First off, let me start by saying: Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day. Feel free to insert “avasts,” “arrrgggghhhsss,” and “mateys” into this review wherever you see fit.
Kids hear the word “no” a lot. They also hear “don’t,” “stop,” and “not.”
Being a kid can be a serious downer.
Things improve markedly with Mike Lowery’s Doodle Adventures series (Book One: The Search for the Slimy Space Slug and Book Two: The Pursuit of the Pesky Pizza Pirate) when, on the very first page, Carl the duck tells the small ones it’s “absolutely required you draw in these books.”
Yes, Carl the Duck, agent of the Doodle Adventures Society. And he wants YOU as a junior agent.
Carl is a fantastic guide through these two adventures (which do, indeed, revolve around the hunts for space slugs and a pizza pirate). Carl is silly, a bit irreverent, has a fantastic disguise kit, and really likes pizza (as all good senior Doodle Adventurers should). I laughed aloud a lot while I was reading/participating in the Doodle Adventures books and the kids were in hysterics pretty much every time Carl said… well, anything. It just so happens my six year old and I had a discussion of fourth wall breaking a couple of weeks ago (we’re a comics prone family and I’m currently reading The Unstoppable Gwenpool, which he happened to see laying on the table) and while in books aimed toward the older set, it’s an amusing device certain characters use to great effect, in the Doodle Adventures series, Carl speaking to the audience serves an actual, instructive purpose: he involves the kids directly in reading, storytelling, and illustration.
Lowery’s illustrations are adorable, a simple enough line style the kids don’t feel their additions ares inferior in any way but simultaneously clean, professional, and fun. The various font styles suit the themes on a given page while remaining clear and easy to read (there are even lowercase letters where there “should” be capital ones and vice-versa, much like jumbled style kids often have when they first start writing – another mechanism to help them feel connected to the text and part of the fabric of the book itself). Some pages have comic-style panels, others are more akin to splash pages, and still others are wide-open for the kids’ drawings in an excellent balance of that which needs to be read with that which is intended to be scrawled upon.
Kids at every level of artistic skill will find great joy in carrying out Carl’s assignments (dancing robot, disguise, boat, snow globe contents, monsters). My four year old did a lot of scribbling she then described to me in the context of the page upon which she was doodling but I also saw some awesome development in her figural creations (she drew a little stick figure and a big one and said it was me and her, and also a stick figure standing on a straight line she informed me was “mommy surfing”) while my son’s drawings were more detailed and… well, akin to the way another person might draw the same thing (we try not to value judge art in this house). Both small ones found equal enjoyment in adding their signature to the pages and while they’re usually a bit competitive (ah, siblings), while we were working on the Doodle Adventures, they encouraged and admired. They even let me participate a bit.
Using two skills simultaneously (in this case reading and art) engages kids in the whole process of story creation and execution. It transforms reading from a receptive (notice I didn’t say “passive,” if your reading is passive, you’re doing it wrong – yes, that is a value judgment, sue me) activity to an engaged one. Moving through the book with Carl as a guide teaches them the fundamentals of plot, action, and story beats by casting them in the role of protagonist and urging them to immerse fully .
The kids and I went through the books in one sitting each but I’m well aware my spawnlings have longer attention spans than many children their ages (e.g.: we’re currently reading them Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo as a bedtime story and most nights, we read between three and five chapters). You may need to break the books up into three or four sessions for the littles, depending on your child’s ability to engage for an extended period. Older kids (seven or eight and above) who read independently and have a little more faith in their artistic abilities can probably pace themselves through though I would highly recommend enjoying these books as a family just for the collective giggle factor. There are a few pages boy and girl decided to skip because there was more intensive drawing required, usually with several elements, but those older kids should be able to tackle them no problem (and boy and girl did go back and finish them over the course of successive days).
They have also taken great pride in having us re-read the stories to them now that they’ve finished their illustrations because the books are Lowery’s and theirs.
We’ll be on the lookout for more Doodle Adventures for sure.
Doodle Adventures, Book One: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs and Book Two: The Pursuit of the Pesky Pizza Pirate by Mike Lowery are available now from Workman Publishing.