CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 11. . . .November 13, 2009
Lake Monster Mix-Up. (A Sam & Friends Mystery, Book Two).
Mary Labatt. Illustrated by Jo-Anne Rioux.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2009.
96 pp., pbk. & hc., $7.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55337-302-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55337-822-8 (hc.).
Sam (Fictitious character : Labatt)-Comic books, strips, etc.-Juvenile fiction.
Dogs-Comic books, strips, etc.-Juvenile fiction.
Human-animal relationships-Comic books, strips, etc.-Juvenile fiction.
Monsters-Comic books, strips, etc.-Juvenile fiction.
Detective and mystery stories.
Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.
Review by Keith McPherson.
Beth: The diary didn't say one monster! It just said the evil in the lake.
Sam: I know what they are! They're dinosaur frogs.
Jennie: Dinosaur frogs?
Beth: Yes! Like frogs left over from prehistoric times.
Jennie (Looking over the side of the rowboat into the lake): I don't want to be slurped up.
Sam (Also looking over the side of the rowboat): Relax. The monsters are back in the cave, and we're… Uh-oh! Maybe I spoke to soon.
Lake Monster Mix-Up is the second episode in the graphic novel "Sam and Friends Mystery Series" (see CM review of first episode by Gregory Bryan at http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/vol15/no21/draculamadness.html). It follows Jennie and Sam (Jennie's dog) as they join their friend Beth at a local camp and stumble upon a diary that uncovers a mystery in the local lake. Being the intrepid explorers and detectives they are, the three detectives use the diary to discover the mysteries that lay at the bottom of the lake and within the dark confines of a nearby cave.
The graphic novel is illustrated with fairly detailed, yet uncluttered, grey-scale line drawings that are easy for young readers to decipher. As is the case with most North American graphic novels, the story progresses in panels from front to back (as opposed to back to front in Japanese Manga). Rarely does the number of panels move beyond three per page, and the progression follows a top to bottom, left to right format, allowing children with experience reading traditional English texts to follow the visual flow of the panels. Facial expressions are clear and carry a great deal of the story's tension and suspense.
The clarity in images also offers adult readers with numerous opportunities to educate children about conventions in graphic novels. For example, when Beth falls and rolls down a hill, her rolling motion is portrayed in multiple drawings of her arms which themselves are connected with 'windmilling' lines (see the internal image). Such images showing motion and other visual conventions portraying non-visual information (e.g., sound, movement, thoughts, etc.) can be used to introduce children to such 'new' communicative conventions.
Fortunately, the tension and mysteries of this second installment are more complex and suspenseful than that delivered in the first. Furthermore, young readers will likely find themselves trying to solve the Lake Monster mystery(ies) right up to the end. I and my seven-year-old son didn't solve the main mystery until the fourth to last page.
Do not expect the mysteries to be anywhere where near the caliber or complexity or 'scariness' of more advanced mysteries like that contained in the "Hardy Boys" or "Nancy Drew" series. However, a 'plus' of this toned down 'scariness' is that young readers with vivid imaginations will be able to sleep at night. The down side is that some readers, especially older readers, will find the mystery's limited in suspense, tension and scariness to be less than engaging.
The amount of text is limited, and much of the story is carried by the images. When present, the text largely supports the images and vice versa. However, graphics convey the majority of the story. Combined with the fact that two of the three protagonists are girls (recall the third protagonist is a dog), this novel would be attractive to girls beginning to read, or Grade 3-4 girls who are developing confidences in reading English as a second language.
Although Lake Monster Mix-Up's illustrations are appealing, the story will likely not appeal to good readers who have experienced reading other mysteries and who will be expecting a plot that creates palpable tension and a 'scary' mystery. However, younger readers with active imaginations will likely enjoy this episode.
Recommended with reservations.
Keith McPherson has been a primary and elementary teacher and teacher-librarian in BC since 1984 and is currently the coordinator of the Language and Literacy Education Research Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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