Review of Fish and Sun and Tiny Tales: Shell Quest

Fish and Sun [I Can Read!: Comics]
by Sergio Ruzzier; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    48 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-06-307664-8    $16.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-307663-1    $4.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-307665-5    $4.99

Tiny Tales: Shell Quest [I Can Read!: Comics]
by Steph Waldo; illus. by the author
Primary    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    32 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-06-306783-7    $16.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-306782-0    $4.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-306784-4    $4.99

These two entries in the new I Can Read!: ­Comics series show its audience range. Fish, for younger, ­almost-independent readers, features an aquatic protagonist with an all-too-familiar problem: “Mom, I’m bored.” Fish leaves the dark, cold depths of the sea and encounters Sun. The two play all day until the sun sets; Fish is disconsolate until discovering that Sun returns the next day — and every day. Uncluttered watercolor illustrations, in Ruzzier’s (Good Boy, rev. 1/19; the Fox + Chick books, rev. 7/18, 7/19, and 5/21) always imaginative, slightly off-kilter style, reinforce the playful action; the natural language and phonetic patterns will serve readers well; and the emotional drama is pitch perfect. Shell, aimed at more experienced readers, features two entertainingly cartoony plump and similar-looking creatures; but while one has a snail’s shell, the protagonist doesn’t. Neither an acorn nor a thimble creates a satisfactory covering, but our hero — eventually realizing it’s a slug — fits in elsewhere, and just by being itself (although still friendly with snails). The story is told in simple sequential panels, and a smart, manageable “slug v. snail” chart is appended. Both books contain useful, identical front matter with examples of differently shaped conversation balloons and a “Quick how-to-read comics guide.” (Fish employs a single large panel per page that contains only simple dialogue balloons and narrative boxes, rendering the explanations somewhat extraneous.) The back covers offer sample panels that preview each book’s content, allowing readers to decide for themselves if they are ready for that format. Two great concepts: I can read and I can choose.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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