Akissi: Cat Invasion
By Marguerite Abouet
Illustrated by Mathieu Sapin
Flying Eye Books
In Stores June 11, 2013
There’s something enduringly appealing about characters who find themselves in mischief. Kids are especially intrigued, as their sense of wrong and right is still in its formative (see also: more black and white) stages. But there’s a more straightforward attraction as well – in sheer interest terms, trouble trumps no trouble every time. In the tradition of Dennis the Menace, Akissi bursts onto the scene in this funny and unexpected collection of comics about a kid getting into some envelope-pushing shenanigans. You’ve gotta read this.
Over the course of seven short stories, we learn about Akissi, her family, and life in her west African town. The tales range from silly, like when Akissi’s pet monkey is lost and almost ends up as a neighbor’s dinner, to outragous, as when Akissi and her friends come upon an unattended baby and set to taking care of the tyke. Just about all of the tales will grab readers, who will likely be on the edge of their seats waiting to see how the stories end.
It isn’t often when I see something in a children’s book that shocks me, but the final story was a glorious jaw dropper. I don’t want to spoil it for you but I will say one word – a word that I can’t say I’ve seen in a book for kids: tapeworm. This is gross-out humor turned up to 11. It makes sense that Abouet saved this story for last, as it is essentially the “Bernie Mac” of closers – it has to be the finale because when it’s over, there’s nowhere else to go. You ain’t topping it. It also makes sense as it allows Akissi to finally give her tormenting older brother Fofanna some gross comeuppance.
Not exactly a full-on troublemaker, Akissi comes across as a believable kid with skamp-ish tendencies – wanting to do the right thing, but contending with factors (internal and external) that can sometimes make that hard to do. Hence – she gets involved in some hi-jinks. Wether she’s running an errand for her mom or helping her brother with “pay to watch TV” schemes, Akissi says and does what’s on her mind – often to comic effect. When her older brother and his friend tell Akissi that girls are limited to playing goalie in soccer, she grabs their ball and plays anyway. As a reader, I couldn’t help but smile at this show of playground defiance. Message sent.
Abouet, born in Ivory Coast before moving to France when she was 12, brings an authentic perspective to the characters and setting. The good and bad of Akissi’s world is presented in straightforward terms. It’s refreshing to see, and makes for a much more interesting reading.
Sapin’s expressive, sketchy illustrations remind me a bit of Aussie Terry Denton (The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow). They have a loose, alive quality – they don’t look dashed off per se, but you get the sense that the illustrator isn’t precious with his work. In its entirety the book makes for a lovely package – large in format and full of rich colors.
Young readers will be delighted as Akissi gets into and out of trouble. Here’s hoping we see more of her.
Review copy from the publisher.