The Bawk-ness Monster

First Second. (Cryptid Kids: Bk. 1). Jun. 2023. 224p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781250834676. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781250834669.
Gr 3-5–In this first entry in a new series, middle schooler Penny prepares to move from her hometown and enlists the help of her friends, Luc and K, to track down a cryptid who saved her life. Bessie, Penny’s nickname for the Bawk-ness Monster, has the lower body of a sea serpent and the upper body of a chicken; she rescued Penny from drowning years before. Penny’s overprotective mother won’t let her out of her sight, so the three friends hope for a distraction during a camping trip so that Penny can see Bawk-ness. Trouble strikes when the group and Bawk-ness are captured by cryptid broker Alvida Scales, a sublimely villainous meanie, whose underwater lair contains a veritable cryptid zoo. Bright colors, bold illustrations, and frenetic energy match fast-paced dialogue, and the cryptids are a delightful mix of mashups, giving readers characters like the Bigtaur (half Bigfoot, half centaur) and the Yeticorn (half Yeti, half unicorn). Laugh-out-loud gags run throughout, with tender moments emphasizing relationships between characters. A flashback gives context for Luc's exploration of gender identity. Most human characters present as white; K has brown skin. Back matter includes an illustrated look at the process of creating a graphic novel.
VERDICT A chaotically fun series opener that grabs readers from the first pages.

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