Frank, a bear, anxiously and unwillingly heads off to Camp Jay Bird in the first of Jonathan Schnapp's debut graphic novel series, Order of the Night Jay. The charming, purposefully educational adventure pits Frank and his new friend Ricky, a raccoon, against a pair of bully third-year scouts as they try to uncover the secrets of a mysterious cave.
Frank, the only large animal at camp, is an outcast from arrival. But Ricky doesn't seem to mind that Frank is a bear. Ricky is a risk-taker, a talker and a go-getter who ropes a protesting Frank into friendship and adventure. The head counselor, a squirrel in an oversized hat and glasses named Big Edna, acts as the camp's moral compass by regularly spouting maxims at her charges. When the other campers complain about Frank's presence, she simply admonishes them, "Just because he looks different on the outside doesn't mean he's bad on the inside." Unfortunately, a couple of campers ignore Big Edna's words and send Frank and Ricky on a wild goose chase in the woods. As Frank and Ricky wander lost, they find a scary cave and discover that it holds secrets.
Schnapp works science into the art by creating realistic images of the outdoor setting: eastern white pine, fungus, erosion. A plot twist involving the use of magnets and a compass sneaks in another STEM element. The Forest Beckons is a cute beginning to this graphic series. The lessons of fairness, inclusivity and friendship are easily understood as depicted by the likable cast of woodland characters. Young graphic novel readers are sure to find the adventure engrossing. --Jen Forbus, freelancer