Sparkles! Unicorns! Comics!

posted in: Dana Simpson | 3

Earlier this week I learned some great news: Neill Cameron, one of my favourite makers of comics, has set up a new website to help encourage children to make their own comics. (@ComicsClubBLOG) is all about “Helping Awesome Kids Make Awesome Comics!”

Every month the site will see a new Comics Challenge – a fun activity designed to kickstart a kids’ comics club session (you can sign up for these here, the first challenge is due out tomorrow, 13 Jan). I can’t wait to see how this resource grows.

Comics form a HUGE part of our life at Playing by the book; I reckon every third or forth book my kids read is a comic (some people might use the term graphic novel, but I’m not going to get into that debate), and I love them so much I wrote a book list with Library Mice (“Inside the Box – a selection of comics and graphic novels for all ages”) that you can order (for free!) from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

The only books I’ve ever had to buy multiple times because they have been WORN OUT by reading i.e. read to effective destruction, are comics (various Calvin and Hobbes anthologies, if you want to know). When I wanted a very special book for my husband’s significant birthday I turned to a comic (this one). I’ve dyed my own hair blue because I so fell in love with a comic strip character who does the same (you’ll need to read this to find out more!).

Comics bring our family enormous amounts of joy – and… useful vocabulary! Just this morning with the word “impeachment” making an appearance in the news, my girls understood it perfectly, thanks to having already taken this comic strip to heart.

A comic that we are currently completely and totally and utterly in love with here at Playing by the book is one that on the surface of it looks like something I would never have touched with a bargepole. I wanted to share it with you today as the first book in this series turned my assumptions (and those of my girls) on our heads.

And if you’ve any reservations about the value and joy of comics, as reading material, as sources of sheer delight (and couldn’t we all do with more of that in our lives?), I’d love to be able to put these books in your hands:

Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (@MizDanaClaire) is the first book in a series about one young go-getting, bright, imaginative girl and her best friend, a best friend who just happens to be a unicorn (brilliantly) named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (@HevNostrils).

Marigold is utterly conceited, loving nothing more than to stare at her own reflection. Yet her kindness and incredible sense of humour mean you end up wishing you had this mythical beast as a best friend looking out for you. Certainly, Phoebe is one lucky girl. But she’s also real and wonderful. She’s got a vulnerability about her (for example when she worries about her relationship with her “frenemy”, Dakota), alongside bags of courage and creativity. She’s a true child of the 21st century and yet has the confidence that allows herself to play and have fun in a way that might seem like it’s from a more innocent time.

This cross-species affectionate friendship helps Phoebe navigate issues around jealousy, self-identity, relationships with parents and boys, all with a great deal of grace, laughter and sophistication. I’ll be the first to admit I was surprised by its astute and discerning (and downright snortably funny) observations on friendship; this, after all, looks like a terribly pink and sparkly series of books, perhaps full of trite stereotypes and flim-flam. If ever there was a case, however, for not judging a book by its cover, this is it.

These books are compilations of the daily strip Dana Simson draws, and which is syndicated in over 100 newspapers, and available online via Go Comics. We’ve already put in a pre-order for the fifth book in the series, Unicorn Crossing. I just know it’s going to make us very happy and quite possibly feed us a snippet or two of wisdom as well.


When we recently spotted (decopatch) unicorn models we couldn’t get home quick enough to turn a couple into our very own Marigold and her sister, Florence Unfortunate Nostrils… (BTW, if you want to find out what YOUR unicorn name is, head over here!)

M drew Phoebe to join them, and now (appropriately enough) they stand forever staring into our bathroom mirror (who needs space for toothbrushes or glasses of water when you can have UNICORNS?!)…

All the Phoebe and Her Unicorn books come with a selection of activities to take the stories out of the pages and into your homes. As well as drawing and comics tutorials, there are recipes for snack mixes and “Unicorn Poop Cookies”, stick puppets and more. There are a kerjillion unicorn activities on pinterest and some lovely unicorn music includes:

  • Always Be a Unicorn by Helen Austin
  • The Unicorn and Princess Rainbow by StevenSteven
  • Space Unicorn – Parry Gripp and Brianne Drouhard
  • The Unicorn, here performed by The Brobdingnagian Bards

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