The STAR SCOUTS adventures begin thanks to a happy accident, and from then on there’s no stopping Avani Patel. Mike Lawrence’s STAR SCOUTS, a new graphic novel from First Second, recommended for ages 7-12, has everything kids love about middle grade stories. A diverse host of alien beings, lots of attitude from the heroes, fart jokes, and a parent who seems oblivious to strange goings-on and doesn’t question odd wording on permission slips for a week of sleep-away camp. See? Everything!
Avani, the main character, doesn’t feel comfortable in her new school, especially when it comes to Flower Scouts. So when Mabel, an enthusiastically friendly alien, mistakenly beams Avani up to her spaceship, Avani welcomes the distraction. The girls become fast friends, and soon Avani has deserted her fellow humans (and Flower Scouts) for weekly visits to her new Troop of Space Scouts, even going to a week of space camp!
Once at Space Camp, Avani deepens her friendships, finds a nemesis, and learns about her strengths and weaknesses. By the end of the week she has even learned a thing or two about conflict resolution and diplomacy. Space Scouts has a creative take on the usual “outsider” middle reader storyline, and readers will enjoy the surprises as well as the familiar arc.
The action is fast-paced, silly, and entertaining. Mike Lawrence’s illustrations are bold, creative, colorful, and emotive. Avani, the hero of Space Scouts, is Indian-American, which adds a welcome infusion of diversity. Her favorite past-time is rodeo riding, and she speaks Hindi (translations included!) in several scenes. Avani’s personality has depth that includes strength, grumpiness, curiosity, rebelliousness, courage, and vulnerability. Readers will recognize many aspects of themselves, and some will even question her choices when they are not particularly kind.
If I may be a snowflake for a moment: Avani and other characters have their issues with passing judgment. Avani describes the Flower Scouts as shallow, boy-crazy and only interested in makeup and decoupage. Once in space camp, there is also teasing of the “methane-breathers,” and this running joke carries through several scenes. The nastiness between girls felt rote and simplistic. My 8-year old even commented: “They can’t help what they breathe. Why is Avani making fun of them?” I wish there had been more overt pushback on (human) gender stereotyping. On the other hand, the camaraderie between the friends, and their ability to overcome disputes and differences helped soften my disappointment.
Overall, I found Space Scouts really fun to read, as did both of my kids. It holds up well to multiple readings, both in story and in imagery. We were all happy to find out that there is a second (maybe third?) book in the works. STAR SCOUTS, published by First Second, is set to come out on March 21st, 2017. Preorder it from your favorite local book store.