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REVIEW: Little Vampire by Joann Sfar

REVIEW SUMMARY: Cute, but dark, monster stories for kids.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of the first three stories of Sfar’s Little Vampire graphic novels.

PROS: Fun stories with light-handed lessons for kids; cute characters.
CONS: An odd combination of serious/dark subject matter and poop jokes.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun read for adults and a fun-but-semi-serious read for kids.

Joanne Sfar’s graphic novel Little Vampire is a collection of the first three stories featuring a child vampire and his human friend, Michael.

In “Little Vampire Goes to School,” we meet Little Vampire who tells his family, a collection of loving and protective monsters that live in an otherwise deserted mansion, that he wants to go to school because he’s lonely. Since vampires can only be out at night, the school is empty and so his experience is less than he hoped. He does, however, send notes to a “classmate” named Michael, an orphan he eventually meets and with whom he becomes fiends. Perhaps it’s because of the basic human need for contact that the innocent Little Vampire is almost immediately endearing. It’s also neat to discover his world: the monsters that live in the mansion and inside its paintings; his smack-talking, red dog Phantomato; the back story of Little Vampire’s mother and the ghost captain; and the comic relief of a trio of monsters. There’s even a lesson about responsibility to be learned.

In “Little Vampire Does Kung Fu,” Michael gets beaten up at school and wants his monster friends to kill the bully. Instead, the ghost Captain sends Michael to learn Kung Fu. The story takes a surprisingly dark turn once he does – surprising in that I wouldn’t expect it to be included in a story aimed at young kids. Still, the overall story was entertaining and delivered another positive message in the end.

In “Little Vampire and the Canine Defenders Club,” Michael and his vampire friend meet up with a trio of dogs who escaped from an experimentation lab. The men from the lab track the dogs to the mansion and take them back to the lab, and Little Vampire and Michael try to rescue them. This was another fun story, but with a bittersweet ending.

The plots are really a little more complex and meatier than I’ve described above. The subject matter is simultaneously light (one character has a penchant for poop) and serious (Michael is an orphan, for example), making an odd combination considering the target audience. On the one hand, you have young characters in situations that are refreshingly apropos for kids: school bullies, homework troubles, loneliness, etc. On the other hand, some of the events (wishing a kid to be dead, armed B&E) seem too dark for really young readers. (Perhaps my overprotective parent mode is working overtime – I decided to let my daughter have a go at these and she loved it.) Taken together, these stories flesh out a highly imaginative world. Sfar’s drawings are detailed and eye-catching and the coloring added to them is as dreary as they should be for a world of monsters, ghosts and vampires.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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