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‘Your Pal Fred’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Michael Rex
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

 

If you can picture what might happen if the late Mister Rogers suddenly found himself in Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic nightmare world, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the delightful new all-ages graphic novel from Michael Rex, Your Pal Fred.

We’re told there had been several wars, a comet, and some stuff with cats you really don’t want to know.

As our story opens, though, we’re plopped down into a desert world with ragtag machines on wheels belching black smoke as they gather stray humans for an army.

Two armies, actually.

You see, Lord Bonkers and Papa Mayhem, despotic rulers of the two rival desert kingdoms, are about to start yet another war.

Pug and Plug are two young brothers who have gotten away from the giant machines and hide in the underground remains of what was once a shopping mall—in particular a toy store where they accidentally activate “Your Pal Fred,” a life-sized little boy robot leftover from the old world.

Fred is designed to spread peace and love and kindness—and stickers. As you might expect, he is totally out of his element. Of course, his A.I. programming doesn’t allow for him to make that determination so he sets out to do what he was programmed to do!

He finds out about the two dictators and decides that the best thing for all would be if they would just become friends so that becomes his impossible mission—to talk them out of going to war by using kindness. Along the way, he helps a lot of people (and one robot), planting the seeds for all of them to come back to help him later.

The most interesting and complex character is actually Wormy, the female thief who takes pity on Fred’s naiveté and decides she has to keep an eye on him…or does she?

This being the type of book it is, the ending is fairly predictable but the wonderful details of how we get to it are so exciting, funny, and well-told that Your Pal Fred is just a joy to read.

As near as I can tell, the author is a veteran children’s book author and not technically a cartoonist, but his comics storytelling skills are amazing. At more than 250 pages, I couldn’t put the book down and read it entirely in one sitting. The colorful art was, we are told, all done in Photoshop, a technique that Mr. Rex has obviously mastered as well.

Reading Your Pal Fred was such a nice experience that it made my day, just like Fred himself. Oh, and, intentional or not, Mister Rogers’ first name was Fred. Be kind, people.

Booksteve recommends.

 

 

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