Geronimo Stilton already has a considerable fan base, thanks to the chapter books that bear his name. But this graphic novel, one of a companion series, may appeal to a different type of reader --- one who prefers a more straightforward story.
THE SECRET OF THE SPHINX brings together Geronimo, his mischievous cousin Trap, his friend Patty Spring, and Patty’s niece and nephew, Pandora and Benjamin, to stop their perennial enemies, the Pirate Cats, from changing history. In this case, the cats want to persuade the pharaoh Chephren to put a cat on the face of the Sphinx instead of using his own visage. But Geronimo’s scientist friend Professor Volt is on to them, and he sends Geronimo and his friends back into time to foil their plot.
It turns out that the cats have cunningly disguised themselves as mice and claim to be channeling the Egyptian goddess Bastet, who takes the form of a cat. They convince the vizier Rat-Karue with their act, and he in turn tries to sway the pharaoh. Meanwhile, Geronimo and friends land in the desert near where the pyramids are being built and almost immediately save the architect, Ratty-Atum, from being crushed by a runaway building block. The mice use this royal connection to get an in with the pharaoh’s household, but the cats counter by persuading Rat-Karue to turn on the pharaoh and imprison him and the rest of the royal family. Fortunately, Egyptian buildings are full of secret passages, and Ratty-Atum knows them all; he rescues the mice, and the story has a happy ending.
Naturally, there is an educational component to this book: The story is frequently interrupted by panels explaining this or that aspect of ancient Egyptian life. The style of the panels is quite distinct, however, and it’s easy for kids who aren’t interested to skip them. But some of the educational content is built right into the story, so without realizing it, the reader learns about the relationship between the pharaoh and the vizier, the class structure of ancient Egypt, even what sort of beds the Egyptians slept on.
The story is told in a straightforward way, although there are side trips and plenty of slapstick. With seven to ten panels per page, two or three word balloons per panel, and plenty of background detail, it is a bit more complex than a typical kids’ comic, but the story and characters are engaging enough that readers should be pulled right on.
In one way, though, this book is simpler than the chapter books: The prose version has a lot of goofy puns, and unusual words are picked out in varied typefaces, often in color. Some readers love that aspect, but for those who find it distracting, the graphic novels provide a simpler way to enjoy the time-travel antics of Geronimo and his pals.
Reviewed by Brigid Alverson on August 18, 2009
The Secret of the Sphinx