Unicorn Power!: Lumberjanes, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Unicorn Power!: Lumberjanes, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Spirited comics-based novel has girl power to the max.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A few different types of plants and mosses named and illustrated. Trial and error explained. A few advanced vocabulary words like "placid" and "fauna" defined; many others aren't defined. Many famous women's names dropped (like Yayoi Kusama, Ursula LeGuin) without explanation may encourage readers to look them up. Briefly explains how fog is created.

Positive Messages

Nature is full of big and small wonders; explore it. Know about nature so that you can enjoy and protect it. It's great to be in a place where you can be your true self. Sometimes knowledge and basic skills are all that stand between you and disaster, like being able to read a map so you can find water. It takes teamwork to accomplish something difficult or complicated. It's fun to try for badges and medals, but those things won't help you get back down a mountain. Messages about safety and rules being important safeguards are slightly undermined for younger readers by the gang always going off on adventures without telling anyone where they're going. A boy who doesn't feel like a boy uses gender-neutral words for himself and is readily accepted at the all-girls camp. The Lumberjanes pledge has a line blacked out and a note alongside that there's "a line about God, or whatever." The camp director uses "goddess" in exclamations that traditionally use "God."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The five cabin mates each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they all model friendship, caring, learning, curiosity, and jumping into adventure. They are reckless and brave and eagerly take on the impossible. Illustrations show a range of skin tones and hair types. All characters model an almost limitless range of things girls can learn to do, including welding, quilting, playing the accordion, and lots more. Positive models for same-sex relationships include Jo's two dads and Molly and Mal's romantic relationship; homosexuality itself is not a topic.

Violence

A couple of brief mentions that April's mom is no longer living.

Sex

A same-sex couple holds hands, and one kisses the other on the forehead.

Language

"Crappy," "butt," and "damn."

Consumerism

Based on a comic book series. A few mentions of music acts and specific songs create atmosphere. Sleater-Kinney's "Get Up" mentioned as good for campfires and group hugs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! is the first in a planned middle grade series based on the popular Lumberjanes comic books. This fantasy blends unicorns and shape shifters with can-do girl power, encouraging teamwork, friendship, and caring along with real-world learning and skill building. Lots of positive messages to ignore gender stereotyping and promote problem-solving, encouraging yourself through a tough task, supporting the group, and lots more. Magical adventures always happen when the group sets off away from camp without telling anyone, so you might need to discuss safety and clarify your rules with your budding adventurers. Positive models for same-sex relationships include a few brief mentions of having two dads, and two of the campers in a romantic relationship hold hands and kiss once on the forehead. A boy who doesn't feel like a boy is readily accepted at the all-girls camp. Shows girls as capable of learning and doing just about anything you can think of. Inspires wonder, curiosity, and a sense of stewardship over the natural world. 

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What's the story?

LUMBERJANES: UNICORN POWER! continues the adventures of April, Jo, Ripley, Mal, and Molly begun in the Lumberjanes comic book series at the summer camp for "hardcore lady-types." This particular adventure begins when the campers of Roanoke cabin find a lost unicorn in the woods. Using their knowledge of flora and fauna, they're able to reunite Dr. Twinkle with the rest of the herd, which frolics and roams at the bottom of a mountain that's just begging to be climbed. Mountain climbing requires teamwork, concentration, and quick thinking, which the gang has in spades. Once they reach the top, the path mysteriously vanishes. What's it going to take to get back down?

Is it any good?

This fun and funny comic-book-turned-novel is absolutely loaded with middle grade girl appeal, with five high-spirited, unique campers who model teamwork, learning, and bravery. Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! (yes, there are unicorns) ignores gender as a possible limitation and opens readers' imaginations to limitless possibilities. The characters are likable and admirable in their own ways and pursue interests varying from accordion playing to welding. It's especially refreshing to see characters strive for achievements like medals and badges without sacrificing friendship, caring, or mutual support.

Some of the appeal feels manufactured, as though the author threw a dart at what's popular with middle school girls and happened to hit unicorns. Resorting to fantasy elements like unicorns, shape-shifters, and a magic mountain could undermine the message that there's an infinite world of wonder to explore out in nature. But tweens and young teens who easily suspend their disbelief will get a lot of positive messages about ignoring gender stereotypes and the limitless possibilities out there for a girl who wants to discover them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! makes a good book or not. Why do you think the comics series was turned into a book? Have you ever read the comics? If you have, which do you like better: the book or the comic? If not, do you think you'd like to check out the comics now?

  • Which badges would you try for if you were a Lumberjane? What's something you'd like to learn how to do?

  • Would you like to be able to explore nature? If you live in a city or town, how could you connect with the natural world?

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