“I can’t ignore the animals’ messages. Sophie was right, who cares what other people think about me? If I can do some good by helping animals, that’s all that counts” — Cassandra, Cassandra Steps Out, p. 19.
|Creator(s)||Isabelle Bottier (author), Hélène Canac (illustrator)|
|Environmental Themes and Issues||Animals in Danger, Educational Nature Facts|
|Protagonist’s Identity||Cassandra: Biracial 14-year-old girl|
|Protagonist’s Level of Environmental Agency||Level 3: Moderate, Plot-Driven Environmental Agency|
|Target Audience||Middle Grade|
|Settings||Unnamed European city|
Cassandra Steps Out, the first installment in the Cassandra: Animal Psychic series, stars fourteen-year-old Cassandra, a girl with a special talent: for as as long as she can remember, she has been able to psychically communicate with animals. She uses this power to communicate with her English shepherd, Miss Dolly, and other animals that she encounters. However, Cassandra’s interactions with other humans have become strained as she struggles to cope with an onslaught of changes in her life. Her mother has found a new boyfriend, Bruno, and the couple has decided to move in together. As a result, Cassandra will now have to move in with the man and his unfriendly teenage daughter, Juliet, who makes it clear that she does not want to share her father with Cassandra. Additionally, Cassandra’s best friend Sophie has decided to move to England to live with her father. As she tries to cope emotionally with these major changes, Cassandra decides to channel her energy into embracing her powers.
First, Cassandra and Dolly rescue a German shepherd trapped in a hot car. Next, Cassandra discovers meets Serge and Dimitri, a father and son who have lost their rescued cat. Cassandra tells the pair about her psychic abilities and vows to help find the cat. She uses her powers to find the animal living happily at an abandoned house, where it has returned to its former feral behavior. When she tells the family that she has found their cat, however, the father questions her abilities and reveals that he has received a ransom note that claims his pet has been kidnapped. Cassandra and her journalist friend Tristan work together to uncover the ransom note writer and discover that Serge’s nanny has faked a kidnapping to steal money from the family. Cassandra takes Serge and Dimitri to visit their cat, but she tells them that the cat feels that he needs to move on now that Dimitri no longer needs his help, saying, “He’s a wild cat at heart. He wants to travel, to see other things, to discover a new life” (Bottier 47). The family says goodbye to the cat, mirroring Cassandra’s own internal journey as she finally accepts the changes in her life and bids farewell to her friend as she departs for England.
Though the comic portrays Miss Dolly humorously, it does not anthropomorphize the animals, depicting them engaging in natural behaviors like rolling on the ground or seeking a mate. Cassandra actively works to resolve the issues impacting the animals that she helps, and the book encourages young readers to treat animals with empathy. This comic is the first volume in the series Cassandra: Animal Psychic. Volume 2, Out on a Limb, was published in 2020.
The comic includes a paratextual section entitled “Secret Notebook: Miss Dolly” that includes facts about the breed of Cassandra’s dog, a bob-tailed English shepherd. The paratext also features a guide to “decoding Miss Dolly’s behavior” and a page that describes techniques to train a dog with positive reinforcement. For instance, Cassandra writes, “To show her what was good and what was bad, if I took her out and she did her business, I’d reward her with a little treat. Miss Dolly understood really quickly” (Bottier 55).