Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Diving For Answers

Wise are the humans who never underestimate what can be learned from animals.  Their combination of instinct and learned behaviors allows them to adapt and survive in unbelievable circumstances. Oh, the stories they would tell and the lessons they would teach, if only we all spoke a common language. 

You must wonder if perhaps one author illustrator has uncovered the secret to communicating with animals, particularly mice.  In his first title, Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse (NorthSouth, May 1, 2014), readers marvel at the inventiveness of a courageous mouse seeking to cross the Atlantic.  His desire to come to America is stronger than the obstacles he faces.  Could it be true he inspired another famous aviator? (Publisher provided Educator's Guide)

It was dark inside.  The tower's colossal clock ticked loudly, triggering its tremendous, bellowing chimes to ring every so often.  It sent shivers down the little mouse's spine.  But by carefully latching on to the clock's constantly rotating gears, he hauled the heavy aircraft to the top of the tower's balcony.  Our small mouse could not have asked for a better runaway!

A second book, Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon (NorthSouth, September 1, 2016), follows a mouse setting out to prove the moon is not made of cheese but stone.  Help comes from another brave and intelligent spirit.  Are there some things found by the first men on the moon they neglected to tell us?

"Nothing is too difficult for a clever mouse!" said the little mouse with a smile.  He had soon found out where the mysterious letter had come from, and now he was on his way to see his unknown pen pal.  For a mouse that knew his way around the world of humans even long journeys were no problem.

In his most recent title author illustrator Torben Kuhlmann takes readers to new depths.  In Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure (NorthSouth, October 2, 2018) a letter on a tattered, yellowed piece of paper holds the key to an exciting discovery.  Applied knowledge of generations unravels clues.

1. The University of Mice

Ka-ching! The sound of the cash register rang through the bookstore.
"Let's go!" a mouse whistled, standing on a pile of books.  Countless little mouse heads peeked out of their hiding places.

Waiting until the end of a lecture, possibly on the history of renowned mice or the inventions of humans, a young mouse named Pete seeks to speak with the Professor.  He hands a letter to the gentlemouse, a letter talking about treasure and an ocean voyage to America.  Not a seeker of riches, the Professor does agree to help Pete find out more about this ancestor.  To their dismay, the ship sunk on its trip.  According to newspaper accounts all the passengers were saved.  But was Pete's relative?  How could they get to the bottom of the ocean?

Although Pete is on his own, he does not give up.  He is determined to find that treasure.  After a failed attempt in a bathtub and a life-saving rescue, the Professor joins Pete.  The two study, plan and switch out materials.  A couple of curious crabs send them back to the proverbial drawing board.

A visit to an ocean exhibit at a museum gives them an excellent idea.  They are going to design a submarine; a mechanical fish able to carry two passengers.  No detail is overlooked.  Finally, as stowaways on a ship, they near the spot where the other ship is buried beneath the Atlantic.

Creatures of the watery world swim around the submarine after they launch it from one of the ship's anchor rope holes.  They are moving deeper toward the bottom.  There is less and less light.  And then, they find it---the wreck.  Is the treasure they seek there? If so, what secrets will it illuminate?

Within the thirteen chapters of this title, Torben Kuhlmann fashions a world you believe to be true.  Through his descriptive settings and character conversations, we find ourselves completely captivated by Pete and Professor.  It's as if Torben has opened a door that's always been there but we were never able to see it until this book.  Here are two passages.

"You see, one should never underestimate us mice," he said, finishing his lecture.  "A mouse can also get to the bottom of the sea!"
"Incredible!" squeaked Pete, who was impressed but still not convinced.  "Do you really think we could do it?"
"What do you mean 'we'?" asked the Professor with a sniff and a snort.  "I'm far too old for such adventures.  When you've grown up enough, you can go and look for the treasure yourself."
"But I thought we'd start preparing for our diving expedition right away!" said Pete, not giving up, but the Professor was not persuaded and finally started to leave.
"Delighted to have met you, Pete, and I wish you all the best."
"But Professor! . . ." Pete shouted again.
There was no reply.

The two mice looked out through the thick glass windows.  A school of fish swam around them a few times and then disappeared into the distance.  The sunbeams that sparkled in the waves above soon vanished as well.  A shadow fell over the submarine, and suddenly they heard a loud booming sound.
"What's that?" squeaked Pete, covering his ears.  All the loose metal parts around them started to rattle.
"It's a whale singing!" cried the Professor.
Pete gazed wide-eyed and openmouthed at the giant animal.
"He must be a hundred times bigger than a mouse . . ."
Still shaking their heads in amazement, the mice steered their ship under the monster and down into the depths.  It was getting darker and darker, because the light couldn't reach so far down.  At the same time, Pete's instrument panel showed that the water pressure was rising.  The metal creaked and groaned under the stress, but the submarine held firm.

When you look upon the matching and opened dust jacket and book case, you can't help but inwardly gasp at the intricate nearly photographic detail in the art of Torben Kuhlmann.  The placement of the schools of fish frames the Professor as his light shines on an object of interest.  Above him shadows dance on their submarine creation as the Pete swims.  Careful eyes will notice the found items used in their suits.  To the left, on the back, the Professor and Pete stand holding a sketch of their submarine.  They are in front of a human's picture who has benefited from a clever mouse.  This book, like the previous two, has the weathered, used look on the spine and edges.

On the opening and closing endpapers are twenty designs, some cross-sections, of diving apparatus and vessels.  They illustrate how the final submarine and equipment evolved.  They are placed on a cream canvas and done in black outline with a soft sephia tone for color.  On the verso, opposite the title page, is a collage of newspaper articles and photographs relating to Thomas Edison. 

The first two pages contain a single glorious wordless picture of the inside of a book shop.  Several mice are waiting for the opportunity to attend their university.  Well-known classic titles are stacked and visible on the tables.  The automobiles outside give readers a historical time frame. Readers are certain to marvel at Kuhlmann's masterful use of wordless illustrations throughout the book to connect one narrative to another supplying a flawless flow. 

His images range from full page pictures, to small insets and double-page showpieces.  The exquisite elements in each visual are wondrous.  His shifts in perspective are perfection.  It's ingenious how Torben's mice live within the human world.  A wire and an eye screw hold open a file cabinet drawer.  They wait until dark to use equipment in a car repair shop to build the submarine.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It's wordless.  We are deep in the ocean.  Only a small portion of light is shining from the upper left-hand corner.  It glows off the back of an enormous whale stretching across both pages.  Moving beneath it a stream of bubbles trails behind the tiny submarine, a searchlight shooting out a small beam.  This is a breathtaking scene.

If you have readers who are fond of adventure, invention, and suspense, Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure written and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann is an excellent choice.  This title along with the previous two would be fantastic read aloud books for a variety of themes.  At the close of the story Torben includes historical facts about the invention of the light bulb and Tomas Alva Edison.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Torben Kuhlmann and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images, including two of my favorite ones.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, premieres the book trailer on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Torben Kuhlmann answers questions from readers at NorthSouth.  NorthSouth Books has designed a discussion guide to be used with this title. Torben visits author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  It's a wonderful interview brimming with artwork.

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