Kip bounced on the balls of his feet, then launched into a slow, loping run “Leaf on the wind, Kipper,” he whispered as he ran. “Leafonthe. . . wiiiiii – YIKES!”
Kip hadn’t accounted for the rain. Which, considering he lived in Vancouver, was a GLARING oversight. Granted, it was sunny at the time of his leap, but it had been raining only moments earlier. The slick pavement made the soles of his sneakers slip. Which made his legs kick up.
And the “leaf on the wind” did a mid-air double barrel roll that would have netted Kip a lot of likes on the FacePlant channel under the category of “OOOH, That’s Gonna Leave a Mark.” Too bad Kip could never convince any of his friends with camera phones to join him in his parkour exploits. Or, maybe not. It had probably been pretty embarrassing. It had certainly been painful. And Kip didn’t really have that many friends to speak of anyway.
Daisy has a dilemma. At her new school in Vancouver, everyone must choose a school sponsored camp to attend for the May Long Weekend Campstravaganza. She decides that art is her “true calling” and starts sketching. She quickly learns that she has no natural artistic talent. In fact, she is terrible – which is why she is so confused when, after a strange occurrence at her school involving a fellow native of Dimly, Manitoba, Daisy finds herself attending the Art Camp on a full scholarship. She is even more surprised to find herself an oddly shaped pineapple after attempting to sketch a still life portrait.
Author Lesley Livingston, in the “Acknowledgements”, writes, “working on this series has been bonkers.” She and three other “magnificent weirdos” conspired to write “The Almost Epic Squad” series which features four children who were exposed to a mysterious element, Reidium, as newborns in Dimly, Manitoba. Now, as each child is about to turn thirteen, their potential transformation into superheroes – or at least teenagers with weird superpowers – is being watched. Each of the four books in the series follows a different child through the child’s transformation, with the question being: Will their powers be harnessed for good or for evil? In Simply Sketchy the reader is introduced to Daisy Kildare whose cranium received a dusting of Reidium while she was an infant – but only the right side.
As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Daisy can turn herself into anything she sketches as long as she uses a Dimly-made pencil which was also unknowingly imbued with Reidium. There are a few problems with this newly identified superpower. First, Daisy is a terrible artist, and so the sketches she turns into rarely resemble the item she was trying to sketch. Second, the only way she can return to her own original form is for someone to erase the sketch. Enter her soon-to-be sidekick, Kip. Kip, an awkward Parkour-wannabe, has been attending Art Camp for years because his mother is the art teacher at their school. Fortunately for Daisy, Kip is an extremely gifted artist who agrees to help her learn to draw and to help her experiment with her new ability.
Ostensibly, Simply Sketchy is about Daisy’s first learning she has a super sketchy ability and then learning how to use it. Livingston, however, must also add to the storyline of the series, and so she introduces her readers to a variety of subplots and backstories. In fact, she tells her narrative through three very different lenses. Livingston takes turns telling the story of Daisy’s transformations, Kip’s and Daisy’s experiences at Art Camp, and the adventures of Kip’s pet, Percy, a three-legged, one-eyed rescue marmot through Daisy’s and then Kip’s perspectives. The other plot is followed through Gerald, a talking rat (a result of experimentation with Reidium, of course) who finds his role as the evil genius’ minion to be less than satisfying. Gerald and his fellow henchman are hiding in the top-secret Cryptolair close to the Art Camp researching cryptids like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster for the Boss, a mysterious bad guy who wears various animal costumes and rides around in a smelly blimp plotting nefarious schemes.
Livingston and her writing cronies start each tale with a short graphic section providing the backstory of the children’s exposure to Reidium in Dimly. The rest of the story is provided in text with intermittent graphic frames sprinkled throughout. I was disappointed that the visual elements were used so sparingly considering Daisy’s epic power is sketching. The graphic novel genre would have been an excellent medium for this tall tale.
Simply Sketchy is a cartoon rendition of summer camp – goofy, energetic, and larger than life. It is a story that could have been written while eating marshmallows filled with chocolate deep in the night. As any good camp counselor will tell you, although sleep deprivation combined with a sugar rush equals fun and a giggly high, this is inevitably followed by a crash the next day. Similarly, reading Simply Sketchy is fun if you can suspend your disbelief, but, in the end, it needed a bit more depth to be fully satisfying.
Jonine Bergen is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba.