Little Monarchs

Writer / Artist
Little Monarchs
Little Monarchs graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House - 978-0823451395
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9780823451395
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Adventure, Young Adult

With most graphic novels, even better ones, it’s not too difficult to come up with a tweak here, or a nudge there that would improve the experience. Little Monarchs sails through that test with ease, with only the single exception noted below. Jonathan Case constantly surprises, yet keeps the cast and situation eminently plausible, draws meticulously and throws in many nice little extras. Additionally, there’s so much to be learned, such as how to make blackberry pie, how every human’s heartbeat is individual, and what to do if bitten by a snake. These are all trimmings, though, as is the ability to follow where Case moves the cast via GPS co-ordinates.

Despite taking place after the apocalyptic scenario of people dying if they spend too long in sunlight, this isn’t a desperate fight against adversity, but generally a joyful road trip that slips in the occasional reference to what’s happened. The primary characters are adult Flora and Elvie, aged eleven, who’re driving around the Western states tracking the migration of the Monarch butterfly. This has a vital purpose. As a caterpillar the Monarch feeds on the Milkweed plant, which makes the adult butterfly poisonous to other creatures, and a serum derived from Monarch butterflies provides short term immunity to the early 22nd century’s fatal form of sun sickness.

Flora’s ultimate aim is to develop a vaccine offering permanent protection. Her intensity contrasts Elvie’s youthful enthusiasm, yet she loves and cares for a child not her own, hoping one day she might be able to reunite Elvie with her parents. Elvie is the star, and it’s from her irrepressible viewpoint that everything is experienced. Flora maintains an education programme, and Elvie keeps journals, entries from which are scattered throughout Little Monarchs. She’s an absolute delight, smart, adaptable and caring, and completely drags you into her world.

Case keeps the drawing simple, but extremely expressive, with Elvie unable to conceal the emotions written across her face. Older readers familiar with their comics might be able to see Doug Wildey in the art, and Little Monarchs has the same adventurous spirit as the Jonny Quest series Wildey worked on in the 1960s. There are dangers, but few of them are human, and they’re pitched at a level so as not to be too upsetting. One slight flaw is the casual discarding of someone once they’ve served their narrative purpose, which seems mere cheap shock, but otherwise this is a beguiling story of bonding over adversity and a delight from start to finish.

The young adult graphic novel has grown massively in popularity since 2010, and the surprise is the general high standards from creators often little known to comic readers. Even with the quality bar set high, Little Monarchs towers above the genre peaks.