Pablo and Splash by Sheena Dempsey

cover image

A gloriously full colour graphic novel,  Pablo and Splash visually strike us as Laurel & Hardy archetypes.  Taller and slim, Pablo is clearly not the risk-taker.  His pragmatism is offset by the rotund Splash, slowly freezing in their penguin colony in Antartica, and set on a tropical holiday from Pablo’s 'paradise of plenty'.

Dreaming of mocktails rather than their usual diet of krill, the text furnishes puns and playful word inventions involving their staple - krill. Holiday planning is stymied by the inevitable barriers of distance and transport. After deciding that the scientist population of Antartica hold the key, they amble in that general direction and are not disappointed. Like Alice’s slide down a rabbit hole, they come face-to-face with Dr Brain and her time/space machine, Timebender.

When Dr Brain’s back is turned, a glitch sends the penguins hurtling dangerously close to the sun before landing back in the Cretaceous period. Hungry and constantly in danger, the ‘Holiday’ is starting to lose its appeal – even for Splash.

Beautifully illustrated, the mixture of frame layouts from full page to five frames a page, depicts the friends inventing ways to fix Timebender at the very last second. Dr Brain is not cross and has more inventions to show them. The graphic design of words like ‘Holiday’ very cleverly supplies the tone of voice Splash uses, without needing to understand 'Penguish'. The duo return to see the penguin huddle unchanged and realize that you can only rely on yourself in the end. The stressful holiday soon necessitates a real holiday for Pablo, and we understand this is a formula for a series.

Engaging end pages reward with activities and fun facts about evolution, geography and animal behaviour. The dinosaur glossary informs us about the Quetzalcoatlus and other dinosaurs encountered at the Cretaceous holiday destination.  Sheena Dempsey has debuted as an author/illustrator with a deceptively silly romp about time-travelling penguins. Not to be mistaken for a first chapter book, readers of all ages will be drawn in by Splash's optimism and Dempsey’s comic timing and warm, bright graphics.

Themes: Graphic Novels, Adventure, Holidays, Penguins, Time travel, Antarctica.

Deborah Robins