Random House continues to impress with its series of original graphic novels created for young readers, with Kaeti Vandorn’s Monster Friends being yet another fine work to enchant and connect new readers to the comic form.
Monster Friends is a lighthearted graphic novel intended for 6-11 year-old readers, focusing on the whimsical adventures of two creatures named Reggie and Emily. Reggie is a one-eyed shapeshifting creature who has come to the ocean for the summer to decompress. While not explicit, we see that Reggie is dealing with problems in their life and is suffering from loneliness. Emily, a bunny-like organism, brings an outgoing outlook to life, while also suffering from feelings of exclusion within their family. Together, they explore a sea serpent’s lair, host a beach party and learn to strengthen each other by highlighting each individual’s personalities.
There are countless books for young people centered around how to work with others and develop friendships, but not many address it in the way Vandorn does in this graphic novel. While themes of respect and general acceptance are commonly presented in works for children, it’s rare to focus on how working through problems may not simply be about putting the right material variables in place. The characters learn by seeing how others approach a problem and thinking about how that method can be incorporated into one’s own methodology. The character interactions are how problems are addressed in the narrative, with a fine message for young people to consider.
The book itself is a brisk read, even for young readers. My 6-year-old is learning to read and was able to finish the book in two evening sessions. While it is light on text, Vandorn communicates subtle information effectively and clearly in her visuals. Even with the absence of dialogue and exposition, the narrative concentration is well-defined and competently blocked on each page. The color palette applies what appear to be digital pastels and gives off an idealist summer vibe, keeping with the tone and direction of the tale.Having said that, there are moments of true visual fear used to communicate Reggie’s personal trauma. Vandorn’s artistic style is charming with a unique voice that my children enjoyed; we would often need to stop on a page to laugh at the way characters communicated their contemplations visually.
Random House Graphic rightly recognizes that books like this will inspire a new generation of creators and have taken to giving readers some lessons in comic design at the end of the book. My daughters diligently used these lessons, put together by Vandorn, to make their own versions of her characters. These supplemental elements give this book (and others like it) a real staying-power after students have completed their initial reading of the text.
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