Babymouse: Queen of the World!

by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Random House, 2005

96 pages

Think of comics, and what comes to mind?  Superheroes?  The Sunday paper?

What about serious literature?

Unless you’re a librarian, or maybe a bookseller or critic, probably not.

But, if you know where to look, you can find everything in a comic that you’d find in a good book: craft, story, complex characters, thought-provoking themes.

The one thing you might have trouble finding is something for a middle-grade girl.

Today’s comics are generally written for an older, male audience–teen boys, to be precise.

But sister-and-brother team Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm are bucking that trend.  Their Babymouse comic, in publication since 2005, is tailor-made for tween girls.

We first meet Babymouse in Queen of the World!, a sassy, lighthearted romp through the trials of tweendom.

The title character craves glamour, excitement, and adventure–instead, she has alarm clocks, untameable curly whiskers, a sticking locker, and mountains of boring homework.  Her only consolations are her best friend, Wilson the Weasel, and her overactive imagination.

Her primary fantasy is to live a cupcake-addled existence as queen of the world, but an invitation to the popular Felicia Furrypaws’s slumber party is a close second.

She eventually scores the invitation–but then discovers that being popular (or even being queen of the world) isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Queen of the World! is a winner on many fronts.  As with most comics, the art is the primary medium, and the Holms don’t disappoint.  Their black-white-and-pink illustrations are lively and clever without being overly artsy–perfect for the new-to-comics crowd.

But the text is brilliant, too, with just enough commentary and narration to heighten the humor.  I especially love the snappy interplay between Babymouse and the narrator.

What really makes the book for me, however, is the story.  Or, more specifically, the story in Babymouse’s head.

She imagines herself, variously, as a queen, a starship captain, a gunslinging Wild West card player, and a noblewoman seeking the help of “Dr. Weaselstein” (with Felicia playing the role of the monster, of course).

I’m always inspired when someone offers girls in a foothold in a male-dominated realm.  Being shut out of anything, whether it’s an occupation or a literary genre, is discouraging.  It sends a subtle message that you’re just not as important, not as worthwhile.

Giving a girl Queen of the World! is a great way to say, “This door is open to you.  Read what you want, create how you want.  And don’t let anyone shut you out.”

It’s the lesson Babymouse herself has to learn as the story progresses, along with the lesson that not every door opens onto something good.

Tweens are on the cusp of independence; their next step is the realm of choice and self-determination.  So it’s good to get them thinking about what their values are, about who they want to be as a person and a friend.

Those are the very issues Babymouse must face, and she handles them in a way that’s confident but real.  Like the queen she is.

Do you have any comics you like to share with the girls in your life?  Maybe I’ll review one of your suggestions!

To date, the Holms have published 14 Babymouse issues.  Number 15, A Very Babymouse Christmas, is due out in September 2011.

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