Robin over at No Flying, No Tights turned me on this series – the fifth volume came out this year. But, as I hadn’t heard of it before, I took volume one home to share with my boy.
Guinea PIG: Pet Shop Private Investigator. Volume 1: Hamster and Cheese. By Colleen AF Venable. Illustrated by Stephanie Yue.
This is a mystery graphic novel series for the elementary school set. Our setting is a pet shop. Young Hamisher the hamster who thinks he’s a koala is in a panic – Mr. Venezi, the pet store owner, has promised to banish all the “koalas” from the pet store if the sandwich he sets down in their cage every day doesn’t stop disappearing. (The store owner, it transpires, does not know his animals very well at all, and has mislabeled many of his animals, including finches labeled llamas and mice called walruses.) He turns to the sarcastic and world-weary guinea pig Sasspants for help, because the “g” has just fallen off of her sign and Hamisher believes that Sasspants is a PI – the pet shop’s own private investigator. Sasspants would really rather get back to her book, but as Hamisher refuses to leave her alone, she helps. Many of the pet shop animals are nocturnal, and the thefts happen during the day, so witnesses are scarce. The dauntless pair interviews a shifty snake (with a very suspicious square bulge in his body), some vain chinchillas, and a tank of goldfish with very short memories. The clues were there all along, but the answer wasn’t obvious even to me. The illustrations express the animals and their characters beautifully in a straightforward style, and the friendly and talkative Hamisher plays beautifully off of the cynical and reserved Sasspants, even in the short length of the story. The boy and I both enjoyed it. It’s animal fantasy of the type where the fantasy is that the animals can talk and think like humans, though there isn’t any magic. It’s somewhat above what he can read to himself, but most kids who are comfortable reading by themselves should do fine, and the characters are appealing to both boys and girls.