Little Mouse Gets Readyby Jeff SmithToon Books, 32 pages, $12.95.
Children's comics don't get more basic than this. Little Mouse wants to go play in the barn with his brothers and sisters, but first he has to get dressed. He does so step by step showing readers important things like how to button your shirt (and illustrating a narrative sequence of events). Then there's a punchline and rimshot, the end.
Smith's art is lush and spry here. I especially liked Little Mouse's Warner Brothers-style reaction at the end. There's no denying it's a cute book, made by an extremely talented guy. But this is really a book for preschoolers and those just learning to read. If you know someone like that, then Little Mouse will make a great gift. But older Bone fan, even those still in elementary school, aren't going to get too much out of this, beyond a chuckle or two at the end.
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg SubstituteLunch Lady and the League of Librariansby Jarrett J. KrosoczkaKnopf, 96 pages each, $5.99 each.
This is another superhero/super-spy parody, along the lines of Word Girl, but with a whole K-12 cafeteria theme. For example, our hero has a spatula that doubles as a helicopter blade, she throws chicken nugget bombs, she wields fish stick nunchucks, and so on and so forth.
Even by kid standards, it all feels a little shallow. The jokes basically stay on that lunch-derived level and never build on each other in a satisfying way. The characters are all rather generic and Krosoczka's art work is rather bare-bones as well. I think kids will like it — it's certainly not offensive or dull — but I don't think it's going to hang around in their imaginations the way good children's literature is supposed to. Even by second grade, they've seen this kind of thing before.
Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Playersby Frank CammusoScholastic, 128 pages, $9.99.
Combining King Arthur mythology with middle school angst is a recipe for disaster (witness, or better yet don't, Tokyopop's Avalon High) but Cammuso manages to make the whole enterprise work. Part of the reason is he isn't a slave to the source material but just takes what he needs and mushes it into a school setting until it fits. It doesn't hurt that he has a fun, rubbery, big-nose art style that plays up the comedy.
This time, Artie and his friends somewhat unwittingly enter into a robot joust contest, a feat which finds them double-dealing with basement-dwelling nerds, infiltrating junkyards and trying to avoid bullies and detention. There's no real surprises here, and the whole "don't cheat" moral comes out of a thousand ABC Afterschool specials, but Knights has nevertheless proven to be an engaging, witty series that's growing on me with every new volume.