By Hilary Knight
Based on a text by Steven Kroll
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books
When I think of Hilary Knight, it’s hard to not instantly have the classic Eloise children’s books leap to mind, which he illustrated (and were written by Kay Thompson). His lush drawings of Eloise everywhere from the Plaza Hotel to Communist Russia are true treasures of the medium, the sort of fact that I think few would ever be able to disagree on. So with the release of Nina in That Makes Me Mad!, a new children’s book/comic by Hilary Knight, based off of a story by Steven Kroll? Well, to say that I was excited was an understatement. But at the same time, I was a little worried that I’d set my expectations too high.
The basic structure for Nina in That Makes Me Mad! is episodic, each two page chapter opening with a full-page chapter title and single illustration what something that makes Nina mad, followed by the facing page having a vignette that brings it to life. So for example, "When you get mad at me and I didn’t do it" then tells the story of Nina getting in trouble for splashing water out of the tub, when it was her infant brother Tony who soaked the bathroom. Each story stands alone, although it’s all capped off with a final two-pager that concludes the book nicely.
At first, I’ll admit I was a tiny bit disappointed. I opened the book and instead of seeing the richly detailed art of Eloise, I found a slightly stripped-down, more simple style of art from Knight. But the more I read Nina, the more enchanted by it I became. Unlike Eloise, this isn’t a fantastical, lavish, over-the-top world that Nina is living in, here. So it makes sense for Knight to take a different tactic for Nina in That Makes Me Mad!, to instead give less focus on an opulent surrounding and more on Nina herself. In this different style, Knight’s art is still beautifully expressive. The look of satisfaction on Nina’s face when she presents the fully-diapered Tony to her mother is just marvelous, a combination of smugness and victory wrapped together. Each two-pager also has one or two colors that Knight uses to tie the vignette; it’s a nice visual touch to make each mini-story feel like its own special package.
Just as importantly, the book itself moves smoothly. Knight and Kroll give legitimate reasons for Nina to get mad in each stressful situation, and I appreciated that sometimes it’s over something that’s Nina’s fault, sometimes it’s through the actions of a different person. Whatever the reason, though, you can feel the frustration and disappointment build, and it’s always something that a young reader would be able to empathize with. That’s in part why the final chapter is so important; it shows Nina expressing her anger in a way that then helps give a resolution to her issue and make it better. Young readers will definitely get a lot from this book, perhaps in no small part because of how much they’ll be able to understand almost everything Nina goes through in the pages leading up to that moment.
Nina in That Makes Me Mad! is an adorable book; I found myself loving a new-to-me style of art from Knight, and his working off of Kroll’s story provided a thoroughly satisfying story to read. Just about every title from Toon Books results in a great children’s book/comic that will not only be enjoyed by its target age group, but by whomever did the actual purchasing. In an industry where so many children’s books are ridiculously inane, this is one where I would be just fine reading with my child over and over again.