If television has taught us anything, it’s that the most effective and entertaining crime-fighting partnerships consist of individuals who, despite divergent personalities and levels of competence, manage somehow to put their differences aside in order to nab the bad guys.
Poppy and Sam, the heroes of Montreal writer-illustrator Cathon’s new picture book, fit that paradigm to a T. Poppy, a little girl who lives in a pumpkin in the middle of a vast garden, is smart, focused, and kind – and acts as a caregiver to the many plants that surround her home. Sam, a red-scarf-wearing panda, is also kind but lacks Poppy’s drive and focus. When trouble arises, he has a hard time tearing himself away from the unripe strawberries he so desperately wants to eat.
The trouble comes in the form of a bite mark on the leaf of a basil plant named Basil. Poppy promises to unmask the culprit and enlists Sam to help. Interrogating the local insect life leads them nowhere, nor does laying a trap for the perpetrator. Finally, they soap poor Basil up, then simply follow the bubbles to the guilty party: Earwig, who feels terrible about the whole thing. All ends well, with Earwig learning a lesson about asking first – consent being a critical issue even among flora – and the heroes share a well-earned feast of fresh strawberries.
Cathon, whose previous book was the graphic novel Vampire Cousins, keeps things ultra-light here. Her garden setting is a decidedly genteel locale, where Ms. Honeybee plays cards with the Wasp sisters on Tuesday nights. The mildly goofy Sam is an excellent foil for the more driven Poppy, and the pair’s sincerity and mutual affection is charmingly rendered, though the vividness of the colours with which they are illustrated tends to cause the plant characters to fade into the background a little. And for a story that is ostensibly a mystery, Cathon’s tale lacks a particularly satisfying resolution: Earwig only enters the story as a character when he is nabbed, and we don’t learn much about his motivations. But the charm of the two central characters is strong enough to warrant having them take on new cases in the future.