December 01, 2016
(+++) WEB CONNECTIONS AND OTHERS
Trayaurus and the Enchanted Crystal. By Dan TDM (Dan The Diamond Minecart, real name Dan Middleton). Illustrated by Doreen Mulryan and Mike Love. Harper. $19.99.
404 Not Found. By The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman). Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
Pete the Cat: My First I Can Draw. By James Dean. HarperFestival. $9.99.
Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes. By Kimberly & James Dean. Illustrations by James Dean. Harper. $17.99.
The cross-pollination between the Internet and printed books is now proceeding at a furious pace, apparently on the assumption that people who like things they see bouncing around online will like them just as much when they appear in static form between covers. The notion works better in some cases than others. In the case of Trayaurus and the Enchanted Crystal, it does not work particularly well. “Dan TDM” has a popular YouTube channel, but the superficiality and motion that characterize such an online presence do not hold up very well when translated to a graphic novel. Certainly fans of “Dan TDM” and his characters, which are very obviously Minecraft-inspired and Minecraft-derived, will enjoy seeing them here, and certainly Doreen Mulryan and Mike Love do an adequate job of bringing them to the printed page. But readers ages 8-12, at whom this book is aimed, have many, many better graphic novels from which to choose: the attraction here is purely a matter of wanting to see these characters in a new form. There is essentially no plot: bad guy wants to rule world and good guys want to stop him. There is no explanation: enchanted crystals suddenly show up, and just how and by whom or what they were or are enchanted is never known. Action is suitable for four-year-olds but far too tame for preteens. Dialogue is super-bland: “Whoa! It exploded!” “Run!” “Watch out!” “Let’s begin!” “Are you ready to go?” “What are you talking about?” And of course there are the usual “ha-ha-ha-ha” exclamations. The animal characters are far more interesting than the human (or more-or-less-human-shaped) ones: Grim, a dog who “is now a living skeleton version of himself” (never explained), and some pigs that have encountered a crystal shard, with the result that one can talk. The whole production is puerile – not that there is anything wrong with that for typical Web use. But books invite closer looks at characters and plot than YouTube channels do, and Trayaurus and the Enchanted Crystal just does not have enough originality, much less enchantment, to attract readers unless they are already strongly committed to the online versions of its characters and settings.
The Oatmeal is somewhat more successful at making the transition from Web to print. Matthew Inman has a sufficiently bizarre sense of humor so the move from Internet to book form is often successful. His latest foray into this changeover is a coloring book, of all things, and that is something that is not to be found in electronic form (“color this” apps are a whole different experience). Whether anyone will actually want to color 404 Not Found is another matter: the fun here comes from the extremely weird sort-of-story that runs through the black-and-white pages, and from the drawings themselves. The title of course refers to the common error message that computer users get when attempting to follow a broken link – except that here Inman makes a joke of the phrase by having “404” refer to a robot (all the robots have numbers) that has mysteriously disappeared from its usual cubicle. The book sets forth a series of weird and sometimes very funny scenarios as the other robots try to figure out what could have happened to 404 – as Inman produces illustrative drawings that, colored or not, are highly amusing to see. The rhyming here is imperfect, but readers probably will not care – they will be too busy looking at the pictures. Thus, “Perhaps he left this worldly place [404 seen strapped to the outside of a rising rocket]/ and found an evil race of cats from space [strangely shaped cats carrying chainsaws]./ Maybe those cats from space [all now cutely round, one wearing underwear, but still carrying chainsaws]/ returned to this world with murderous haste [Earth completely surrounded by the cats].” And so on. Some of the scenarios here are much shorter than the space-cats one, taking only two pages: “He could have gone to the chatter holes [holes in the ground with empty speech balloons rising from them]/ and made the mistake of feeding the trolls [sharp-toothed, large-mouthed creatures emerge and attack].” The other robots think maybe 404 “went golfin’/ with a pregnant dolphin,” or “met a pair of baby owls,/ and they became the best of pals” (although that possibility does not end well for 404). Eventually 404 turns up nearby, all is fine, and everybody gets cake. Robot cake, that is. 404 Not Found is enjoyable (if overdone) silliness entirely on its own – no Internet connection necessary, even though it is the Internet connection of The Oatmeal that led to the book’s creation in the first place.
The connection is not online but with an already-popular character in kids’ books in a different coloring-and-drawing book, James Dean’s Pete the Cat: My First I Can Draw. The star here is big-eyed, sleepy-eyed Pete, of course, and this is an interestingly conceived book. Yes, it has things to color, but the idea is that before kids color anything, they should draw it on their own. There is already a lot of color in the book, to serve as a guide and provide visual interest as Dean gives step-by-step demonstrations of ways to use simple shapes to create the characters in Pete’s world: his brother, Bob; Robo-Pete; Cavecat Pete; dog pal Emma; Farmer Pete; a donkey on which Pete can ride; Cowabunga Pete, with surfboard; Pete in a baseball uniform and construction outfit; Toad using a bulldozer; Pete painting a picture of Goldie; Pete’s pirate pumpkin; and many more. The basic instructional material appears on crosshatched sections of the pages that look like graph paper, allowing kids to try each shape and character in the same size and orientation used by Dean. Then there is considerable white space for freehand drawing, including Dean’s own renditions of scenery that goes with the characters. For instance, Dean shows a train and station on a page where kids learn to draw Pete’s grandma (who is waiting for him to arrive), and includes a “Bus Stop” sign and sidewalk to use when drawing Pete, Callie and their lunch boxes at the stop. Dean offers a nice mixture of characters, plus some props – a sand castle, drum set, wrecking-ball crane, skateboard and more. Pete the Cat: My First I Can Draw is clearly intended only for Pete’s fans – it will not attract kids unless they know the character and his settings already – but for those who do like Pete and his world, this book will provide an enjoyable and colorful additional level of involvement that will be most welcome.
A regular, story-focused Pete the Cat book would be just the thing to get kids interested in Pete the Cat: My First I Can Draw, and a new one that could fill the bill is Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes. It is not, unfortunately, one of the best entries in Kimberly and James Dean’s ongoing series, but it does have some pleasant elements and does include a number of Pete’s friends. It is sort of a counting book and sort of a mystery: Pete and Gus the platypus make 10 cupcakes for a party, but the cupcakes disappear two by two until eventually all are gone. There is no counting up to 10, but there is counting down from 10, by twos. There is also the question of where the cupcakes have gone. Unfortunately, the text here is choppy – it is not a matter of poor rhymes, as in 404 Not Found, but one in which lines are very different lengths: “They counted the cupcakes lined up straight./ Now there were only eight!” “Now there were only six!/ Someone must be playing tricks!/ But who?/ Pete and Gus did not know what to do!” Eventually this very small mystery is solved when it turns out that one of the friends could not resist the yummy cupcakes and ate them all – so of course he is disinvited to the party. But then Pete decides that he deserves a second chance because he only “made a mistake,” and sure enough, he brings even more cupcakes to the party than Pete and Gus originally made – 16, in fact. So everything ends as happily as usual, and the drawing style is as exaggerated and big-eyed as usual. The front and back inside covers offer added treats in the form of many types, sizes and colors of cupcakes, including one that looks like a baseball, one sporting an electric-guitar decoration, one that says “meow,” and one that has teeth. Those inside covers are actually more fun than the book itself, but longtime Pete fans will enjoy the story in any case – no Internet access required.