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Review: Balloon Toons

One of the artists I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s American Library Association Annual Conference was Ryan Sias, author of Zoe and Robot: Let’s Pretend! Before meeting Ryan, I hadn’t heard of Blue Apple‘s Balloon Toons line of early reader graphic novels. But after I got a look at the first five books in the lineup, I was glad that I was able to find out more about this interesting addition to the roster of graphic novels for new readers. All of the titles are laid out in landscape, making them easy to use for parent-child reading, but the text is simple enough for young readers to enjoy on their own. The eye-catching covers and appealing storylines will sell the books on their own.

Adopt a Glurb!
by Elise Gravel
Ages 5-8; Grades K-2
Blue Apple, August 2010, ISBN 978-1-60905-037-5
40 pages, $10.99

Gravel’s offbeat pet care manual is a wonderful combination of fantasy elements with nonfiction style writing. Glurbs, readers are told, are “cute little monster[s] that you can keep at home with you, just like a dog or a cat.” Readers find out the Glurb’s likes and dislikes and learn about caring for their new monster. The information is presented in a matter-of-fact way, but there’s plenty of humor hidden underneath. The art is cartoonish in a funky way, filling the large, square panels with simple, evocative images rendered in a muted teal, red, and green palette. Give this one to kids who are interested in pets, as well as those who are just beginning to get the idea of parody. Both will laugh out loud.

Rick & Rack and the Great Outdoors
by Ethan Long
Ages 5-8; Grades K-2
Blue Apple, August 2010, ISBN 978-1-60905-034-4
40 pages, $10.99

Rack, a deer, is having trouble convincing his friend Rick, a raccoon, of the joys of the great outdoors. Maybe fishing is too boring or it could be because the canoe tips over or, just maybe, it is the incident with the dragon. Whatever it is, the result is fun, whether readers are outdoorsy types or not. Long’s three stories are silly in just the right way, softly colored in a way that is reminiscent of newspaper cartoons. The jokes are simple enough for early readers and Long is skilled at using illustrations to make a point when words alone won’t work.

The Super Crazy Cat Dance
by Aron Nels Steinke
Ages 5-8; Grades K-2
Blue Apple, August 2010, ISBN 978-1-60905-035-1
40 pages, $10.99

I had bought this at a comic convention years ago when Steinke was printing it himself and the pages were black-and-white and stapled together, so I’m thrilled that Blue Apple picked this title up. Steinke’s art is deceptively simple and welcomingly childlike, featuring pages crowded with detail–this time in full color–encouraging readers to linger and savor. Steinke’s oddly appealing poetry about a girl who has “cats to share and cats to spare” won’t work for every reader, but it deeply appeals to the little girl I was, the one who loved P.D. Eastman’s Go Dog, Go! so much that I made my mother read it to me again and again and again. It turns out that moon kitties are just as much fun as a dog party, even a big dog party.

Doggie Dreams
by Mike Herrod
Ages 5-8; Grades K-2
Blue Apple, February 2011, ISBN 978-1-60905-065-8
40 pages, $10.99

For anyone who has ever wondered what their dog is dreaming about, Herrod’s book has the answer: food, rock stardom, and princesses in distress. At least that’s what Jake dreams about! Herrod’s graphic novel is an excellent introduction to the use of differently shaped panels in comic storytelling and his line art has a child-friendly, accessible quality that makes kids feel they too could create. Jake’s imaginative dreams will keep kids laughing, especially when they see what’s happening in the real world while Jake is asleep.

Zoe and Robot: Let’s Pretend!
by Ryan Sias
Ages 5-8; Grades K-2
Blue Apple, February 2011, ISBN 978-1-60905-063-4
40 pages, $10.99

Zoe is frustrated, because she can’t get Robot to pretend. No matter what she does, he just can’t seem to get the hang of using his imagination! Parents will love the message of Sias’ book, where Zoe’s spirit and love of play trumps Robot’s video games. But rather than hammering home that message, Sias simply presents Zoe’s ideas as the better options, leading readers to side with her and cheer for Robot when he finally gets it. Zoe is tomboy enough to appeal to readers of both genders and the addition of a robot is likely to capture boys. Sias’ art is broad and colorful and he breaks out of the square panel habit quite effectively, adding slants that help tell the story of the “mountain climbing” adventure.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the Balloon Toons line. The enjoyable, exciting stories are fun for both kids and parents. All five artists are strong and very skilled at using the graphic novel medium to their advantage, though different enough to stand out from one another. There are four more Balloon Toons titles coming out this October: The Totally Awesome Epic Quest of the Brave Boy Knight by Pranas T. Naujokaitas, The Super Dog Park by Aron Nels Steinke, Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies by Daniel Cleary, and A Day in the Office of Doctor Bugspit by Elise Gravel. With two new artists to enjoy and two old favorites, they offer something to look forward to!

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Blue Apple.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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