CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.
Dracula Madness. (A Sam & Friends Mystery, Book One).
Mary Labatt. Illustrated by Jo Rioux.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2009.
96 pp., pbk. & hc., $7.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55337-303-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55453-418-0 (hc.).
Detective and mystery stories-Juvenile fiction.
Graphic novels-Juvenile fiction.
Human animal relationships-Comic books, strips, etc.-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 1–3 / Ages 6–8.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
Beth: Jennie, you just talked to the dog!
Jennie: Um…not exactly.
Beth: You did! How do you know Sam heard clicking?
Jennie: It sounds crazy.
Beth: What sounds crazy?
Jennie: Something weird happened to me today.
Beth: What happened?
Jennie: Well…I…I hear what Sam is thinking.
Dracula Madness is the first instalment in the “Sam & Friends Mystery” graphic novel series. Sam is an Old English Sheepdog with an interest in mysteries. When Sam’s owners move into a new house, 10-year-old Jennie is sent to welcome the new arrivals. Jennie misses the neighbour and friend who used to live in the house that Sam now occupies. As such, Jennie is looking for a new friend and is looking for things to distract her mind from her loneliness. Jennie is enlisted to be Sam’s new dog walker. Fortunately (and inexplicably), it turns out that Jennie has the ability to hear Sam’s thoughts.
Together, Sam, Jennie and another girl, Beth, set out to uncover the mystery behind the reclusive Mr. McIver, around whom all sorts of weird rumors revolve. After investigation, Sam and her friends conclude that McIver must be the vampire, Dracula.
The illustrations have depth and texture and are generally pleasing to the eye. Although Jo Rioux’s artwork is strong, the plot to Dracula Madness is unconvincing. Mary Labatt’s story is not strong enough to sustain interest. Given Kids Can has flagged their intent to develop a series, future plot lines will need to be much stronger. As a mystery, the absence of suspense and intrigue is a serious flaw.
As with all Kids Can Press material, the physical presentation of the book is without fault. Dracula Madness has a sturdy cover, strong, durable binding and thick paper, made to withstand wear and tear from multiple readings.
Aside from the book’s cover image, all of the illustrations are greyscale. The illustrations and text for the book are sufficiently large to be read with ease. Most pages have only three or four separate panels/images per page. Many pages also feature only a single image. Many of Rioux’s drawings contain more background detail than we often see in graphic novels. The background details, however, do not distract the reader. Rather, the illustrations help to supply some of the information otherwise missing but necessary.
Given the limited text and simple plot, the book is tailored for young readers. It might prove a suitable text for girls experimenting with independent reading. Overall, though, the story of Dracula Madness lacks substance.
Recommended with reservations.
Gregory Bryan teaches children’s literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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