Disclosure: I received a review copy of Malice in Ovenland, along with compensation for my time and effort in crafting this review. All opinions are 100% honest and my own.
I have always loved reading. Let my mother tell it, I started reading right out of her womb. Or maybe that’s just the way I interpreted it, since she’s told me the story of reading at two years old so many times. The point is that my love of the written word is a lifelong affair. And I want to pass that love on to my kids. The challenge, of course, is that kids these days (did I just really just type those three words? How old am I?) have a lot more stuff competing for their attention. So if I want to get my 11-year-old daughter to read, I have to give her something fun and interesting. And Malice in Ovenland, the new graphic novel written and illustrated by Michelene Hess, fits the bill perfectly.
First, let me just say Yaaaaaassss! I love being able to share books with my daughter that feature Black girls as lead characters. I truly believe that representation matters, and I can’t remember any comics that I read growing up with any characters who looked â€”Â or spoke or dressed â€”Â like me. My daughter devoured this story in part because she could see herself in it.
Malice in Ovenland features Lily Brown, a bright young girl from Queens who is mad because her mom is making her spend the summer tending her organic garden, cleaning the house, and doing extra schoolwork to get her grades up. She also has a bit of a habit of being outspoken. And the first few pages reminded me so much of my daughter that I was tempted to look around to house for cameras to see how this writer could possibly know my life!
One day, while cleaning the oven, Lily discovered a path â€”Â a tunnel, really â€”Â that would take her on a wildly unexpected adventure that would teach her some lessons that she would never forget, including the importance of friendship, self-love and inner strength.
I don’t want to give away the story, but it is riveting and funny, and it is beautiful to watch Lily find herself â€”Â literally and figuratively â€” in the middle of an adventure that is so much bigger than anything she ever could have imagined. The story is colorful and unique â€”Â even a tiny bit dark at times â€” and unlike anything either of us have ever read. Plus, the end was satisfying â€”Â both for my daughter and for me as the consummate Black mama.
The artwork is also beautiful and expressive. Every panel is drawn with painstaking detail, and I feel like I got to know Lily a little better with each drawing. I can’t wait for her next feature story.
If you know a kid who loves to read â€” or one who you’re trying to encourage in that direction â€” Malice in Ovenland is the perfect choice. And it’s an engaging read for comic-loving adults too. You can head over to Rosarium Publishing to buy it now.
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