Friday, October 14, 2011

Read Scary: Sam & Friends Mysteries volumes 1 - 4 by Mary Labatt, illustrated by Jo Rioux

Talking dog and mystery lover Sam is back, along with her human friends Jennie and Beth. I looked at the first two books in this series back in 2009 and found them enjoyable and attractive, if a little repetitive of children's mystery tropes. I finally got around to purchasing the earlier volumes for my library and then received the fourth volume for review, so we're going to take another look at this series as a whole.

In their first adventure, Dracula Madness, Jennie, a ten year old girl, is miserable because her best friend has moved away, right before summer. Sam, a plump and furry sheepdog is miserable because she’s just been forced to move to a boring little town with no mysteries! But then Sam discovers Jennie is one of the special people she can communicate with and Jennie shows her the spookiest house in town and the mystery hunt is on! With another little girl, Beth, they solve the mystery of strange Mr. McIver – is Dracula really living in his basement?

In Lake Monster Mix-Up, Jennie, Beth, and Sam are staying at the lake. They hear some scary stories about a lake monster and decide to do a little research on their own. To their horror, they discover there really are monsters in the lake – or are there?

Their third adventure is the scariest of all – for Sam. In Mummy Mayhem, Sam is enjoying a peaceful, if boring, winter when she suddenly sees a huge white worm out of her window! Could it really be the mummy of the pharaoh Menopharsib, looking for a white dog to replace his pet dog who was mummified and then stolen? Who is leaving the mysterious – and delicious – beef jerky?

Finally, Sam and the girls team up again in Witches’ Brew to save Jennie from her new, strange neighbors. The girls and Sam are convinced the three sisters are witches, fattening up animals to eat. But Jennie’s mom won’t listen to them and hires them to babysit! Will they escape and save the animals?

These graphic novels are best suited for fans of beginning chapter mystery series like the Boxcar Children but want something with just a little spooky in it. Each mystery turns out to be a simple mix-up – Mr. McIver is an inventor, the lake monsters are scuba divers, the mummy an eccentric neighbor wrapping up against the cold, and the three sisters are animal rehabilitators. But there are plenty of chills along the way, enlivened by Sam’s sassy voice and Jennie and Beth’s wild imaginations.

The black and white panel art is simple, and well-designed for readers who have just moved on from easy readers to beginning chapter books and don’t need too much distraction from the text. All of the text is dialogue, with the action and emotions clearly shown in the art and expressions of the characters. The text is readable and clear, very important for a beginning chapter graphic novel.

Verdict: Add these to your graphic novel collection for kids who are still practicing their reading skills and want to ease slowly into comics without too much visual distraction. These are also a good suggestion for parents who want “calmer” stories and are worried about violence in the regular superhero comics. Boxcar Children meet Scooby-Doo!

Dracula Madness
ISBN: 9781554534180; Published February 2009.
Lake Monster Mix-Up
ISBN: 9781553378228; Published August 2009
Mummy Mayhem
ISBN: 9781554534708; Published September 2010
Witches’ Brew
ISBN: 9781554534722; Published March 2011

Review copies provided by publisher (Kids Can Press) through Raab Associates and/or purchased for the library.

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