Advance Review: `SkullCat And The Curious Castle’ Challenges Kids’ Assumptions
by Tom Smithyman
When is a vampire not a threat but a friend? When he thirsts for water, not blood. That’s just one of the many lessons in challenging the assumptions found in this graphic novel for middle school students.
First days on the job can be rough. But for Scully the Cat debut as a gardener may take the cake.
Then again, what do you expect when your new job is at a place called Le Dark Chateau, whose owners are a family called Lament?
Over the course of that first day, Scully meets up with a whipping tortoise, a goblin and some ghosts. But all is not as it seems in this dark, haunted castle. Over the course of this graphic novel aimed at middle school students, nearly every character Scully meets defies expectations. There’s the vampire who drinks water, not blood. There are the people who you think are going to be mean because of what others have said about them. Of course, they turn out to be the nice ones. And those who start off seeming friendly are anything but.
Norman Shurtliff, who writes and draws the story, understands his adolescent audience and tries to teach them a lesson while telling them a fantastical tale. He largely succeeds, though the story can occasionally be difficult to follow. That’s primarily because of Scully’s great attitude. Despite everything he sees, as well as the horror he feels, he gets up and goes to work every day. While his work ethic is commendable – he’s doing it partly to care for his ailing father – Scully jumps from situation to situation without the kinds of transition we would normally expect. On the plus side, it keeps the story moving.
Shurtliff’s artwork is clearly aimed at kids. The monsters are cartoonish, and there’s nothing that’s going to upset little ones. He changes up the color palette for variety, so young eyes aren’t going to get bored while flipping through the pages.
The story may not break much new ground, but kids will find it enjoyable enough – and they should end up learning a good lesson in the process.
SkullCat And The Curious Castle will be available for purchase on February 21, 2023.