Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Nika and Mangold are two young tween girls. Mangold’s family includes a couple of younger sisters, Nika’s is just her with her dad, and the two best friends attend school together in their small German town. We are introduced to both of them on a typical day as Mangold interrupts her comics reading to help her mother with chores (although not very well), and Nika is practising on her bass guitar while her dad works on his laptop. The two of them leave their houses to meet and enjoy the nice weather, and they run into a new girl who has just moved into the neighbourhood. Lotte seems interesting, so they invite her to join them on a tour of their favourite spots and before you know it, Nika, Lotte and Mangold are a team.
In this book, Thomas Wellman creates a colourful and cheerful slice-of-life narrative for young readers, with relatively small scale but funny incidents. The three girls engage with a variety of school annoyances, take on bullies and turn them into friends, and use their intelligence to beat a few other challenges with plenty of humour and inventiveness. Structurally these stories are much simpler than the twisty-turny farcial misunderstandings of Pimo & Rex, but the kind of logic that solves a puzzle with some lateral thinking works well to make Nika, Lotte, Mangold! less predictable than usual for this kind of book. Wellman’s fluid approach to design presents the lifestyles of his characters without any kind of dramatic underscoring of difference. It works especially well to show a range of family groupings and gender identities as simply a fact of life. Mangold is allowed to be whatever she wishes, changing appearance sometimes quite radically from story to story without any editorial commentary, which is very refreshing to see. The twelve short chapters are an easy, uncomplicated read. There’s enough background detail and little jokes that repeated readings will be fun for children and the parents who might be reading this book to them over and over while they wait for another volume.