When the kind but chronically confused Mr. Venezi places a help wanted ad in the paper, the animals at Venezi’s Pet & Supply begin to fret: one candidate smells like soup, while another refuses to work with cute critters. The pets are relieved when Mr. Venezi hires Viola, a smart, stylish ninth grader who seems to know more about animals than he does. (She even knows the difference between chinchillas and gorillas — a distinction that escapes Mr. V.) Only Sasspants, guinea pig gumshoe, finds Viola a little too eager to please. Mr. V’s sudden disappearance confirms her worst suspicions: Viola has conned Mr. V into giving up his store! With help from Hamisher, a chatty and dim hamster, Sasspants sets out to expose Viola as a fraud and return the shop to its rightful owner.
Guinea Pig: Pet Shop Private Eye, No. 4: Fish You Were Here
By Colleen AF Venable, Illustrated by Stephanie Yue
2011, Lerner Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-7613-5224-2
52 pp., $27.90
The fourth installment of Colleen AF Venable’s Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye is a genuine treat to read. Not only are the jokes funny, but the story is clever and generous to all its characters; Viola turns out to be more negligent than evil, while Mr. V proves a sharper tack than his verbal blunders might suggest. Each member of the cast has a turn in the spotlight, whether it’s the TV-addled mice (they love soap operas) or the long-winded turtle. These nattering animals provide the perfect foil for Sasspants, whose no-nonsense demeanor and keen observation skills prove essential to figuring out why Mr. Venezi is absent.
Art-wise, Stephanie Yue’s animal designs continue to enchant. Sasspants, in particular, is a terrific creation with her unkempt shock of hair, pot belly, and elastic face. Yue does an excellent job of bringing the other pets to life as well, animating their faces without compromising their essential animal natures; the snake slithers and flicks his tongue, while the fish move in schools.
Readers new to the series won’t have any difficulty following the story; from the very first panels, it’s evident that Mr. V misreads situations, leading to odd and uncomfortable exchanges. (When one job candidate addresses him as “Mr. Venezi,” he replies, “Your name is Mr. Venezi, too? Sorry, I can’t hire you. It would be confusing to have two Mr. Venezi’s working here.”) The animals’ personalities are similarly transparent, making it easy for newcomers to grasp the dynamic between Sasspants and the other pets. Venable doesn’t neglect fans, either; the script is studded with small but amusing references to Mr. V’s inability to label animals correctly, a gag that carries over from previous installments of Pet Shop Private Eye.
Lerner recommends Fish You Were Here for readers aged seven to eleven and, judging by the vocabulary and syntax, that assessment seems right. Better still, the script manages to be funny and engaging without any objectionable content — a godsend for the librarian or teacher who’s looking for a funny, all-purpose book to recommend to elementary school readers. Recommended.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye, No. 4 will be released in September 2011.