We almost didn't read Phoebe and Her Unicorn; it sat on my daughter's shelf for months, untouched, because it looked like something pink and princess-y, and that's not really her thing. But the kid got it down and started reading it to herself — really reading it to herself, as in, we'd have to take it away from her when it was time to get ready for school. My wife glanced at it, and asked if I'd ever really looked at it: "It's really funny!"
So that night, I started reading it to Poesy at bedtime. Even though she'd already read halfway through, she was very happy to have me re-read those early strips to her. And I was even more glad to do it. I quickly discovered that Dana Simpson was doing something wonderful with Heavenly Nostrils: telling a hilarious, sweet, and unsentimental story about a kid and her imaginary friend ripped straight from the Bill Watterson/Calvin and Hobbes playbook, but with new, lateral moves that are strictly her own.
Phoebe meets Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the woods one summer vacation, coming upon the magical creature transfixed by her own reflection in a pond (being captivated by one's own lovely reflection is the unicorn's downfall). Phoebe throws a rock in the pond and is offered a wish for rescuing the unicorn: "to be my best friend."
Unlike Hobbes, Marigold isn't a toy, and unlike Hobbes, Marigold can be seen by people other than Phoebe. However, Marigold has an adjustable SHIELD OF BORINGNESS that she can dial up in the presence of Phoebe's parents so that they find nothing remarkable about the fact that she's invited a unicorn over for dinner. This is a great wrinkle on imaginary friends, a reversal of the Calvin and Hobbes world where Calvin sees the world as he wants it to be and everyone else contends with dull reality-as-it-is; in Phoebe's house, she and Marigold alone are living in the real world and everyone else is blinded by magic and unable to see things as they are.
Like Calvin and Hobbes, Phoebe and Calvin's adventures work on many levels — anarchic kid humor, snarky adult humor, slightly over-their-head jokes that kids enjoy once they're explained. We read from Phoebe and Her Unicorn every night a bedtime and when it was done, we followed the directions in the appendix and practiced drawing our own unicorns and little freckled girls.
Peter "The Last Unicorn" Beagle wrote a tremendous introduction to this volume, and in looking it up, I discovered that a second collection, Unicorn On a Roll, is due in May. I've pre-ordered mine!