Morse, S. (2008). Magic Pickle. New York: Graphix.
MAGIC PICKLE! Doesn't a title like that just demand your attention? Okay, maybe not. But it demanded MY attention and since I have the attention span of a nine-year-old boy, it'll most likely attract their attention as well.
Broken up into chapters, this graphic novel shares Jo Jo's story of how she befriended a magic superhero pickle that lives under her bedroom. Sadly the Magic Pickle is a little behind on the times (what with sitting in a refrigerated pickle jar--ahem, I mean in a cryogenic slumber for 50 years). Despite being behind the times, Magic Pickle must prepare to face the Phantom Carrot, Chili Chili Bang Bang and other members of the evil brotherhood of vegetables that have gone bad (in the moral sense, not the moldy sense). Unwilling to be left behind, Jo Jo researches the Magic Pickle's origins and prepares to help him. But Magic Pickle is less than enthused by the thought of a sidekick. The hunt for the last rotten vegetable will lead Magic Pickle to school and Jo Jo's side. Will he be able to help her in the climactic final food fight?
With lots of pickle puns, vegetable jokes and literary and science-y names, this graphic novel has a lot of fun with language. As with many superhero narratives, there are some insults and punches thrown here or there, but as to whether or not the image of a wee orange carrot taking on a girl will rile up readers remains to be seen. More likely, it may rile up the occasional protective parent.
This book can be particularly meaningful for students who follow strict religious laws about food, since the Magic Pickle named for this series is "Weapon Kosher." I can just picture a certain Jewish man I know who grew up in the 1950s, thinking back and wishing he'd had an empowering Weapon Kosher in his youth.
And (of course) there's a whole series of Magic Pickle graphic novels to be entertained by now.
Overall a fun child-friendly twist of the superhero narrative.
Activities to Do with the Book:
This is a wonderful recommendation for students who loved Captain Underpants or graphic novels in general. As with most graphic novels, Magic Pickle requires both visual literacy as well as traditional text-based literacy. But it is longer than the Captain Underpants books, easing students into longer titles.
Since discussion of the Soviet Union is incorporated, a social teacher could take that on as a teaching moment and discuss the cold war (and maybe even bring back Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book too!). Other possible teaching topics including pickling, illustrations based on the "How to Draw Produce" guide, jealousy, embarrassment, bullies, growing vegetables, etc.
If a teacher had students working in a community or school gardening (or just completed a unit on spring, nutrition or plant growth) presented children with the option of reading Magic Pickle individually or in a literature circle could be a fun closing on the unit.
An off the wall option, for high school teachers or college professors would be to bring in this graphic novel to encourage students to do a Freudian reading of it. A magical and powerful pickle (AKA a phallic symbol) seeks to defeat other phalluses , I mean...vegitables--while a young girl both wishes to help said phallic symbol and is angry that it violated the private space of her room. Hmmm....
“My name is Jo Jo Wigman. I go to school an' stuff. I got this secret. Nobody at school, in fact nobody in the whole world, even knows. It's a big secret. I'll tell you, but you probably won't buy it."
"There's a superpowered pickle that lives under my bedroom."
"In 1951, world-renowned scientist Dr. Jekyll Formaldehyde accidentally dropped the vegetable portion of his well-balanced lunch into the path of an experimental particle confabulator."
"Dill justice became his only desire."
"Your brains are well past their expiration dates."
"I'm wearing a star. Tasteful, yet mysteriously revealing."