Cartoonist Kate Beaton Releases a New Kindle Children’s Book!

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

I love comics — especially online comics — so I’m a big fan of Hark! A Vagrant. And last week it’s creator just released her first children’s picture book. It’s fun to see her adapting her simple-yet-imaginative style to a more ambitious project. And best of all, this cutting-edge picture book is available as a Kindle ebook!

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I’ve always liked Kate Beaton’s “peremptory” storytelling, where any premise, historical or otherwise, has to dance along to the cartoonist’s newest whims. She brings the same casual insistence to this story, plaguing her princess with a tiny pony in a land that worships warriors. There’s something exhilarating about the scope of this story, which is either an iconic tale of female empowerment or a parody of our jock-obsessed world. And it’s really nice to see Kate Beaton tackling some full-page drawings, populated with lots of minor characters from around her comical medieval town.

Plus, the drawings look great on the screen of my Kindle. There’s a funny drawing of the princess in her room, which looks like any other child’s room, except it belongs to a medieval warrior. (There’s toys scattered across the floor and a shelf of books over the bed, as the princess lies on her back and idly tosses a baseball into the air — and the horse begins eating her curtains!) And the book’s climax takes place on a big battle field — marked by a “Welcome warriors!” sign. It’s a green, grassy field where warriors are stretching out in their workout clothes, hydrating from a water bottle, or talking to a couch with a clipboard…

The battle itself is a glorious sprawl of details, with crazy colorful people doing funny, silly things. It reminded me a little of those “Fractured Fairy Tale” parodies that they used to include in Bullwinkle’s old Saturday morning cartoon. But don’t worry, no one gets hurt in the battle — even though Otto the Awful charges straight for the princess!There’s people jumping, shouting, and smacking each other with sticks. (Or are those soft plastic tubes, so that nobody gets hurt?)

The whole scene takes two pages — with Prince Pinecone tucked off to the side with her little bug-eyed horse. The busy illustration definitely creates a sense of action, and Beaton even draws someone in the audience wearing a foam finger reading “#1”. (And the man next to him is holding a box of popcorn, and wearing a baseball cap…) When Otto finally charges the princes, Beaton writes that he’s “the meanest warrior of all”! The crowd gasps, and Princess Pinecone grabs for her spitballs…

But instead of charging, Otto suddenly stops to admire the adorable pony — and soon everyone is doing the same thing. “Awww, what a cute little pony!” Otto says, ticking the small animal under its chin. ” Who would want to hurt a roly-poly pony like you?” I have to admit that this turn-around, while funny, was also a little disappointing. “We warriors don’t often get to show our cuddly sides,” Otto reveals, and the princess has found her new calling.

Or at least, someplace where she can unload all those unwanted cozy sweaters that people kept giving her for her birthday! Now they give her a trophy that proclaims her “most valuable warrior.” War is usually pretty stupid, after all — and what’s more important than getting in touch with your feelings? Like a true work of art, it makes you think — wouldn’t this ultimately have been a better outcome for every battle in the Middle Ages?

It’s always fun to be surprised by the brash plot twists of this gentle Canadian cartoonist. I’d especially liked how Beaton drew the princess in a sweater labeled “Special Girl” (when what the princess really wanted were warrior gifts). That felt iconic to me, like it was making fun of the way young girls are sometimes treated as precious (and passive) princesses, instead of letting them play hard with the little boys.

But by the end of the story, everyone is wearing the princess’s cozy sweaters. And they’ve declared her the most valuable warrior of all — because her little pony is so cute!

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A Kindle on the Simpsons

The Simpsons has been on TV for 23 years — and they’ve finally made a joke about the Kindle. Marge Simpson’s birthday is March 19th (according to this episode). So it’s a perfect time to take a look at where exactly the Kindle fits in to their imaginary hometown of Springfield.

It’s the episode where young Bart Simpson becomes a famous grafitti artist — but only to get revenge on his father Homer. In a complicated tit-for-tat, Homer punishes Bart by making him sleep in a tiny metal rabbit cage. (“You can’t strangle a boy on his mother’s birthday,” Homer reasons. “Juries hate that.”) When Bart’s finally released, he goes on a massive grafitti spree around the town, accompanied by his nerdy friend Milhouse. (Because “Every vandalism spree needs an obnoxious laugher.”) They’re drawing disparaging caricatures of Homer — and it’s exactly 10 minutes into the show that the Kindle joke occurs.

It’s in a scene where the two boys are vandalizing a billboard downtown. “Hey you punks! What are you doing?” shouts a former boxing champion named Tatum Roderick. He lives in a nearby building, where he’s keeping a pigeon coop on the roof. “If you wake my pigeons up, they’re going to do their business again.”

“And these days, there’s no newspapers — so I have to put down Amazon Kindles. I’m like — it’s bankrupting me!”

The episode was first broadcast just two weeks ago. (And according to Wikipedia, more than 5.17 million people watched it!) Of course, it’s as much a joke about the decline in newspaper sales — but implies that the Kindle is the obvious replacement. You can find the whole episode for free on Hulu, and you can also watch just the 15-second scene on YouTube (where someone has uploaded it with the title “The Simpsons s23e15 – Pidgens Using Amazon Kindle for Newspaper Scene.”)

Ironically, there are aren’t any ebooks about the Simpsons in Amazon’s Kindle store — or any ebooks by Matt Groening. But at least you can watch episodes of the Simpsons TV show on your Kindle Fire tablet. (For the episode with the Kindle joke, click here! )

And here’s an interesting piece of trivia. It’s not the first time one of Fox’s Sunday night cartoons has made a joke about Amazon’s Kindle. One fan described an episode of The Cleveland Show which had young Rollo being sworn in as the kid who takes care of his class’s pet turtle. But the swearing-in ceremony for this important grade school position didn’t involve placing your hand on a Bible. Instead, the teacher announces, “Rollo Tubbs, please place your hand on this Amazon Kindle with the Bible loaded on it!”

At the time, I took it as sign for the future, and it turns out I was right. The first Kindle jokes on TV were just the ominous funny harbingers for more Kindle jokes yet to come. “If the Kindle really is creeping into our everyday lives,” I’d asked, “then shouldn’t we be seeing it in our TV shows?” But I ultimately answered my own question with a yes and a yes.

“On our televisions — and in online discussions — we’re starting to hear about something new: all the TV characters who have Kindles!”

The Kindle on the Cleveland Show

SpongeBob SquarePants Comes to the Kindle

Happy SpongeBob Squarepants smiling and jumping

Yes, it’s finally happened. That whimsical (or annoying) little yellow sponge has officially arrived on the Kindle. Thursday Mobigloo games — the makers of Jewels and Reversi Deluxe — released “SpongeBob’s Treasure Quest,” a new game for the Kindle using characters from Nickelodeon’s popular children’s cartoon.

The yellow sponge is now black and white — but he’s also wearing a pirate’s hat and an eyepatch over one eye. There’s no animation — the storyline is advanced with four-panel comic strips — but you can almost hear the characters’ goofy voices as you’re reading the dialogue.

Hey Patrick, look at this old map.

Wow SpongeBob, that’s not just any old map. That’s a treasure map!

Wow. Whaddya say we go on a little adventure?

Okay. Where do you want to go?

The game’s web page at explains that “It’s up to you, with a little help from Patrick and Sandy, to guide SpongeBob through the deep to uncover the treasures for the Krusty Krab.” The restaurant where SpongeBob works competes with “The Chum Bucket,” and their arch-rivals try to stop him from collecting the treasure icons scattered throughout 50 grids. “It is slightly like Pixel Perfect,” explains a review on Amazon, “in that you have a grid with numbers on the side with information.” Within 48 hours, it had already become one of the top 10 best-selling Kindle games — and it currently ranks as the #239 best-selling item in the entire Kindle Store!

As strange as it seems, I feel like the SpongeBob gives the Kindle some more legitimacy as a platform for game developers. It’s the first “brand-name character” to appear in a Kindle game — someone who’s already very well-known from a major mainstream cartoon. Is it possible that someday we’ll see Kindle games with Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Shrek? Even if you’re not a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants, this still feels like a milestone.

Technically SpongeBob made some earlier appearance on the Kindle — in audibooks. In 2003, Audible began releasing audiobook versions of the “chapter book” stories for young readers describing new adventures for the show’s characters. They were read by Mr. Lawrence — one of the voice actors for the show — though unfortunately, he’s not the original voice of the talking sponge, and young listeners may notice the difference. Then again, the show’s creator had originally wanted to call the character “SpongeBoy.” His network insisted he change it when they discovered that name was already taken — by the marketers of a mop accessory!

Of course under the ocean, sponges aren’t yellow and perfectly square, but the show’s creator had made the switch as a kind of private jokes for marine biologists. (Before his career as an animator he’d earned a degree in natural-resource planning at Humboldt State University, according to Wikipedia, and his emphasis was on ocean resources.) His cartoon has since become not only Nickelodeon’s highest-rated show, but also its longest running. It’s been on the air since 1999.

The game developers who produced this game also created the Kindle utilities Easy Calculator and Sticky Notes (as well as Mahjong Solitaire and the new “Mahjong Solitaire Halloween Edition”). And the bottom line is that it’s yet another new way to have fun on your Kindle. My friend Len Edgerly interviewed me for his podcast this week (“The Kindle Chronicles”), and I tried to explain why I’m so excited about the variety of new games available on the Kindle.

Now you’ve reached a point where you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of developers, and it’s going to get wacky, like all the apps you can find on your iPhone now, where any high school kid or college kid or crazy inventor someplace out there in the world who has a wild idea for some kind of game or some kind of app, some kind of instantaneous local celebration of the holiday — can boom! Make it available in the Kindle Store for your Kindle.

I think this is an interesting hint about the future that’s going to come, where we start seeing new things to do on your Kindle that were dreamed up by some guy someplace with a wild idea. And it’s going to open the doors for all kinds of creativity and all kinds of fun, and new things that we haven’t seen before on our Kindles…

More fun things we can do than we ever dreamed possible.