May 19, 2022


Mellybean 1: Mellybean and the Giant Monster. By Mike White. Razorbill. $20.99.

Mellybean 2: Mellybean and the Wicked Wizard. By Mike White. Razorbill. $12.99.

Mellybean 3: Mellybean and the Villains’ Revenge. By Mike White. Razorbill. $12.99.

     Oh, they just don’t come any cuter than this. Imagine a fluffy, huge-headed, bright-eyed little dog with the improbable-but-apt name of Mellybean, full of unending energy and enthusiasm, encountering fantastic adventures that require all the dedication and pluck inherent in being fluffy, huge-headed, bright-eyed, energetic and enthusiastic – and you still will not have the full flavor of the cuteness that is Mike White’s Mellybean trilogy. The reason you still will not have it is that Mellybean, the aforementioned fluffy, huge-headed, bright-eyed, etc., is but one of the impossibly appealing characters. He also has three henchcats named Butternut, Tugs and Charlie (or Chuck), each with a distinct personality and individual preoccupations within the overall felinity that they share (they all love canned cat food, long naps, and boxes). And this fabulous foursome encounters much ado about something in the land of, well, Ado, which is reachable through a hole in the back yard, where an interdimensional portal emerges from the nostril of a giant monster. Yes, a giant monster (hence the first book’s title); and yes, a nostril (hence a very funny “ewwwww” moment or two).

     Apparently White’s graphic-novel characters come by their endearing natures naturally: he bases the fantastic foursome on his own canine and feline companions. Presumably his household does not also include characters such as enormous monster Narra (in all the books), Hetty the hippocorn (introduced in the second book), Lemmy the griffinbear (third book), and Retta the dragonseal (also third book). White’s mind does include them, though, and that is just fine. White associates each fantasy creature with one of Ado’s four elements: air (Hetty), earth (Lemmy), water (Retta), and life (Narra). Okay, there is no “fire,” but these are books for very young readers, after all, and the “life” association creates all sorts of possibilities for reversing aging, making plants and people flourish, and gaining power if one happens to be evil. Oh – and Narra’s “eye boogers” also turn out to be genuine gold, allowing for other “ewwwww” moments as well as additional opportunities for baddies to do bad things.

     The baddies are certainly never going to win in this series – that is apparent throughout – but the way they lose, and what happens after they do, are two things that make the Mellybean books so enjoyable. The key to all this is that Mellybean has no special powers or abilities beyond puppy-ness; and that turns out to be more than enough. Mellybean’s effervescent personality helps her make friends with the understandably suspicious Narra, whose tail has been stolen by the evil wizard Wilma; and Mellybean’s penchant for running at top speed pretty much all the time helps her win the crown of Ado from an evil, self-centered king who agrees to race Mellybean because he knows a dastardly shortcut – which turns out to be his own undoing.

     There are some good human characters in the books to help balance the nasty ones: orphans Liam, Leah and Lou, and orphanage director Ms. Cooper. But there is never a doubt of where the focus and the heroism of these stories lie: in the animals. Mellybean and the Giant Monster has the pup alone in Ado, unraveling the king’s plots and power and upholding all that is good and right and happy and all that. The Mellybean-vs.-king race is the climax of the book. Mellybean and the Wicked Wizard brings the pup and all three cats to the kingdom – now ruled by Narra – and features an extended and hilarious battle between the four animal heroes and Wilma, who turns out to be pretty inept and eventually is stripped of her powers and appointed Royal Can Opener, in charge of making sure the cats always have plenty of their favorite food. The point of Mellybean and the Villains’ Revenge is that you can’t keep a good character down – or a bad one, either. The deposed king and the de-powered wizard join forces to take back the kingdom and the power, with Wilma inventing a hypnosis machine that initially puts Lemmy under her control and eventually wreaks havoc of various sorts until, inevitably, it is turned against her and the king and helps stop their scheming once and for all.

     Or is it once and for all? The trilogy is highly pleasurable both as individual books and as a totality, and certainly it seems to come to a satisfying conclusion by the end of Mellybean and the Villains’ Revenge. But these villains have returned to their menacing ways once already, and Mellybean actually says to Narra, near the third book’s end, “Hey, maybe you can visit us next time!” And Narra replies, “Now that sounds like an adventure!” So there are plenty of possibilities for even more marvelous magical hijinks if White chooses to chronicle further Mellybeaning, whether here or there. For now, as the sun sets gently over the earthly home of Mellybean, Butternut, Tugs and Chuck, young readers can be delightfully certain that the only remaining conflict will involve who, during a “good ol’ game of nap time,” gets dibs on the sunbeam.

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