Review by Jamie McNeil
Maddy Kettle lives an idyllic life with her parents above the family bookshop in Dustcloud Gap, accompanied by her pet Ralph, a one-of-a-kind floating spade-foot toad. Her life is happy and simple, until it’s interrupted by the Thimblewitch who turns her parents into rats and upsets everything. Things go from bad to worse when Ralph and the adult Kettles are abducted by the Spider-Goblins and taken away to their fortress in the clouds. Now all on her own, Maddy sets off to find the Thimblewitch and put things right, meeting Cloud Cartographers Harry and Silvio along the way, who in turn introduce her to a whole new world up among the clouds. As Maddy looks for her parents, she learns that folk are not always naughty for the sake of it, but often just misunderstood.
As debuts go, Eric Orchard has set the bar quite high for himself. An illustrator of children’s books by trade Orchard sticks to what he knows best, writing and illustrating this very original and charming story about a little girl who doesn’t let her fear stop her from finding her parents and making new discoveries. It is orientated like a children’s book, the narrative charming but easy to read and navigate and, like a children’s book, it has a moral lesson. Maddy has pre-conceived notions about everyone she meets throughout, usually assumed by appearances. Eventually she realises they are not as bad as she thinks, often reacting out of rejection and fear. As she learns to listen and understand, Maddy changes herself and brings everyone together. It’s a simplistic ideology (the real world doesn’t always work out like that) and might put off older readers. On the other hand, it’s a good book to use as a conversation starter with children, about looking past exterior appearance and to practice looking for people’s best attributes.
What is clear from the cover and right through the book, Orchard is a first class illustrator and Maddy Kettle is absolutely gorgeous with its mixture of watercolours and inks. The characters are utterly charming and beautifully detailed. In fact, everything is incredibly detailed with Orchard’s cloud landscape being incredibly inventive, and surprises everywhere in this new world from the transportation to the homes the denizens inhabit. The art alone is reason enough to have this book in your collection.
Remind yourself that this is aimed at children, and it will be easier to appreciate this simplistic but still really good and very enjoyable book. Because of its relatively straight-forward layout and well-placed frames, this is a great introductory graphic novel for adults and older children alike. The art is Orchard’s strength, his writing skills developing, but if there is more of this high quality to come then a second volume of Maddy Kettle is eagerly anticipated.