Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors

This year Gloria started Kindergarten in the same school where Frances is now in second grade.  We were lucky to already have a great relationship with the school librarian (who is a reader of this blog, yay!), so she wasn't surprised to have another reader on her hands.  Now we check out piles of books out of our public library on a regular basis.  But there, the girls check out as many books as they want, so there is very little actual selection on their part.  They take home everything they might be interested in.  But at the school library, Frances can only select two books at a time, and Gloria's class only checks out one book at a time.  I'm always fascinated by what they choose to bring home on those visits.  Frances tends to choose chapter books.  A few weeks ago, she brought home My Friend Flicka because she loves the movie.  I'm not sure she ever opened it, though.  She also checked out Just Grace last week, and actually renewed it this week because she liked it so much.  But two weeks ago, Gloria checked out a book that we both instantly loved.  I wouldn't let her return it until I had blogged about it (although the librarian was nice enough to let Gloria check out another book while I kept this one an extra week!).

I also want to note that this book was also published by Roaring Brook Press, who published the book I featured last week, Viva Frida. These books are both very cool pieces of art, and I hope that the rest of their offerings are just as magical!  I'll be looking out for them.  So back to Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors...

This isn't the first book about Bow-Wow.  Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug came out in 2007, and I only vaguely remember it.  But now, seven years later, here comes Bow-Wow again.  And he's not very happy.  Bow-Wow is rudely interrupted mid-nap by three perfectly white (ghostly) kittens.  They nip him on the tail, startling him.  Bow-Wow leaps straight up, and while he's in the air, the kittens steal his comfy teal bed.  They slip out the window, but Bow-Wow is in hot pursuit.  He races across the street, and enters an abandoned house.  It certainly looks spooky, built out of gray stone, with sharply pointed shrubbery surrounding.  There are many cracked and broken windows, but Bow-Wow knows it is the right place because two little white kitten faces peer out from upper windows.

The chase is on.  It involves secret passages, mysterious doors, and glimpses of white tails.  Also, sometimes he sees just a hint of the teal dog bed to spur him on.  Or so he thinks.  Everywhere he goes, kittens follow him.  They always manage to disappear as he turns corners.  The white kittens romp through rooms, just ahead of Bow-Wow, acting incredibly entertaining and very ghost-kitten-like.  Those white kittens prefer nipping Bow-Wow on the tail, over and over and over again.  Bow-Wow searches and searches for his beloved dog bed, surprising a burglar and scaring him off in the process.  It isn't until Bow-Wow opens the very last door that he comes across the reason those ghostly kittens needed his teal bed.  There is a whole floor full of rainbow-colored cushions, and Bow-Wow's teal dog bed completes it.  It's a surprising moment, but it's not the only one in this story - there is another moment when the determined Bow-Wow goes to take back his cushion.

What's funny about this blog post is that I told you much of the plot of this picture book just now.  But I've told you that without reading a single printed word.  Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors is a perfect introduction to the graphic novel.  The pages are a combination of panels and full-page illustrations.  The action is very easy to follow.  There is a clear path that guides Bow-Wow from panel to panel throughout the house.  The kittens and Bow-Wow have likable, expressive faces so readers can tell exactly what they are thinking.  The book is expressly designed to convey lots of meaning without words.

There is a limited range of colors in the book.  Most pages only have five colors - gray, white for the kittens, a tan for Bow-Wow, and of course teal, used as an accent color and also for the infamous bed.  The usage of standard colors also helps young readers focus on the main action on the page, or in the panel.  The pictures still show movement, for instance, when the dog sees a mannequin wearing a teal dress.  Bow-Wow believes that the dress hides his teal dog bed.  He darts through the dress after two kittens who have popped out of the sleeves to taunt him.  You can almost hear the thud as Bow-Wow inevitably knocks over the mannequin.

The color palette also does something astonishing for me.  The colors are consistent from page to page, which frees your eye to see all of the details Newgarden and Cash have created.  A kitten hides himself between a wall and a piece of peeling wallpaper.  I especially love a series of drawings that starts with a ghostly kitten parading up the stairs with Bow-Wow's teal dog bed.  Bow-Wow follows behind him.  As Bow-Wow starts up the stairs in an upper right hand panel, another kitten jumps to bite him on the tail in a lower left hand panel.  And after all of them race up the staircase, more kittens peek out of each stair tread - beguiling, yet a little spooky too.

There is a definite gothic feel to the abandoned house across the street.  Bow-Wow (and hence the reader) never knows what to expect.  There's a cracked mirror, leaves blowing across the hallway through broken windows, a closet full of teal junk, cats running in mid-air.  It's surprising, yet not.  The quirky details even extend to the endpapers.  When you examine them closely, each of the fleur de lis in the wallpaper is made up of ghostly kittens.  It's all clever, and intriguing, fun and sweet.

This book rewards the careful reader.  Those details don't all show themselves on the first reading, or even the second reading.  It's why this book is a perfect introduction to panels in graphic novels, but an experienced reader will also laugh out loud at some of the fun scenes.  Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors did a great job of surprising and delighting me.  We enjoyed every moment with this book.  Check it out if you're a graphic novel fan, a dog fan, a cat fan, a haunted house fan...or a fan of really cool books.

Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors.  Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash.  Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

borrowed from Helena School District library

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