Allison's Book Bag

QUICKTAKE: Baby Mouse by Jennifer and Matt Holm

Posted on: May 9, 2012

This is your intrepid book blogger on the trail of another new book. My most recent find is Baby Mouse The Musical, by sister and brother team Jennifer and Matt Holm. I picked The Musical up on the recommendation of a former elementary student.

Being a graphical novel of a mere ninety pages, The Musical took less time for me to read than it took for me to eat my lunch. The so-so good news (for you) is that Baby Mouse and her woes are somewhat humorous. In a cute, clichéd way that is. The bad news (for me) is that reviewing The Musical was a challenge. In a new-to-me genre way, that is.

Art-heavy books call for the skills of a different type of critic. Yet with the increasing popularity of graphic novels, it seems time to move out of my comfort zone. And so your intrepid book blogger busily scoured the web for advice on how to, um, review graphic novels.

Turns out I’m not alone in my ignorance. Ironically, my search for articles on “how to review graphic novels” instead turned up countless posts with the sentence “I don’t know how to review a graphic novel.” Aarti at BookLust asks: Does one focus on the words or on the pictures?

If one focuses on the story, The Musical is an average story about a girl who wants to be a star but doesn’t know how to act. She meets an exotic new student (from England) who encourages her to try out for the school musical. Baby Mouse doesn’t get the part. And naturally the girl who does get the part despises Baby Mouse.

The execution of the story confused me. Expert reviewers of graphic novels can let me know if it was just me or if it’s truly the book. At any rate, one minute Baby Mouse is helping the new guy open his locker and the next she’s dreaming about being underground with the Phantom of the Locker. It took me three reads to realize that this is the excuse Baby Mouse dreamed up for not finishing her homework. In another scene, the gym teacher is talking about players attacking like “lions” and so Baby Mouse dreams up a chaotic sports version of The Lion King. I guess the execution makes sense — if you’re Walter Mitty.

In regards to the narration, there is an alarming trend in children’s movies these days to use cultural references as humor. Apparently, just by screaming WALTER MITTY, I should be able to make you laugh. (Did I? Maybe, if you know who he is. But if you’ve never heard of him my “joke” probably fell flat. Which, of course, is the problem with this kind of “humor.” FYI, Walter Mitty is a fictional character created by James Thurber who lapses frequently into a dream life.) And so besides the movies referred to in the previous paragraph, The Musical also references Annie, Fame, Grease, and at least a couple more which I couldn’t identify. Sadly, half the time these references are lost on their audience, who don’t know what in the world the author is babbling about. The other half of the time the references are just plain insulting, because such simple references are a lazy attempt at humor. It tells the world that being funny is just about how many lines from books, movies, or songs one can spout.

On the positive side, readers should readily relate to how Baby Mouse always seems to do everything wrong. In a fun way, Baby Mouse provides a role model by sticking with her goals and never giving up. I also loved the cute twist at the end.

If one focuses instead on the artwork, The Musical is most akin to comic strips. (It might come as no surprise then that comics and cartoons were a huge influence to Jennifer Holm during her childhood years.) the drawings are big, bold, and dauntingly pink with thick black outlines. No boy will touch the Baby Mouse books. Even some girls will find them overly girly. Otherwise, as Aarti at BookLust admits, “I can’t say much about how the artistry compares to other graphic novelists.”

Blogger Melissa Bell did actually some offer good advice: illustrate the review.

And so here you go!

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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