Children's Corner: 'Babymouse' is a superhero kids can identify with
Siblings Matthew and Jennifer Holm are the team behind "Babymouse."
The "Babymouse" series features a heroine girls can relate to, in a graphic-novel format.
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As the only girl in a household of boys, Jennifer Holm grew up learning how to spit, climb trees and play kickball.
Like her four brothers, she also read lots of comics, especially those starring superheroes such as Superman and Batman. But she often wondered why there were no women superheroes except for Wonder Woman.
"I just couldn't identify with her," Holm said. "It might have been her bustier [a type of push-up bra top] -- or maybe it was the go-go boots."
Years later, Holm, working with her artist brother Matthew, created the female comic-book character of her dreams -- Babymouse -- a mouse with a sassy attitude and a passion for pink. Just like many kids, Babymouse finds her daily life pretty drab, but she's got big dreams for herself, if only she could figure out a way to rid herself of that bully Felicia Furrypaws once and for all.
Using the graphic-novel format, in which Babymouse's story is told in a series of comic-book-style panels over 96 pages, the Holm siblings completed the first Babymouse book, "Babymouse: Queen of the World," in 2001. Jennifer wrote the text, while Matthew did the artwork.
But it took a couple of years to sell the book. Publishers, who today are desperate to break into the now-lucrative graphic-novel market for kids, weren't particularly interested in "Babymouse," despite the fact that Jennifer had won a Newbery Honor for her first children's novel, "Our Only May Amelia."
The Holms finally sold the "Babymouse" manuscript to Random House in 2003, and the book was published in 2005 to critical acclaim. The books, aimed at children ages 7-10, quickly became favorites with young readers, who loved the series' humor and graphic-novel style.
Since then, the Holms have published seven other "Babymouse" books, and the series has become an anchor of the fast-growing market of graphic novels for younger readers. While the series, with its female star and palette of pink, black and white, appeals mostly to girls, boys also can enjoy the way Babymouse single-mindedly tackles the challenges of life -- both real and imagined. In addition, Babymouse's best friend is a boy weasel named Wilson.
"Boys tell us they like the books, too, in spite of all the pink," Jennifer Holm said in a recent speech to the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. "And my brother has a 'Babymouse' T-shirt that says, 'It's not pink -- it's the lightest shade of red.' "
Growing up first in Washington state and then in Pennsylvania, Jennifer Holm always had a book in hand. As she writes on her Web site (www.jenniferholm.com): "One of our neighbors said recently that his clearest memory of me as a child was watching me rake the lawn one-handed while I read a book with the other!"
After graduating from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Cumberland County, Jennifer Holm headed to New York, where she became a broadcast producer of television commercials and music videos.
Matthew Holm, who was the political cartoonist for the Penn State University newspaper in college, eventually joined her in New York, creating artwork to self-publish on the Internet. More information about Matthew can be found on his Web site, www.matthewholm.net.
While living in New York, Jennifer Holm one day had what she now calls a "Babymouse" day -- a day when just about everything has gone wrong.
"The image of Babymouse came into my head, and I drew her on a napkin with her hands on her hips," she said.
She showed the drawing to Matthew, and the two began playing with the idea of creating a book featuring Babymouse.
"We worked on her over several years," Jennifer Holm said. "We wanted her to be someone who we can all identify with. She has bad-whisker days, a best friend who is a boy, an annoying little brother, a mean girl she has to deal with at school, a locker that eats her homework and a P.E. teacher who wants to eat her."
While the Holm siblings continue to collaborate closely on the "Babymouse" books, they now do so from afar, as she lives in Maryland and he lives in Oregon. Thanks to computers and FedEx, the process is fairly seamless, and the two are beginning work on another graphic-novel series together.
They also have done one non-Babymouse book together, a graphic-style novel called "Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf," and both have other projects going. Jennifer has written several "Boston Jane" historical novels for children, as well as the Newbery Honor-winning "Penny From Heaven."
Currently, she's concentrating on raising her two children, ages 4 and 1, and trying to write another novel.
"I'm on year three of this novel, and I just started rewriting it from scratch -- again!" she said.
First Published June 24, 2008 12:00 am