By Mark Bradley,
Hodder Children’s Books
The titular unicorn isn’t the only one who is very excited here – I’ve been eagerly awaiting a return to Bugpopolis (population 8,956,012 with 6,282 hat shops, and one punctured blimp), ever since reading the first of Mark Bradley’s utterly delightful graphic novels for younger readers (see the review posted here last summer), our resident children’s bookshop wizard has been desperate to nab the early copy I was kindly sent, and more than a few of our regular younger readers in our little Indy bookshop are waiting for it to appear. So, y’know, no pressure on Mark there at all!
In the first volume we learned that there were a number of interesting areas surrounding Bumble and Snug’s home city of Bugpolois, including the Sleeping Giant Mountains, She Sells Seashells Bay and – oh yes! – the Unicorn Forest! I think you can quite possibly hazard a guess as to where our duo of bestest friends are going to be heading for their trip…
Bumble, as always, is a dynamo of enthusiasm and excitement (coupled with impulsiveness), while Snug tends to think it out a bit more; this manifests itself even in simple things like poor Snug not getting a chance to pack for their trip because Bumble is so hyped up she just can’t wait to get there, grabbing Snug and zooooom! Off they go! She even explodes outside the picture frame!
The Unicorn Forest is brought to life in fabulously surreal, brilliantly colourful life, like Mark is channelling Willy Wonka via an explosion in a magical sweet store. We get close up panels and lovely double-page splashes of this magical place, including the Sherbet Fountains and Candy Caves – not to mention the super-rare Jelly Bees!!
It’s this last part where our chums come unstuck – as Bumble uses her abilities to change shape to lift Snug up to sample the jelly, they inadvertently startle the Jelly Bees, and find themselves being chased by a horde of sweet-making but very angry insects. Until they are magically transformed into colourful balloons – enter our eponymous unicorn, and new pal for Bumble and Snug, Sparklehoof. Sparklehoof saves our intrepid pair by magically changing the bees. Our new unicorn chum is terribly excited to meet them and to become friends (the other unicorns don’t much care for Sparklehoof).
Sparklehoof seems to have a dash of both Bumble’s over-excitement and enthusiasm, with some of Snug’s instinct to help people in trouble. Not bad attributes, of course, as long as, like everything in life, you don’t get too carried away for too long. And as our new buddies decide to use Sparklehoof’s magical powers to become superheroes and help people, it seems like a terrific idea. And, at first, it is, they dash around in their new superhero costumes, sorting wrongs, helping out people in Bugpopolis, until they get too carried away. In fact Sparklehoof gets so carried away that an onslaught of “help” is soon causing huge problems in the city, not least a giant kitty (shades of the Goodies and Kitten Kong for those of us of a certain age!).
I’m not going to spoil any of the story by going into it any further here – besides which, like the first book, this is one of those comics where summarising the plot really doesn’t do it justice; Bumble and Snug have to be experienced! Mark’s artwork is an utter delight to the eyes – lovely, clear work, colourful without overloading the senses (except when required for certain scenes!), and with a nice flow from smaller, four panel pages to large double-page spreads. It’s all designed to appeal to the reader, more specifically the young reader, to catch their eye, fill them with interesting details to spot but without over-complicating it which could confuse their reading (a task much harder than it sounds for any artist, especially when creating work for younger readers).
As with the first book there are extras, encouraging youngsters on how they can make their own Bugpops, draw Bumble and Snug, and also, once more, talking about the emotions in the story, and how important feelings are, but also how we need to understand them and be aware not everyone around us feels the same way we do all of the time (all gentle but nice lessons for developing minds). But, mostly, this is just pure, unadulterated joy, even for us boring, old grow-ups. It’s even more fun than a bouncy castle on top of a jelly trampoline!
The format is also nicely designed for little hands – it’s perhaps just a little smaller than the average manga digest size, something kids can easily carry around with them or stuff in their backpacks. It’s also super-fun for adults who still keep in touch with their inner child too! Can’t recommend this enough for anyone looking for good reading material for their kids! A great mix of fun, adventure, feelings and cake!
Honestly, I am smiling just thinking about the book as I write this! Joyous!
• Bumble & Snug and the Excited Unicorn will be published by Hodder Children’s Books on 21st July 2022 | ISBN: 978-1444958058 | Buy it here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
Mark Bradley is a comic writer and artist, who lives in Yorkshire with his family. He grew up reading stories about ghosts and monsters, and promptly decided that he preferred them to humans. Having worked for the probation service for many years he saw first-hand how important a skill emotional literacy is and hopes his debut series will help young readers to explore feelings in a fun setting. Bumble and Snug developed out of characters he kept drawing in the margins of other projects until he launched them on his Instagram account (@markbradleyillustration) and found himself with a book deal – something he never even dared to dream was possible.
Joe has been a bookseller since the early 1990s, with a special love for comics, graphic novels and science fiction. He has written for The Alien Online, created & edited the Forbidden Planet Blog and chaired numerous events for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He’s more or less house-trained.