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Oval Man
Oval Man, a superhero from outer space must stop Triangularus, resident of Planet Isosceles, from stealing all the triangular slices of cheese pizza on Earth. Can Oval Man and his faithful sidekick pup named Ovaltina stop Triangularus before another child’s lunch disappears into thin air? A large gap exists in children’s literature where science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) blend seamlessly. This shortfall led to the creation of Oval Man, an indie book aimed at 2nd-4th grade, but fun for all ages. Oval Man is a science fantasy book written by retired art and drama teacher Mary Davis Gage. Mary is also a professional storyteller. You can view her website at Mary holds an MA in Communication & Storytelling Studies from East Tennessee State University. Her attempts to make human and animal figure drawing more fun for her elementary school students blossomed into a series of stories beloved by young artists. The book also serves as a step-by-step “I Can Draw” tutorial for children using nothing but ovals. Mary’s 16-year-old daughter provided illustrations. Mary often notes that Anya, adopted from Moscow as a baby, is a much better artist than she will ever be. Don’t be fooled by the age of the artist and the simplicity of her character and vehicular renderings. They are intentionally straightforward so children (and maybe some adults!) will be encouraged to draw them. Her double-page layouts of the Solar System are lush, vibrant, and intricate.
Gage debuts with an educational delight, filled with vibrant illustrations that pop with color and playful shapes. Triangularus, a monster from the planet Isosceles formed entirely of green triangles, despairs that where he’s from “all the food has three corners and tastes like garbage grease.” So, he hops in his Right Rocket and embarks on a quest for three-pointed food boasting taste and texture–which leads him to target Earth and its legendary delicacy, pizza. Meanwhile, Oval Man, the story’s hero and owner of a spaceship named Sweet Tater, lives on Ovaliscious with his wife Ovalah (who happens to be the planet’s president) and dog Ovaltina. He takes on the job of hunting down Triangularus to spoil his theft of Earth’s pizza from its hungry school children.

Light and somewhat lilting prose moves readers quickly through the tale’s simple plot. Educational concepts appropriate to children in the higher range of picture book years are peppered throughout, while scientific and astronomical references–from the Milky Way galaxy to Mars’s lack of water–play nicely alongside the narrative’s emphasis on geometry. The characters are appealingly rendered, and the painted starscapes in the scenes of intergalactic travel are eye-popping, sometimes drawing focus from the text. Gage and illustrator Anya Louise Davis round out the book by including an art lesson at the end, giving readers the opportunity to draw their own figure made only of ovals, just like the cheery and courageous protagonist.

Gage’s simplistic, albeit catchy nomenclature is one area in which this gem falls short–though the invented proper nouns are memorable, their repetition quickly becomes overwhelming. The somewhat elevated vocabulary may challenge young readers and their caregivers, but will also provide learning opportunities. However, this story’s cool gizmos and delightfully named spacecraft, not to mention the slight cliffhanger ending, ensure this playful tale will be an entertaining bedtime reading.

Takeaway: A fun, brightly colored geometrical adventure for younger children.

Great for fans of: Aviaq Johnston’s What’s My Superpower?, Claire Evans’s The Three Little Superpigs.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B