July 01, 2021


Animal Rescue Friends. By Meika Hashimoto and Gina Loveless. Illustrated by Genevieve Kote. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     Small, everyday adventures of children and animals are a natural way to engage young readers, and Meika Hashimoto and Gina Loveless certainly know how to create them – with Genevieve Kote’s pleasant illustrations capturing the moods of the five connected chapters in Animal Rescue Friends and helping differentiate the characters, who are otherwise rather flat and undistinguished. What makes the book as a whole a bigger success than it might otherwise be, though, is not the stories or the art, but what comes after the narrative.

     The tales themselves are simple ones. “Maddie and Boyd” starts with a girl named Maddie finding a stray dog – a pit bull, no less – who immediately takes to her, and she to him; she names him Boyd. But Maddie and her mom (there is only one parent, as is common in books for children nowadays) live in a no-dogs-allowed apartment, so Maddie cannot keep Boyd. She and her mom therefore bring the pup to Animal Rescue Friends, a place where animals of all types are cared for. Their owners are sought and, if they cannot be found, the animals are adopted out – a good deal more simply than this sort of thing is done in the real world, which is something parents should explain to young readers who enjoy this book and decide they will just go get a pet the way people do in the graphic novel.

     “Bell and Kiki” introduces a second girl and a just-given-up ferret named Kiki, who has had six kits and is very protective of them. There is some interplay between Bell (a fixture at the rescue) and Maddie (who has just started volunteering there), in addition to some brief insights into Bell’s home life to parallel the first-chapter ones into Maddie’s. The third chapter, “Mikey and Hopper,” features a very shy and sometimes bullied boy who encounters a rabbit whose ear infection causes him to keep his head tilted permanently to one side. Mikey not only speaks up for and adopts Hopper but also has to deal with bullies Jimmy and Noah and their shenanigans. Then comes “Noah and Pepper,” in which Noah turns out to be a good guy after all, rescuing an injured cat and turning out to be the only one who can handle him – with even Jimmy being won over at the end. Finally, “Maddie and Paxton” is intended to be bittersweet (but only slightly): Boyd’s owner shows up, identifies the dog as her Paxton, but comes up with a way for tearful Maddie (who, remember, cannot have a dog in any case) to spend a lot more time with the pup.

     This is all very sweet and nice, and the stories are pleasantly paced and, of course, packed with every bit of the multiracial multiculturalism that is de rigueur in today’s books for young people. Kids who read the five chapters and stop after the fifth will have a good time with Animal Rescue Friends and will likely hope for a sequel – which will be easy enough to create, given the already extensive cast of human and animal characters here. But kids who continue beyond the stories to the final two dozen pages of the book will get something extra that makes Animal Rescue Friends really special. Those 20-plus pages are an unusually detailed guide to today’s method of creating comics: what different types of comics are, who makes them, what roles are played by various people in the creative and publishing process, and more. Many adults will likely think of comics as drawings made by a single artist and, at least originally, published in newspapers – but that is a woefully out-of-date view of how many are made today. Yes, there are some traditionally created comics and cartoons still around, although even they use a modicum of electronic enhancement nowadays – everything from computer-aided design and color to computer-generated lettering (differences in hand lettering used to be some of the significant distinctions among comics). But when it comes to Animal Rescue Friends, and the vast majority of today’s graphic novels and comics and cartoons, creativity is a team effort.

     That is what the last part of this book explains and shows. The section has its own writer, Whitney Matheson, although Genevieve Kote is still the illustrator – which helps tie the explanatory material visually to the fiction. Called We Make Comics, this final portion discusses the many contemporary types of comics, including ones popular in Europe and Japan; explains the different elements of a comic book, comic strip or graphic novel; and then has a comic-style illustration of a real professional graphic designer say that “you have to be a team player to get things done on time.” How much of a team player? Using real people (drawn as comics, albeit very realistic ones) as examples, Matheson goes through the roles and expectations of the writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor – with characters from the first portion of Animal Rescue Friends participating in the presentations. The comic-style drawings of the multiple participants in this modern team-style cartooning world then urge kids to try creating their own comics; and then there is a glossary of comic-related words and terms. Of course, none of this is the point of Animal Rescue Friends, and it is unlikely that most young readers who pick the book up will be looking for or expecting anything like this final section. But it is this added, interestingly educational material at the end that takes a collection of some pretty straightforward kids-and-animals stories to a higher level and makes this book worth more than a once-over-lightly reading.

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