Stinky Cecil (from Amp Comics for Kids)and his cohort of pond and forest critters have a real problem – progress. There’s a freeway headed straight for their habitat and they are on a mission to stop it. It’s no small feat, especially for Cecil, a toad, and his crew, consisting of a worm, a frog, a salamander, a hamster with a penthouse and a remote control car, and a reincarnating fly.
Despite the high-stakes, life-or-death situation Cecil and company find themselves in, author Paige Braddock delivers an age-appropriate, vividly illustrated, fast-paced graphic novel for kids age 4 to 13.
The kiddo and I were perusing the Elliot Bay Book Company this spring, just after her 4th birthday, looking for something new. I’d run the gamut of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, and was utterly burnt out on Angelina Ballerina, and wanted to explore comics or graphic novels we would enjoy together. Elliot Bay has a stack of young readers’ graphic novels, and more than a handful of the Amp Comics for kids. We browsed a couple and decided to try out Stinky Cecil. It was a good choice, for a few reasons.
First, it’s a gentle foray into graphic storytelling. There’s some drama – in the form of a faceless human race expanding the highway – and much comedy. Every few frames have a punchline, and most of them land, which I was thankful for. Most important, though, is that the plot and the themes have teeth, even if few of the protagonists do. There’s an unspoken theme of the importance of nature preservation and the consequences of unchecked industrialization (heavy, right?). There are other odd and edgy themes in play – the protagonists employ the old “enemy of my enemy is my friend” strategy at one point, risking life and limb in doing so. There’s sabotage, reincarnation, complex interpersonal relationships, and all of it is easily digested by a 4 year old.
Second, and as important to us, is what Stinky Cecil in Operation Pond Rescue lacks. There are no super heroes, no villains per se, and no violence. The conflict comes in the form of differing but equally valid perspectives on life. The action comes in the form of animals zooming through the wetlands in a tiny car, and making several assaults on an inanimate object. There are a handful of body-function jokes, but they’re topical, not rude. There are no scantily-clad victims in distress, and the end-of-the-world scenario comes in the threat of the end-of-the-pond. Small scale. Accessible.
Stinky Cecil isn’t exactly complex, but there’s an underlying sophistication around the friendships and partnerships, their common goals and interests, and the strategies, teamwork, and tactics they use to solve their own problems. Unfortunately (spoiler), none of their planning pans out. That’s not to say they lose their pond, but despite all the best intentions of having the crew avoid their own ill-fates, what ultimately saves their slippery skins is a deus ex machina in the form of environmental scientists. So, if you weren’t ready to clobber your engaged reader over the head with the Endangered Species Act, the ending leaves just a little loose end in that regard. Even though they eventually have their problems sorted out by the same folks that cause it (humans), the bonding and cooperation remains the centerpiece of this delightful work.
Appropriate for all ages. Deals with urban sprawl, nature conservancy, reincarnation, the food chain, natural self-defense, strategic self-defense (non-violent), friendship, courage, all in whimsical and colorful storytelling and illustrations.