Guinea PI: Hamster and Cheese

Guinea PI: Hamster and Cheese by Colleen AF Venable; illustrated by Stephanie Yue
New books! One of the best parts about being a librarian is getting that brand-spanking new budget all ready to go and finally ordering those new books you’ve been salivating over for the past few months. Then, when the day arrives and you see that big brown box full of wonderful new stories… it’s like Christmas, but better- there are no awkward gifts to sort through, you got everything you asked for this time. For me, a brand new box of graphic novels is especially exciting because I know that every single one of them is going to circulate, and circulate a lot. And since kids comics just seem to be getting better and better these days, they’re helping to create a new generation of readers brought up on quality material who can’t help but fall in love with reading because of the sheer joy they get from it.
Anyway, enough heavy stuff… on to the review. One of the first titles to pop out of the box when I opened it up was Colleen AF Venable’s Guinea PI: Hamster and Cheese. This one is the first in a series (no worries, I ordered all that are currently in existence), and from what I can tell, we’re off to a good, humorous start.
(Grades 3-6) Sasspants is a guinea pig in a pet shop owned by the nutty Mr. Venezi, who can’t tell a mouse from an alligator and has literally mis-labeled all the animals in his store to very funny extremes (snakes are llamas, fish are three-toed sloths, etc.). That’s ok with our hero, however, who has a cage stocked with all of her favorite books and is content to just while away the days, reading page after page. This literary bliss is interrupted by an anxious koala (who’s actually a hamster) who thinks that Sasspants is a Private Investigator because the “G” in PIG fell off of her sign (Sasspants, by the way, is the only correctly labeled animal in the store, no explanation as to why). The koala-hamster, whose name is Hamisher, needs help finding out who keeps stealing Mr. Venezi’s sandwich, because the owner has threatened to get rid of those bad koalas if it goes missing one more day. Sasspants (re-dubbed Detective Pants) reluctantly agrees to help and the game is afoot as the duo begins questioning the shop’s quirky inhabitants to determine who the culprit is.
This story is a short, witty adventure that is largely character-driven, which is great, because all of the characters are thoughtfully imagined by Venable and beautifully drawn by Yue. The back-and-forth between Sasspants and Hamisher drives the story and their dialogue is hilarious in it’s off the cuff wit; every conversation they have is punctuated by snappy one-liners that will catch readers off guard and leave them laughing heartily. This does, to some extent, push the age level of the book up, not because of inappropriateness, but because many of the jokes will be difficult to get right off the bat (For instance, Hamisher is an artist and whenever he draws something, he suddenly appears dressed as a famous artist from history- I laughed out loud when his coif suddenly resembled a certain 1960’s pop-artist). This could prove to be a problem for the series, since they look as if they are geared towards younger readers but require the knowledge base of 4th grade or higher to truly get everything in the story; it leaves the books somewhat caught in that awkward middle ground of appeal. Still, I think the story is compelling enough and the artwork fun enough to appeal to readers of all ages, especially as the series progresses and readers become more attached to the characters. From there, Venable and Yue will be able to add on to their zany pet shop world with more complex plot lines and deeper humor that will turn everyone into devoted fans of the series.

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