It’s hard not to like a main character who brings a lab coat and briefcase to elementary school.
In one panel of this third outing for Mal and his talking dog, Chad, a boy is wearing a hat shaped like a giraffe. This is never explained, except that he’s auditioning for the talent show. The real reason for the hat, of course, is that McCranie likes to draw giraffes. It’s the same reason there’s a giant bust of Albert Einstein on the lawn of Mal’s school. Mal is a boy inventor, which gives the artist a chance to draw a clock with a robot hand popping out of it. “Why not invent an alarm clock that wakes you up gently…?” Mal asks rhetorically. The hand, he notes, “tenderly pats you on the head until you wake up.” Kid inventors are not popular at Einstein Elementary. Mal’s crush, Megan, won’t even invite him to her birthday party. Sometimes Mal will glance at her across the room, and she doesn’t look back. These scenes are drawn with as much skill as the giraffes and robots, and they are heartbreaking. In another panel, Mal sees Megan and skips into the air with joy. He’s a foot off the ground, and the tiny picture shows exactly how it feels to be in elementary school and in love.
This emotional honesty alone is a reason to buy this book; the giraffe and Einstein are the icing on McCranie’s cake. (Graphic fiction. 8-11)