95
Venable’s story succeeds because of unique characters, a creative setting, and sharp humor, though the mystery gets lost a little along the way. Unlike so many animal detectives in children’s fiction, Sasspants has no interest in being a detective. She only helps Hamisher to get him to leave her alone. Hamisher, on the other hand is an airhead, but his eagerness is hard to ignore. The wacky cast of characters includes Gerry, a snake with a slimy personality; Janice and Clarisse, two very vain chinchillas; the mouse that Clarisse forces to be her toy doll; and the goldfish, whose group mind doesn’t have enough brain power to hold a complete thought. Mr. Venezi is no genius himself. He can’t tell a snake from a llama, a gecko from a walrus, or a rabbit from a sloth. None of these details are shoved down readers’ throats, though. They are dropped carefully into the story to develop a character, set the scene, or as an aside to make careful readers laugh. By allowing the humor to flow naturally through the entire tale, Venable keeps things fresh.
The mystery, however, isn’t quite as interesting at its resolve as mystery readers will want because the perpetrator is not given a reason for committing the crime. Random crime may be realistic, but I would have liked a little more motivation. Luckily the art is a major part of solving the crime, making the story perfect for the graphic novel format. Yue’s style is cute, but not babyish and her characters are easily identifiable as the animals they are. She mostly uses rectangular panels, almost all on a guinea pig’s eye view. Her characters’ furry, scaly, or feathered faces are able to express a lot of opinion or emotion with just a few simple lines. Hi-Fi Design adds vivid colors. At the end of the book, there are two pages explaining the difference between the animals that Mr. Venezi mixes up, though this section isn’t written as educational. It gives factual information, but presents it in a humorous manner, in keeping with the light tone of the story. Overall, readers looking for lightly sarcastic humor with a touch of mystery will enjoy Sasspants’ first case and will be looking forward to more, even if Sasspants herself isn’t interested in solving any more crimes.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Lerner/Graphic Universe.