From Bree Paulsen. Published by Quill Tree Books.
This delightful graphic novel might be marketed for kids but it’s fun for anyone who enjoys a good heroic tale. In this world of anthropomorphized vegetables, a potential threat emerges. All of the vegetables alert Witch Agnes that there is activity in a cabin far off in the woods, and all signs point to a vampire. These vegetables are child-like and full of all the complex emotions children feel every day but don’t know how to express. The story gives attention and validation to all of the emotions a kid could face when their comfortable lifestyle is uprooted.
Garlic is an adorable little bulb fraught with anxiety. She feels like she can never do anything right, and is her own worst enemy. Already this book is setting up shop too close to home for me. Carrot is her best friend and a source of much needed positivity. Celery is the type that puts down others to cover his own feelings of inadequacy. He’s also the type that is smart about it too and seems to avoid getting in trouble, despite all of the kids seeing it. A conversation I’ve had with my son at least weekly as he doesn’t understand why the teacher doesn’t say anything to a kid that got away with some comment.
They and other vegetable friends assist Witch Agnes in her garden and with other chores in this nonspecific but familiar fantastic land. All of the vegetables have their own personalities and the lead ones are very well developed. Their daily interactions and life would be enough for a graphic novel, without the drama which is about to unfold. A far off cabin shows signs of life and everyone becomes aware that a vampire has taken up residence. Garlic is chosen to be the one to confront the vampire because, duh, she’s garlic. Her fear, anxiety, and self doubt nearly overwhelm her yet for the sake of her family she pushes through on this mission.
From kids to adults there is an overwhelming paralysis due to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what happens next, fear from worry if I/they/we can come through it and emerge whole on the other side. Garlic worries over every bit of the journey but accepts that this is up to her. If she can’t be strong for herself, she can be strong for her community. Many times since being a father I have had to tell my kid to be brave. The first day of school, doctor’s appointments, being out in the world in general. In doing so I trick myself into being brave for him. I can’t do it on my own, but I can do it for him. Garlic and the Vampire is not only a great lesson in bravery but also in unexpected outcomes. We all worry over 100 imaginary scenarios but it’s always the 101st way we never thought of that actually plays out. Garlic, and the reader, never saw the actual outcome of her meeting with the vampire coming, yet it plays out perfectly and ties in with so many other lessons from the book.
As more teachers build their classroom graphic novel shelves to help their kids literacy and emotional growth this title will captivate their students with beautiful earthy tones, huggable (but not edible) characters, and lessons they can use immediately and throughout their lives.