March 25, 2021


Breathe Deep, Little Sheep: A Calm-Down Book for Kids. By Jessica Lee. Illustrated by Lucia Wilkinson. Andrews McMeel. $17.99.

Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior Graphic Novel: An OP Alliance. By “Cube Kid” (Erik Gunnar Taylor). Story adapted by Pirate Sourcil. Illustrated by Jez. Colored by Odone. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

     Children are famously resilient, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has tested them just as much as it has tested adults. And just like their parents and other grown-ups, kids can definitely use some coping strategies to handle the widespread disruptions to their home, school and social lives. For the youngest children of all, Jessica Lee offers a super-basic picture book called Breathe Deep, Little Sheep, designed to show some very simple relaxation techniques and to encourage parents and other adults – whom she addresses on the book’s final page – to take matters further by reinforcing and expanding upon the book’s lessons and suggestions. Thanks to the warm, gentle illustrative art of Lucia Wilkinson, Breathe Deep, Little Sheep is a relaxing book from the start. It starts with visualization, with a picture of a puppy cowering beneath a bed as a storm rages outside: “Don’t be nervous, little pup,/ the storm will soon be over.” And then, on the next page: “Close your eyes and picture this:/ a field of flowers and clover.” And here Wilkinson shows the puppy happily romping outdoors on a bright and pleasant day, presumably by imagining just such a scene. Each four-page sequence (a two-page spread to lay out the negative feelings and another to counteract them) proceeds similarly. “It’s tempting when you’re anxious/ to curl up tight and hide,” writes Lee, and Wilkinson shows a hedgehog curled almost entirely into a ball. Then: “But open up and use your words./ Say how you feel inside!” And the little hedgehog is seen talking to a bigger, grown-up hedgehog, which looks on with empathy and understanding. The animals shown throughout this short book are uniformly cute; among them are a penguin, bunny, puffer fish, squirrel, and of course the little sheep of the title. All the drawings are expansive and sweet in their simplicity, whether showing an undersea scene, a springtime meadow, or a snowy glade with frozen pond. The text is sometimes on the tortured side, with Lee determined to put ideas across even at the expense of clear writing: “When a problem feels enormous/ and you don’t know what to do,/ just break it into little steps:/ one hop, two hops, go you!” Still, everything here is so well-meaning that adult readers will surely appreciate it, and the recommendations on the final page have some genuine helpfulness to them. For instance, instead of simply saying that kids should practice “mindful, gentle breathing,” Lee suggests how to do that – by holding up a pinwheel and making it spin slowly by exhaling deeply and gradually. Breathe Deep, Little Sheep will not make a significant dent in the difficulties of life during the pandemic, but it will help adults help kids take some small initial steps toward a greater sense of calm and equanimity.

     Adventure and excitement rather than anything calming are the point of the unofficial Minecraft-based adventure novels written by the fan who calls himself “Cube Kid.” The starting point for those adventures is now the beginning of its own series – of graphic novels based on what “Cube Kid” has written, as adapted by three other Minecraft fans. The “OP Alliance” part of the graphic novel’s title is not formally explained, but “OP” can refer to “Original Poster” or “Overpowered” in online gaming, and could just as well mean “Opposites,” since the whole point of the book is the way opposite-seeming characters unite as friends and companions instead of following societal and parental expectations by fighting each other and then settling into the dull drudgery of expectations of everyday life. The protagonists here – shown as typical Minecraft characters in the expected squared-off world of the game – are Runt, who does not want to be a timid carrot farmer like everyone else in his village, and dreams of becoming a warrior; and Blurp, who does not want to be a villager-eating monstrosity of a zombie like everyone else in his village, and dreams of becoming, well, a villager. The two strike up an unlikely friendship when both venture beyond the bounds of their respective home areas and support each other in modest adventures – before Runt realizes that Blurp is a zombie (but by the time he does find out, it’s ok, since by then the bonds of camaraderie are stronger than those of, you know, zombies eating people and people destroying zombies and all that). Another team member is a wolf named Mobslayer, tamed by Runt through the simple expedient of being given a single bone. And then, later in the book, the team is joined by a true warrior – but a timid one, named Maggie, with something to prove and considerable self-doubt. This (+++) book is simply plotted, with the usual kind of “introduction to ongoing adventures” elements that are common in first-of-a-series novels, whether graphic or not. And it is strictly for Minecraft fans: there is nothing sufficiently unusual in it to attract non-fans to the book (or, for that matter, to Minecraft itself). Still, those who know the “Cube Kid” books and those who do not know them but enjoy the idea of seeing some Minecraft elements in graphic-novel form will have a good time with this first entry in a planned series of visual adaptations of the “Cube Kid” version of Minecraft-based stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment