REVIEW: Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen
With humor, heart, and an unusual heroine who is braver than she realizes, Bree Paulsen’s colorful and cozy debut graphic novel is a farm-fresh tale that reminds readers to believe in themselves—and that strangers are not always as scary as they seem.
An enchanting debut graphic novel to give to middle grade readers who are looking to fall in love with the next Witch Boy or Be Prepared, featuring an unassuming heroine who discovers her own courage and leadership skills and learns to look past stereotypes.
Garlic feels as though she’s always doing the wrong thing. No matter how much her friend Carrot and kindly Witch Agnes encourage her, Garlic just wants to tend her own garden, where it’s nice and safe.
But when her village of vegetable folk learns that a bloodthirsty vampire has moved into the nearby castle, they all agree that, in spite of her fear and self-doubt, Garlic is the obvious choice to confront him. And with everyone counting on her, Garlic reluctantly agrees to face the mysterious vampire, hoping she has what it takes.
After all, garlic drives away vampires . . . right?
Dear Ms. Paulson,
Anthropomorphic veggies with consciousness including an anxious bulb of Garlic are the main characters – along with a vampire, in this cute children’s book. The artwork, which with it’s brown and green palette makes me think of old fashioned fairy tale books, is fantastic. I immediately knew I was in one even before I watched a bulb of talking Garlic hurry into the start of her day.
Along with being chronically late, Garlic has a lot of anxiety. At first I was a bit lost in the market setting as veggie stallholders sell fresh and bottled versions of themselves (which made me uncomfortably think of cannibalism) to human customers. Garlic is also worried that by her lateness she’s angered a witch. It’s not until chapter two that it’s revealed that Witch Agnes magicked them into consciousness in order to help her grow her garden. In the interim, some veggies have branched out into cultivating herbs and other things that interest them. Witch Agnes is like a very encouraging school guidance counselor about this. Unfortunately she happily tells Garlic that maybe one day Garlic will also be able to do the magic to make other veggies become conscious. At that point, Garlic worries that she’s already sold sentient garlic in the market. Not, perhaps, the thing to bring to mind of a Bulb who’s already anxious.
But as Witch Agnes attempts to talk Garlic down from her anxiety, something else is seen. Someone might be in the abandoned castle and Celery, for one, is sure something awful will happen. Carrot tries to calm the situation while phlegmatic Potato tells the facts. Witch Agnes – who doesn’t appear to know when to keep her mouth shut – unintentionally sows the seeds (pun sort of intended) of hysteria among some of her veggies one of whom seems to hold a grudge against Garlic and suggests that she be the one to scope out the situation.
Who knew seeing veggies wearing dresses, aprons, overalls, and boots could be so cute. The facial expressions let me follow along with exactly what they were thinking and feeling (watch out for celery, it seems benign but has hidden intentions). The friendship between Carrot (who might be non binary) and Garlic was delightful. But wow, the pressure put on Garlic – even by her best friend – was intense. She might have a natural defense against a vampire but she’s also got anxieties and self doubt issues.
Sure, the overall message is nothing new but after my initial hesitations about veggies selling their non-sentient (we hope) brethren to be eaten, and the pressure whipped up by one certain long, light green, selfish vegetable, I found that this actually has a cute and non threatening ending. Garlic discovers a new friend, makes all the rest of the veggies proud of her, but best of all finds her courage and discovers she can face her fears. Still, the next bunch of celery I see is going to get the side-eye. B-