Book Review: Time and Mr. Bass

Book Review: Time and Mr. Bass by Eleanor Cameron

Long ago and long ago and even before that, came the Mycetians to Earth from Basidium, the Mushroom Planet.  Much of their history has been lost to Deep Time, but it is known that they were stranded on this planet, and eventually wound up settling in the mountains of Wales.  In recent times, the new leader of the Mycetians, Tyco Bass, with the aid of human boys Chuck Masterton and David Topman, has re-established communications with the Mushroom Planet.

Time and Mr. Bass

Mr. Bass and his young friends have had many fine adventures.  A new one begins when it is learned that two relics of the Mycetian people have been stolen, the Necklace of Ta, and the Thirteenth Scroll, the latter said to have information about the missing years of Mycetian history–if anyone could read it.  Our heroes must track down the thief and recover the items, but that will only lead to a battle against ancient evil!

This is the fifth and final book in the Mushroom Planet children’s science fiction series that began with The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet in 1954.   Chuck and David, who live in Pacific Grove, California, see an ad in the newspaper asking for a rocketship to be built by clever boys, with a reward offered.  They build a small ship out of materials lying around, meet Mr. Bass, who installs the parts to make the ship actually work, and fly to the invisible moon Basidium and meet its people.

Back in its day, this series was very popular, and it’s easy to see why.  There’s fast-paced action, a general sense of wonder, and the ending is terrific as a farewell to the series.

However, in a number of ways the series is very dated.  Real-life space exploration tore the suspension of disbelief for the invisible moon stuff, the paucity of decent female characters is notable, and as the stories went along they became much more science fantasy than science fiction.

The book falls fairly neatly into two sections.  In the first, the stolen items must be recovered.  This is made a bit complicated by the thief selling bits of the necklace to other people.  The stones of Ta cause a person’s passions to become unhealthy obsessions with a Basidian twist.  For an example, a doctor who wants to heal sick people becomes obsessed with mushrooms as a panacea for all ills.

Mr. Bass and the boys must appeal to each victim’s underlying true nature to get them to relinquish the stones.  This bit had a very C.S. Lewis feel to it.

Introduced during this part, and taking center stage in the second half of the book, is Mycetian history.  While Mr. Bass is over five hundred years old, and the story does convey something of how that affects him, he has a connection to an even older ancestor, the Bassyd.  Elder Grandfather (as he is called by Mr. Bass) was a bard at the court of King Arthur, and had been given great powers by the Ancient Ones who later gave them to Mr. Bass.

But all his powers could not save Arthur if the king would not take his advice, and the other lords did not support their ruler.  Also, both Arthur and the Bassyd had an enemy (whose name is never given but is nicknamed Narrow Brain) who was jealous of the Bassyd’s power and sought to steal the magic that the Bassyd did not have.  After Arthur’s death at Camlann, Narrow Brain tracked down and murdered the Bassyd, burying him in an unknown location.

This somehow gave Narrow Brain a form of immortality and supernatural powers.  We learn that the reason there’s no indisputable physical evidence of the reign of Arthur is because Narrow Brain down the centuries methodically destroyed it.  With the loss of the Bassyd, the Mycetians also lost valuable knowledge of their past, and have slowly withered as a people ever since.

Now that the scroll has been recovered, the translation process (including a side trip to Basidium for more clues) attracts Narrow Brain’s attention, and the ancient evil strikes again and again in an attempt to prevent the truth from coming to light.

Of the boys, young dreamer David is more prominent than Chuck, as his second sight is repeatedly useful, while Chuck’s more grounded approach is de-emphasized.

These books (past the first) are now difficult to find; your best bet is libraries with superior children’s collections.  Primarily recommended to readers with nostalgia for the 1950s-1960s, and secondarily to collectors of Arthuriana.

Manga Review: Princess Knight

Manga Review: Princess Knight by Osamu Tezuka

Once upon a time in the fairytale kingdom of Silverland, a child was born to the king and queen.  Due to certain circumstances, there was a confused announcement about the child’s sex, and the people of Silverland decided to take it that the child was a boy.  For only men could take the throne of Silverland, and the only male in the line of succession was Plastic, the mentally deficient son of the evil Duke Duralumin.

Princess Knight

Although Sapphire had been born genetically female, the king came up with a plan to pass her off as male as he wasn’t too keen on letting Duke Duralumin take power as regent either.  Thus it was that Prince Sapphire was presented to Silverland as its future ruler.

This might not seem like the most viable plan, but Sapphire had an extra secret.  Due to the mistake of trainee angel Tink, Sapphire had been born with both a male and a female “heart,” and thus possessed the positive qualities of both genders.  She excelled in both traditionally male and (secretly) female skills.  And only a handful of the most trusted servants knew the truth.

The story picks up when Prince Sapphire is fifteen.  She enjoys participating in traditionally masculine activities, particularly swordfighting, but chafes at having to hide her true self to do so.  She wants to go to the festival and dance in a pretty dress, but must disguise herself as a blonde maiden to do so.  It’s there she meets the handsome Prince Franz of neighboring Goldland and they hit it off.  Pity she can never tell him the truth!

Meanwhile, Duke Duralumin and his henchman Sir Nylon step up their attempts to out Sapphire’s nature as a woman, figuring certain physical changes will make it harder to hide now.  Plus Tink finally catches up with Sapphire.  The small angel cannot return to Heaven unless he brings back her boy heart, but in the meantime Tink must protect Sapphire from the evil sorceress Madame Hell, who wants the prince’s girl heart for her daughter Hecate.

This was one of the first manga written specifically for the shoujo (girls’) market under the title of Ribon no Kishi (The Ribbon Knight) in 1953.  Creator Osamu Tezuka had been strongly influenced by Disney cartoons, and that influence is never clearer than in the art and style of this story.  In the 1960s an animated adaptation was made and given the title of “Princess Knight” when shown on American television, and Tezuka did a rewrite and expansion of the manga story at roughly the same time.  (It is this 1966 version that was published in translation a few years back.)

This was pretty progressive stuff for 1950s Japan, depicting a heroine who was both bold and compassionate, a girl who would go ahead and rescue herself as often as not.  In the end, she earns the right to rule not so much because of who her parents were, but because she has demonstrated her character throughout the story.  Even the Sixties cartoon was a young SKJAM!’s first hint that gender roles are largely a social construct rather than innate.

But it’s also very much a story written by a man who reached adulthood in the 1940s, and especially the first volume of two contains a lot of gender essentialism.  It’s very strongly implied that Sapphire’s courage and martial skill come from her boy heart, as she falters when it’s temporarily removed.  The second volume has women warriors who do not require an extra heart to be badass, and Sapphire herself shows that she’s outgrown that need.

Parents of young readers should also be aware that there’s a lot of death in this series, both villains and lovable good people.   And Tink’s boss is kind of a jerk for working in Heaven.  “You can return home–or sacrifice that forever to save Sapphire’s life.” It’s a children’s series, but perhaps it is best read together to discuss some of the themes.

Oh, and Prince Franz is a bit of a dunderhead who does not figure out that Sapphire and the blonde girl he loves are the same person despite learning fairly early on that Sapphire is physically female and having multiple clues.  He continues to be a bit obtuse in the sequel about their children, Twin Knights.

Recommended to fans of children’s fantasy, especially girls.





Comic Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl

Comic Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita and her friend Joseph are engaging in horseplay in the meadow when then stumble across what appears to be a meteorite crater.  Within the crater they find a curious device with a big red button.  Zita pushes the button, and Joseph disappears.  When Zita gets up the courage to press the button again, she too is transported to an alien planet.

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita learns that this planet is doomed, and Joseph has been captured by the Scriptorians, who believe the boy can somehow save them.  With civilization breaking down around her, Zita is on her own…unless she can make some new friends!

This children’s graphic novel shares a lot of its DNA with earlier works.  Most obviously, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  for “girl is whisked away to a strange land where she must assemble a ragtag band of misfits to accomplish her goal and return home” and Star Wars for “lovable but self-centered rogue with a starship and a large furry partner.”

But there’s enough variation on the themes to make this work distinct, the characters are mostly likable (except the ones that aren’t supposed to be) and the art is good.  Zita is a good child, even if she’s a bit overly impulsive, which is normal for her apparent age.

Gender isn’t an issue within the story itself, but the tale would seem a bit more stereotypical if Zita and Joseph’s roles were swapped.  Notably, there’s no talk of the children’s parents or guardians, just a generic “home” to return to.

This series (there are two sequels) is suitable for say seven year olds on up, though younger readers may need some grownup help with a few words.  Recommended for fans of children’s adventure stories.

Manga Review: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

Manga Review: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon by Shigeru Mizuki

Quick recap:  Kitaro is the last surviving member of the Ghost Tribe, a once populous group of yokai (Japanese spirits/monsters.)  His father lives on in the form of an eyeball and advises the young fellow.  Together with his untrustworthy friend Nezumi-Otoko (“Rat-Man”) and sometimes other friendly monsters, Kitaro acts as a mediator between humans and yokai.  (This being a comic book, often this mediation involves deadly combat.)

Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

This is the second volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of stories from Shigeru Mizuki’s classic GeGeGe no Kitaro series of children’s horror manga.  It has a continuation of the history of the manga, and a handy guide to the yokai appearing in this volume in the back.

The lead story is also the one that titles this volume.  Traditionally, the nurarihyon is a humanoid creature that shows up at your house and acts as if he’s an invited guest.  As long as he’s there, he demands the best in food, luxuries and entertainment.  Only when the nurarihyon has finished abusing your hospitality and departs do you suddenly realize you never actually invited him in or even know who he was.

But this particular Nurarihyon is actively evil.  He hates humans and commits acts of terrorism while appearing to be a harmless old man.   Nurarihyon despises yokai that want to be friends with humans, and especially Kitaro.  He runs into Nezumi-Otoko one day at the pachinko parlor, and pretends to befriend the greedy rat-man in order to lure Kitaro into a trap.

After several twists and turns, Kitaro manages to trick Nurarihyon and his accomplice Jakotsu Baba (Snake Bone Granny) into a time machine and strands them in prehistory.   (In the anime, Nurarihyon manages to return more than once, acting as the Big Bad for a couple of larger stories.)

A kappa (water goblin) is the antagonist in “Sara Kozo”, though his motive is a bit more sympathetic.  The sara kozo’s secret song was stolen by rock musicians who used it to become famous, but paid no royalties.  Knowing that he has no standing in the human court system, the sara kozo decided not to sue, but instead just kidnap the thieves.  Kitaro has to get them back.

The two stories that end this volume are connected.  In “Odoro Odoro”, a mad scientist attempts to find a cure for baldness, but turns himself into a malevolent hairball that thirsts for the blood of children.  Mind you, not all their blood, but since he can’t afford to have them reveal what’s going on, the Odoro Odoro has been stuffing them into the Spirit World for safekeeping.  Kitaro apparently vanquishes the monster at the end of the story.

But in “Odoro Odoro Versus Vampire”, it turns out the creature survived.  It steals Kitaro’s soul and makes him its slave.  While Kitaro is away, Nezumi Otoko becomes the mostly willing servant of Dracula IV, descendant of the famous Dracula and himself a vampire.  Eventually, the two monsters meet and engage in fierce battle.   Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad) plays a larger role than usual, as Kitaro is out of action for most of the story.

The art ranges from cartoony to detailed, displaying the artist’s range.  This volume is suitable for horror-loving readers from fourth grade on up.  (Some sensitive parents might find it too scary.)

And just for contrast, a show where Nurarihyon is the good guy:

Book Review: Herb Kent West Point Cadet

Book Review: Herb Kent West Point Cadet by Graham M. Dean

The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York was established in 1802 as a training ground for United States military (primarily Army) officers.   It’s known for its high academic standards, strong Code of Honor, oh, and its students’ athletic achievements.

Herb Kent West Point Cadet

The last is the primary focus of this novel, written in 1936 when West Point’s football team was particularly well known as a powerhouse.  Herb Kent is a young fullback who’s the star of his hometown high school team, but also good at academics, and a stand-up fellow.  His father was a football star at West Point, but never served in the military due to the sudden onset of an eyesight problem.  His real estate business is suffering in the Great Depression, and Herb’s three dollars a week from a part time job is keeping the family out of the poorhouse.  There’s no chance of Herb going to college–unless he can win an appointment to West Point!

The first third of the book is the lead up to and detailed play by play of Herb’s final high school game, hometown Marion against rival Milford (evidently in their state in the 1930s there’s no playoff season.)  This serves to introduce Herb, his best/only friend quarterback Ted Crosby, and jealous rival fullback Steve Moon.

Steve is the sort of villain who often appears in boys’ fiction of the early Twentieth Century, the “small town rich” kid who has more money than sense, and resents the hero for having success based on talent and hard work.  Steve has good technical football skills, but no sense of teamwork or sportsmanship, which has resulted in him riding the bench most of the season.  He tries various dirty tricks to get Herb out of the big game so that he can be the star.  (And later in the story escalates to attempted vehicular homicide!)

After the big game, Herb, Ted and Steve prepare for the USMA entrance examination (even if you’re great at football, you still have to qualify.)  Herb and Ted win highest marks and are recommended by their state’s senators, while Steve barely passes but his wealthy father uses leverage on a House rep to get Steve a slot.

A friend of the family gets Herb and his buddy summer jobs as camp counselors in northern Minnesota, where they save some campers from a forest fire.  And it turns out one of the camp’s leaders is a famous football coach who gives our heroes pointers.

Finally, Herb arrives at West Point, where he and Ted are immediately tagged for their company’s football team (plebes don’t go on the college’s varsity team no matter how good their high school record was.)   You’d think that the grinding schedule of the plebes wouldn’t allow for any serious shenanigans, but Steve Moon just will. not. let. it. go.

After leading his team to victory over the other plebe football squads, Herb is ready for a big celebration.  But look, the neighboring barracks are on fire!  Herb goes in and saves Steve (who may or may not be responsible for the blaze) but Steve isn’t exactly grateful.

Despite the age of the main characters, this is very much a children’s book aimed at boys maybe ten to twelve.  Situations are black and white, with no subtlety, everyone cares  far more about football than any other subject, and the only female character even mentioned is Herb’s mother.  She cooks well and worries about her son getting military training.  (Perhaps she should be more worried that his father’s eye condition (never explained) is hereditary.)

Herb is a star athlete, intelligent, morally pure, and oh yes handsome.  This last we learn in a lovingly described shower scene he shares with Ted, who also gets his lean but muscular body mentioned.   You know, for kids.  Anyhow, the one flaw Herb has is that he is far too reliant on handling things on his own.  For example, he deals with Steve’s attempt to run him over by challenging the other boy to an impromptu boxing match.  Herb is warned by adults that this approach could backfire, but it never does.

The football scenes are well-written and exciting, while all other activities tend to be sketchily described (as, for example, what classes one takes at West Point.)

While this was clearly meant to be the first in a series of Herb Kent books (the title of the next one is on the last page) no sequel seems to have been published.  Given the timing, Herb would probably have made First Lieutenant just in time for World War Two.

The archaic attitudes may make this book less appealing for modern boys, but I’d still recommend it to football fanatics.

And now, let’s enjoy a football game from the year of publication, as Army battles its age-old rival Navy:


Manga Review: The Birth of Kitaro

Manga Review: The Birth of Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki

Blood bank worker Mizuki (no relation) is sent to investigate a report of tainted blood provided by his business, which has turned a hospital patient into the living dead.  Narrowing down the possibilities, Mizuki is startled to learn that the blood donor put down his, Mizuki’s, address!  It turns out there are squatters in the abandoned temple out back of his house.

The Birth of Kitaro

These squatters are yokai, a married couple who are the last of the Ghost Tribe.  Once, the Ghost Tribe was numerous, and lived all over the country.  But as humans encroached on their territory, the Ghost Tribe was forced first into the wilderness, then underground.  Over the years, their numbers have dwindled, until these two and their unborn child are all that remain.  The wife sold her blood to buy medicine, as both of the yokai are ill.  Out of pity, Mizuki agrees to keep their secret until the baby is born.

Months later, Mizuki visits the temple to find both of the yokai dead, and buries them.  But their child, Kitaro, lives, and Mizuki adopts him, even though he is repulsed by the sight of the little monster.

GeGeGe no Kitaro is Shigeru Mizuki’s best known work, a horror manga for children.  According to the introduction, he took inspiration from Hakaba  Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro), a kamishibai (paper theater) performance series that had been popular before World War Two.  Most of the records of the series were destroyed during the war, but Mizuki took what was known and refashioned it for 1960s children.  It was an enormous hit, and there have been numerous anime adaptations.

This volume collects “best of” stories from the Kitaro series, rather than have them in order of publication.  Thus, Kitaro’s character design is very different in the first chapter, before he’s learned to groom himself.  Eventually, Kitaro is kicked out of Mr. Mizuki’s house to fend for himself with the aid of Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad), the animated eyeball of his deceased father.

The remainder of the stories in this volume guest star Nezumi Otoko (Rat Man), a filthy, greedy fellow who constantly tries to find ways to profit from foolish humans and other yokai.  Often, he’s personally responsible for the peril that Kitaro must deal with, but other times Nezumi Otoko just finds a way to chisel some extra yen from the situation.

Another recurring character that makes an appearance is Neko Musume (Cat Daughter), a part-feline girl who is Nezumi Otoko’s natural enemy.  Kitaro uses her to convince the rat to give back all the money he’d swindled from a group of humans to grant them a form of immortality.  In this early story, Neko Musume is much less pretty than later adaptations make her.

In the early chapters, Kitaro isn’t too fond of humans due to being bullied for his hideous appearance and strange behavior; as he gains a heroic reputation the humans become friendlier and Kitaro reciprocates.  However, he knows that he can never be fully welcome in human society and wanders away at the end of most stories.

There’s a variety of yokai in this series, the most difficult to defeat is the gyuki (bullheaded crab), because anyone who kills the gyuki, becomes the gyuki!  Kids tend to be important in the stories, either as potential victims or the ones who call Kitaro in.

At the end of the volume are pocket descriptions of the yokai in this volume, and activities for kids like a maze and word search puzzle.

Keeping in mind that what the Japanese consider suitable for children varies from what many American parents will accept (there’s some rear male nudity, and people die), this would be a great gift for a horror-loving elementary school kid.

Book Review: My Ultimate Super Hero Manual

Book Review: My Ultimate Super Hero Manual by Steve Behling

Almost every comic book-loving kid has gone through a phase when they seriously wanted to be a superhero.  Wearing a flashy costume, having neat powers, hanging out with people like Spider-Man and Storm; what’s not to love?   At the very least, designing your own super hero character can be a blast.  And this book is meant to help you do just that!

My Ultimate Super Hero Manual

It’s a children’s activity book from the folks who bring you Marvel Comics.  There are pencil and paper exercises, but also ways to make homebrew “superpowers” and costumes.  (Be sure to ask your parents’ permission.  If you are an orphan, you’re already halfway down the road to being a superhero, but ask your guardian’s permission anyway.)  There’s even special dice you can put together to play games.

There’s a plethora of Marvel superheros and villains shown or mentioned–some jokes will only be gotten by long-time fans, but most of the humor is accessible by kids.  (There’s even an index for us scholarly types!)  New art is by Juan Ortiz, while other pieces are reprinted from classic Marvel comics and not individually credited.  (Thanks, “work for hire” contracts!)   Marvel’s female heroes are under-represented.

As a long-time Marvel Comics fan, I have a soft spot for books like this.  At a guess, I’d recommend it to kids from 4th to 6th grade, maybe younger under close supervision, plus old-timers like me who will get all the obscure references.   And the physical copy is recommended far more than the Kindle version–have you ever tried drawing in a Kindle file?

Book Review: Enchantment Lake

Book Review: Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

Francine Frye isn’t a detective.  She played a detective on TV.  On a children’s show.  For a few episodes.  But that still makes her the closest thing to a detective Francie’s eccentric aunts Astrid and Jeannette know.  So when a series of perfectly explainable but statistically improbable deaths strike around their cabin home on Enchantment Lake, they make a (badly worded, static-filled) call to their great-niece which cuts off abruptly.

Enchantment Lake

When Francie can’t get the authorities or even her grandfather to investigate, she decides to head to Walpurgis, the small town in northern Minnesota Enchantment Lake is closest to.   She’s relieved to learn Astrid and Jen are alive and well, but now that she’s here, the aunts suggest the young actor snoop around some.  Especially as there’s been a new death, the most suspicious yet.

This middle-grade mystery is the first in the “Enchantment Lake” series, which does make certain developments in the story pretty obvious.  Francie’s on the lower end of seventeen, which allows her to be fairly mature (she was living in New York City on her own while trying to continue her acting career) but still be viewed as a child by most of the adults around her.  This includes her grandfather, who makes use of his control of Francie’s trust fund to order her around.

Francie is perhaps a little too ready to believe there’s a connection between all the seemingly unrelated deaths, as there’s plenty of mystery in her own life.  Her father died in a statistically improbable car crash, her brother moved to Europe a couple of years ago and never communicates with Francie, and absolutely no one will tell Francie anything about her mother.

This last one comes up more than the others, as a couple of the suspects seem to know more about Francie’s mother than she does, and a clue pops up suggesting the woman may be alive.  This plot hook is left dangling for a future volume, alas.

Not being a detective, Francie (known to the older locals as “French Fry”) makes several rookie mistakes, including being alone with murder suspects without having told anyone where she’s going multiple times.  And several people who have information that would be relevant either don’t bring it up or are refusing to tell Francie for their own reasons.

The language is suitable for middle-schoolers, but not so simple that young adult readers would be embarrassed to be seen reading this book.  Romance is limited to Francie noticing certain boys are attractive and being mildy jealous of one paying attention to another girl.  Suicide is mentioned.

The small town Minnesota setting will be familiar to most Minnesotans and many other people from the upper Midwest.  It allows for a quirky cast without going into demeaning “hick” stereotypes.  (The most stereotyped person is actually a spoiled city girl who sees no attraction in a lakeside vacation.)

The solution to the mystery is pleasingly complex, and younger readers should be pleased if they figure most of it out in advance.

Recommended for young mystery fans, and older mystery fans with a love of small town Minnesota.

Since the book mentions the sound of loons several times, here’s a video set on Loon Lake, not far from where Enchantment Lake would be:

Book Review: Taran Wanderer

Book Review: Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

With the Black Cauldron destroyed, Death-Lord Arawn has retreated to his own lands for the time being, and no other major threats beset the realm of Prydain.  Long peaceful days at Caer Dallben have given Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper time to think.  Taran has realized a number of things, including that he wants to be together with Eilonwy for the rest of their lives…and that he has no idea who he is.

Taran Wanderer

That’s both in the metaphorical and literal sense.  Taran has no idea who his parents were, or if he has living kin.  And his life at Caer Dallben has been more about caring for the oracular swine Hen Wen than discovering his own way of life.  What if he is of noble birth?  What if he is truly a peasant?  Can he be together with a princess if his birthright is unknown?

Dallben the enchanter is as usual not a great deal of help; he either cannot or will not tell Taran the details of the boy’s heritage.  So it is that Taran sets out with his faithful companion Gurgi to the Marshes of Morva.  There, Taran consults the three dangerous sister enchantresses, but learns he cannot pay them a price high enough to learn his own secret.  They do, however, mention that the Mirror of Llunet might give him a glimpse of his true self.

Lake Llunet, where the Mirror was last seen, is clear at the other end of the country, and the rest of the story is about Taran’s journey there.

This is the fourth of five novels in The Chronicles of Prydain, a children’s series based loosely on Welsh mythology.  (Mr. Alexander mentions in the foreword that he’s borrowed bits from other folklore as well.)  The focus is on Taran’s character development, so there’s no one overwhelming threat, but a number of smaller problems and lessons that Taran must overcome or learn from on his way to maturity.

Indeed, Taran has grown a great deal from the callow lad he was at the beginning of the series; he shows wisdom whenever he thinks about how to help others, rather than his own problems.  But he still needs to let go of the notion that he needs to be special before he can embrace his true destiny.

Not everything is hard lessons; not-quite-human Gurgi and the prevaricating bard Fflewddur Fflam provide comic relief.  But there are villains as well, the terrifying Morda, who cannot be killed by mortal means (and who is responsible for some of the mysteries in earlier books) and the greedy mercenary Dorath.  Eilowny does not appear, but is often mentioned.

The book is well-written, though some of the running character tics grow tiresome by the end.  (And the lesson at the end is obvious at the beginning if you’re at all familiar with children’s literature.)   It’s a good breather before the climactic events of the final volume, where Taran and Eilowny must take their mature roles.

I recommend the entire series, and the Disney version has its good bits as well.

Book Review: The Baker Street Peculiars

Book Review: The Baker Street Peculiars written by Roger Langridge, art by Andy Hirsch

It is 1933 in the city of London, and what appears to be a stone lion from Trafalgar Square is running wild in the streets.  Three children from different walks of life (and a dog) have separately decided to chase down the lion to learn what’s going on.  They eventually lose the trail, but meet the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, who engages them for a shilling each to be his new Irregulars.  They’ll investigate the supposed living statue while he’s busy with other cases.

The Baker Street Peculiars

But wait; assuming Sherlock Holmes wasn’t just made up by Arthur Conan Doyle, didn’t he retire to a bee farm in Sussex before World War One?  There’s more than one odd thing going on here!

This volume collects the four issues of last year’s children’s comic book series of the same name.  As a modern period piece, it’s a bit more diverse than the comic papers that would have been published back in the day.

Molly Rosenberg is a whip-smart girl, who wants to be a detective.  Her kindly but conservative tailor grandfather has forbidden her formal education as he’s afraid she’s already too learned to attract a good husband.

Rajani Malakar is an orphan of Bengali descent who was raised (when not confined to juvenile institutions) by professional thief Big Jim Cunningham.  Big Jim had an alcohol-related fatality a bit back, and she’s had to make her way alone with petty theft.  Rajani is probably the oldest of the children, as she’s hit puberty.

Humphrey Fforbes-Davenport is the youngest son of a large upper-crust family.  Evidently he was unplanned and unwanted, as he was shipped off to a harsh boarding school as soon as possible, with only a golden retriever named Wellington as a valet.  (Wellington doesn’t talk, so his level of intelligence is difficult to gauge.)  Over the course of the story, Humphrey learns to weaponize his class privilege (within his own class, of course, it’s never done him any good, so he didn’t even realize he had it.)

As it happens, Molly’s cultural background is especially useful in this case, as the villain is Chippy Kipper, the Pearly King of Brick Street, a self-willed golem.  Chippy has the mind of a small-time protection racketeer, but has realized that the ability to bring statues to life gives him an army with which he could take over the city–maybe the world!

The kids are on their own through most of the adventure.  The sole representative of the law enforcement establishment is PC Plank, who’s intellectually lazy, and would rather arrest known riffraff Rajani than investigate any other possible criminals.  Sherlock Holmes is…elsewhere…much of the time, and Daily Mirror reporter Hetty Jones is well behind the children in her investigations.

The art is cartoony, with several Sherlockian in-jokes hidden in the background.  This serves to soften somewhat the several off-screen deaths.

This volume should be suitable for middle-schoolers on up.  Parents may want to be ready for discussions on period sexism and ethnic prejudice.  (There’s also a subplot about dog farts.)

It appears that this may be the first in a series about the kids–I should mention that despite the Holmes connection, this and potential future volumes seem more about the “weird adventure” than mysteries.

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