30 October 2008

Notes on Camp Babymouse

Camp Babymouse is the sixth in a series of comics for the early grades created by the brother-sister team of novelist Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. It's also yet another of the 2007 Cybils nominees I'm trying to catch up on.

Babymouse always wants to be the best: the best camper, the star of the musical, and--in book #1--"queen of the world." When she starts out each adventure, "the best" usually means the most popular. Sometimes she's a bit over the top. (Rather like the addition of music to Random House's Babymouse! website--but at least it can be turned off.) But in the end her enthusiasm and persistence pays off, and we all learn valuable lessons about life.

The fun in the Babymouse books is the trouble she gets into along the way, and for me the real fun is her reactions to that trouble. ("Typical!" is a, well, typical response.) You can't take these stories too seriously, a feeling helped by the fact that the drawings seem to have been done with a couple of Sharpies.

Of course, the crude simplicity of those graphics is a bit deceptive. The cartoons work very well for the energetic story, and Camp Babymouse shows some sophisticated uses of the style. For instance, the fantasy sequences not only start and end with the cloudy borders of thought balloons, but they also take place on a field of pink.

The most novel touch for me was the narrative voice that appears in the captions. It doesn't just keep us readers up to date; it carries on a running conversation with Babymouse.

Now back to that pink. Let's face it: Babymouse is a girl. She wears a hair bow, the universal cartoon symbol of a female animal. All her books have pink as the second ink (except for this season's Babymouse: Monster Mash, which has orange). The page numbers appear in little hearts. Camp Babymouse is even more feminine than usual since Babymouse leaves her family and school for an all-female environment.

But it's not a girly book. Babymouse is an heir to no-nonsense cartoon heroines like Marge's Little Lulu, and should be enjoyed and admired by lots of people.

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