Ashley Bryan’s Joyous Handiwork

In yet another celebration of creativity, acclaimed author/illustrator Ashley Bryan shares with readers his “family of hand puppets,” crafted with far-flung detritus. Peach pits become eyes … a coconut morphs into a head … a wishbone evokes whiskers. Oh, the random scraps that unfurl a panorama of puppets fit for the wildest tales!Ashley Bryan's Puppets

Ashley Bryan’s Puppets is not a craft book; rather, it’s an unusual poetry collection utilizing vibrant photos and a simple poem Bryan wrote for each of the 33 puppets showcased here. Clearly an act of love and joy, Bryan has bestowed every puppet with personality and a relevant name. Lubangi, meaning born in water, is a mermaid draped in netting studded with starfish and cockle shells. Jojo, the storyteller, has a head and hands made of gloves: “In every finger of my glove/ I tap tall tales of peace and love./ The fingers of my well-gloved hands/ Store stories told in foreign lands.”

In his note, the author/creator relates that as he walks the shores of his longtime home in the Cranberry Isles of Maine, he collects shells, bone, driftwood, nets, and sea glass. What child wouldn’t relate to this impulse? While readers won’t find instructions or photos of the author’s creative process (alas), they will find plenty of inspiration for their own puppets. Parents and young ones can use this book as a source for ideas, while teachers and librarians might select a few poems and photos to share as part of a puppet-making project based on folktales — perhaps using one of Bryan’s own vivid versions.

And see my prior post on Ashley Bryan.

 

Revelling in Rescued Parrots

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L Roth and Cindy TrumboreParrots Over Puerto Rico, winner of the 2014 Robert F. Sibert Medal, plunges readers into verdant forests where bright blue Puerto Rican parrots fluttered in ancient canopies for eons. This nonfiction picture book deftly tells the intertwined stories of the island’s history and of the birds’ near-extinction and subsequent recovery.

Known for her colorful collages, Susan Roth proves herself up to the challenge of creating vibrant, personality-filled images of the raucous flocks that once thronged the island that came to be called Puerto Rico. Using a pleasing range of textured paper and fabric and employing a vertical (rather than horizontal) layout, Roth depicts the lush natural environment filled with sierra palm trees, tiny tree frogs and crops of corn, yucca, and sweet potatoes.

Co-written with Cindy Trumbore, the book reveals the evolution of the island’s peoples and environment. The Tainos, who arrived around 800 CE, gave the parrots the name iguaca, echoing their harsh calls. In time, the Spanish came, as well as slaves brought from Africa. Predators such as black rats, thrashers, and swarms of honeybees invaded and attacked the parrots. By 1967, many forests had disappeared, and only 24 parrots lived in Puerto Rico.

Only a concerted effort by scientists, environmentalists, public officials, and citizens could save and protect the parrots. Scientists — and parrots — had to battle hurricanes, thunderstorms, wrecked buildings and trees. Thanks to decades of dedicated work, the parrots are still flying over their native isle.

Because of its somewhat detailed and abundant text, Parrots Over Puerto Rico lends itself best to one-on-one sharing or to independent reading by young nature lovers ages 8 to 10.

For more fine nonfiction picture books, see …

Moonbird by Phillip HooseMangrove Tree by Susan L Roth and Cindy TrumboreIsland Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin

From Scraps to Treasure

Summertime, and creativity is easy. Are you and your children looking for inspiration for art projects? Just dip into acclaimed author/illustrator Lois Ehlert’s latest, The Scraps Book: Notes fromScraps Book Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert a Colorful Life, and you might not even finish the book until you’ll be itching to go for a nature walk to scavenge materials for little masterpieces.

Known for her bright collages, Ehlert has written and, of course, illustrated a brief, lively memoir that touches upon her early influences, her artistic process, and her many children’s books. She shows photographs of herself and her parents, whom she credits as being people “who made things with their hands.” She includes images of old scissors, paintbrushes, pumpkin seeds and crab apples, even the folding table her dad set up for her as a child and which she took with her to art school years later. We get to feast on colorful images from her popular titles such as Planting a Rainbow, Nuts to You! and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. In the process of revealing all this, she provides engaging and accessible ideas for young artists’ own work: a paper aquarium … a cat mask … a flower necklace.

Because of Ehlert’s vivid illustrations and her exuberant focus on the creative process, The Scraps Book promises to appeal to a wide range of children, from 5 to 10. I join the artist in wishing you a colorful life.

Ehlert’s other picture books are aimed at ages 5 to 8; recommended titles include …

Waiting for Wings by Lois EhlertPie in the Sky by Lois EhlertCuckoo Cucu A Mexican Folktale retold and illus by Lois Ehlert

 

 

 

An elephant lost and found

The endearing little elephant featured in the Pomelo the Garden Elephant series keeps right on growing and investigating life’s myriad mysteries in Pomelo’s Big Adventure. Pomelo's Big Adventure by Ramona Badescu
Pomelo has already learned about colors, opposites, and his own physical development. The cotton-candy pink pachyderm that started out being the size of a radish has now outlasted his favorite puffball (which first appeared in Pomelo Begins to Grow, 2011) and decides to travel afar.
With characteristic quirkiness, Ms. Bădescu reveals what Pomelo packs in his knapsack; he includes not only the practical (toothbrush, matches, a map) but also amusingly childish objects: a stone, crayons, and acorns. The elephant’s simple thinking process is demonstrated by his strategy of choosing his path by tossing a beribboned stone and then proceeding in that direction.
Throughout Pomelo’s Big Adventure, a gentle spirit of exploration leads the protagonist and the reader onward. Oversize pages filled with Mr. Chaud’s witty, bright drawings that pop amidst white pages reflect the elephant’s sense of curiosity and openness to possibilities.
Along the way, the author provides adults with fresh opportunities to discuss universal questions with children. For instance, consider the elephant’s approach to new experiences: “He takes the route such as it is: prickly, uphill, sticky, boring, surprising, lively, and … lost in the distance.” And later, when Pomelo encounters a shifty rat who dupes him into trading his valuable supplies for a wind-up car that promptly falls apart, the elephant feels the way anyone who’s been tricked might: rueful, uncertain, homesick. In the midst of a gray rain, though, he decides to march on, and the author points out, “We take many risks in life, of course, but Pomelo seems to have plunged into a world ruled by chance.”
Soon, Pomelo encounters a helpful old elephant who offers the determined explorer not only food but much-needed emotional guidance that will enable him to enjoy his journey. The mature mentor, called Papamelo, gathers wood and teaches the little one how to build a boat. And then, in his wisdom, he tells Pomelo, “It’s time to leave.”
When the pink elephant encounters danger, the memory of lessons learned from Papamelo, spur him on. A final double-page spread parades the unforeseen benefits of this hero’s courage and fortitude. In a glowing, cheerful scene, we see Pomelo on the beach at sunset with his new friend—a lively, freckled starfish eager to share joyous experiences. Young readers will no doubt anticipate further adventures celebrating this wildly unlikely pair.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Journal of Books

See also …

Cousins of Clouds Elephant Poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer Elephant Quest by Ted and Betsy LewinTarra and Bella The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends

 

A Sister Accomplishes the Impossible

With its bracing plot featuring a valiant, strong-willed girl who breaks the spell that transformed her brothers into swans, the Brothers Grimm shaped a fairy tale strange and potent enough to lure aSix Swans illustrated by Gerda Raidt contemporary audience.
In fairy-tale fashion, The Six Swans plays out in the landscape of a widowed father and children cursed or left to their own devices. The narrative opens in a great forest, where the king, chasing a deer, strays from his companions and cannot find his way out. An old woman who approaches him turns out to be a witch. She will show him the way only if he will agree to marry her beautiful daughter.
Fear compels the king to agree to this condition, but troubles loom. When he meets the young woman, he does not fall in love with her, despite her beauty; in fact, he “could not look at her without a secret sense of horror.”
Readers, too, will distrust the new queen, depicted by illustrator Gerda Raidt as having a haughty posture, a callous expression, and ice-blue gowns. Some will likely agree with the king’s peculiar decision to shield his six sons and one daughter from the stepmother by taking them to live in a lonely castle hidden so deeply in a forest that the king must use a magic ball of string to find the path leading to it.
A cheerful double-page spread depicts a leafy, bucolic scene there, with the kinder scampering, fishing, or swinging on a tree. In the background, we see their secret home, a pale three-story abode with a slate-gray roof, resembling a grand chateau of the Loire Valley rather than a German schloss.
The illustrator’s other somewhat puzzling choices include her image of the children’s badminton rackets, which have been traced to British military officers serving in British India in the mid-1800s. And one cannot help but wonder why the daughter, in her high-waisted dress, and the sons in their sailor whites look so Edwardian.
Often, too, the colored-pencil drawings seem tame (in contrast to Anne Yvonne Gilbert’s glorious artwork for The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen), missing the intense drama of unfolding events. The moment when the wicked stepmother, who has discovered the hidden castle, turns the boys into swans should teem with a sense of disaster. Instead, we see an image of the sister, the lone child indoors on that unfortunate day, looking merely surprised as her brothers sprout feathers and rise in the sky.
Despite these incongruities, the illustrator offers a rich, symbolic rendering of the daughter’s heroic decision to reject her father’s decision to take her to his home in favor of setting out alone to search for her brothers. Here, we see the girl boldly abandoning the idyllic estate and entering a foreboding forest, drawn with gloomy gray strokes and dark shadows.
When at last the sister finds her siblings in a robbers’ den, they tell her they may shed their feathers for only a quarter of an hour every night, and then they become swans again. The curse can only be broken if she agrees to speak not a word for six years and to sew them six shirts made of starflowers.
Some might wonder what starflowers are (in his famous Grimms’ folktale anthology, Jack Zipes chose the word asters), but the translator has offered a pleasingly literal translation of the German word Sternenblumen, which the Brothers Grimm used, and so feels authentic. One of only a relatively few picture-book versions of “The Six Swans” published, this edition is smoothly translated by Anthea Bell, whose acclaimed work includes the French comic-book series Asterix, as well as the middle-school fantasies of Cornelia Funke (Inkworld trilogy).
Although she faithfully follows the fairy tale’s spirit and pacing, Ms. Bell has lightened up the story by omitting some of the gory details that unfurl. A handsome young king happens upon the girl in the forest, falls in love, and the two marry, even though she never speaks to him. This so displeases his mother that she steals the baby the queen bears—and the next two— until finally, the king agrees to let his wife be tried for murdering the children. She refuses to defend herself and is condemned to be burned at the stake.
While the Grimms’ version offers stark poetic justice for the wicked mother-in-law when the brothers’ spell is broken and the sister finally tells her husband she has been wrongly accused by the woman, this version relates that the wicked one is “taken away and locked up forever.”
The Six Swans will inspire many young readers and caring adults who crave tales highlighting heroines who do not resort to violence to save the day.

If you’re looking for a more engrossing reading experience, don’t miss the fabulous Naomi Lewis retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans, a slightly altered version of the Grimm brothers’ tale.

The brave sister sleeps in the woods in this scene from THE WILD SWANS, illustrated by Anne Yvonne GilbertAlso see my posts on Pullman’s anthology of Grimm folktales and on the dazzling Taschen anthology.

Time of the Season for Friends

With its understated title and its placid cover image of a rosy-cheeked lion with a small gray bird on his shoulder, The Lion and the Bird is clearly not where the wild things are. And that’s just finThe Lion and the Birde.
Instead, Canadian author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc uses simple language and a quiet palette of soft shades of tan, blue, and gray to evoke a calmer world where seasons and relationships evolve and where even the unlikeliest pair can become friends.
Dressed in denim overalls, Lion is hoeing one autumn day when a bird falls out of the sky and into his yard. Lion tenderly bandages the bird’s injured wing, and the other birds fly off without their fallen friend. No need to worry, Lion says, putting the bird atop his well-behaved mane. “You’re welcome to stay with me. There’s more than enough room for both of us.”
And so the two head to Lion’s mound-shaped home and begin their companionable life together. The author/illustrator gives readers both full-page and smaller, rough-shaped ovals of pencil drawings that show the friends falling into a sweet routine of sharing food, bedtime stories, and sleeping—Lion in a plain white bed and Bird nearby, tucked into a fuzzy pink bedroom slipper.
Winter brings snow, and the two have fun sledding and ice fishing together. “It snows and snows. But winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend.”
Change inevitably comes with spring, though, and Ms. Dubuc beautifully evokes the friends’ awareness that it’s time for Bird to rejoin the flock. Perched on a branch and pointing one wing toward the others, Bird looks at Lion. “Yes,” says Lion. “I know.” And just as Lion releases his friend, the author/illustrator lets white space nearly fill the next four pages.
Lion goes back to his daily routines while making adjustments; readers will note the single place setting at the table, the empty box by the fireplace, the uninhabited bedroom slipper. Soon it’s back to the garden for Lion, who takes pleasure in summer pastimes such as reading beneath a shade tree and fishing in a lake.
As fall returns, Lion can’t help but hope his friend will, too. The bird’s reappearance signifies the nature of friendship and the cycles of life, making for a satisfying ending that will nourish a sense of hope in young readers (especially ages 3 to 6).

Reprinted with permission from New York Journal of Books

See also …

Lion and the Mouse by Jerry PinkneyMy Friend Rabbit by Eric RohmannOne Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo and pictures by David Small

With its understated title and placid cover image of a rosy-cheeked lion with a small gray bird on his shoulder, The Lion and the Bird is clearly not where the wild things are. And that’s just fine.

Instead, Ms. Dubuc, using simple language and a quiet palette of soft shades of tan, blue, and gray, envisions a calmer world where seasons and relationships evolve and where even the unlikeliest pair can become friends.

Dressed in denim overalls, Lion is hoeing one autumn day when a bird falls out of the sky and into his yard. Lion tenderly bandages the bird’s injured wing, and the other birds fly off without their fallen friend. No need to worry, Lion says, putting the bird atop his well-behaved mane. “You’re welcome to stay with me. There’s more than enough room for both of us.”

And so the two head to Lion’s mound-shaped home and begin their companionable life together. The author/illustrator gives readers both full-page and smaller, rough-shaped ovals of pencil drawings that show the friends falling into a sweet routine of sharing food, bedtime stories, and sleeping—Lion in a plain white bed and Bird nearby, tucked into a fuzzy pink bedroom slipper.

Winter brings snow, and the two have fun sledding and ice fishing together. “It snows and snows. But winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend.”

Change inevitably comes with spring, though, and Ms. Dubuc beautifully evokes the friends’ awareness that it’s time for Bird to rejoin the flock. Perched on a branch and pointing one wing toward the others, Bird looks at Lion. “Yes,” says Lion. “I know.” And just as Lion releases his friend, the author/illustrator lets white space nearly fill the next four pages.

Lion goes back to his daily routines while making adjustments; readers will note the single place setting at the table, the empty box by the fireplace, the uninhabited pink bedroom slippers. Soon it’s back to the garden for Lion, who takes pleasure in summer pastimes such as reading beneath a shade tree and fishing in a lake.

Fall returns, and Lion can’t help but hope his friend will, too. The bird’s reappearance signifies the nature of friendship and the cycles of life, making for a satisfying ending that young readers will relish.

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/lion-and-bird#sthash.hqELM9t0.dpuf

It’s a Flying Mouse!

An adventurous spirit reaches new heights in Torben Kuhlmann’s debut picture book Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse.   Lindbergh The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann
Any mouse with a swirling tail and a fervent wish to fly could snag a child’s interest, but Lindbergh immerses the reader in a fantastical world, with atmospheric, sepia-toned watercolors and pencil drawings and an imaginative plot with myriad historical links, portrayed with dramatic flair.
Intellectual curiosity propels the protagonist to take action, again and again. The furry, unnamed mouse camps out for months at a time in a library, reveling in leather-bound volumes conjured with a warm, vintage sepia palette. One day he emerges to discover he’s alone, as his friends have fled Hamburg after the “nightmarish” new mechanical mousetraps occupy homes.
Echoing the historic Charles Lindbergh 1927 transatlantic flight in reverse, the mouse decides he must fly to America. The author/illustrator, playing with the German word for bat, fledermaus, shows how our vivacious hero becomes inspired by observing bats. The rodent “carefully studied the strange flying relatives” and then sets out to construct his own flying contraption. Mr. Kuhlmann’s realistic pencil drawings recall Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches. Fittingly, we view the mouse’s sketch of a bat on one page and on the facing page, original designs for his own wings.
As with any inventor, the mouse must test his wings. Mr. Kuhlmann offers a lovely light-filled, drawn and painted scene of the Hamburg train station, with hurried travelers dressed in suits and hats. The eye lingers on the dramatic profile of the mouse atop the old clock as he anticipates takeoff. Although his attempt fails, the would-be pilot gains potentially useful information when he notices the trains get their power from steam.
Revisions lead to further improvements: wings and rudders. Readers will pore over the many humorous details that depict the miniature inventor’s thought process: how he pulls the shoelace from an old boot, how he peeps out of an old typewriter labeled Flieger (German for “flyer”), how he accumulates a multitude of springs and gears from timepieces.
The goggle-wearing mouse straps on his new and improved winged contraption and manages to fly briefly before crashing. Thanks to a photojournalist, the unusual pilot finds his way into the newspapers: “Hamburgs Fliegende Maus Gesichtet!” (Flying Mouse Spotted).
Stunningly, the next double-page spread shows large, orange-eyed owls studying the lead story and its photo of a mouse in midflight. Mr. Kuhlmann proceeds to ramp up the dramatic effect by providing subsequent images of the fierce predators as they spy on the mouse, even as he tinkers in his attic workshop.
The intrepid rodent receives a hero’s welcome when he eventually arrives in New York, and a mesmerized young Charles Lindbergh, with model airplane in hand, becomes inspired to aim high—or so it’s said in this alternate world. The engaging story is complemented by a short illustrated history of aviation, including a brief account of the American pilot who made history in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis.
While longer than most picture books (mostly because of illustrations), Mr. Kuhlman’s Lindbergh soars with its distinctive artwork, spectacular details, and its bright little star. Highly recommended for ages 6 to 10.

Reprinted with permission from New York Journal of Books.

See also …

Flight by Robert BurleighFreddy the Pilot by Walter R. BrooksNobody Owns the Sky The Story of Brave Bessie Coleman by Reeve Lindbergh

An adventurous spirit reaches new heights in Torben Kuhlmann’s debut picture book Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse.

Any mouse with a swirling tail and a fervent wish to fly could snag a child’s interest, but Lindbergh immerses the reader in a fantastical world with atmospheric, sepia-toned watercolors and pencil drawings and an imaginative plot with myriad historical links portrayed with dramatic flair.

Intellectual curiosity propels the protagonist to take action again and again. The furry, unnamed mouse camps out for months at a time in a library, reveling in leather-bound volumes conjured with a warm, vintage sepia palette. One day he emerges to discover he’s alone, as his friends have fled Hamburg after the “nightmarish” new mechanical mousetraps occupy homes.

Echoing the historic Charles Lindbergh 1927 transatlantic flight in reverse, the mouse decides he must fly to America. The author/illustrator, playing with the German word for bat, fledermaus, shows how our vivacious hero becomes inspired by observing bats. The rodent “carefully studies the strange flying relatives” and then sets out to construct his own flying contraption. Kuhlmann’s realistic pencil drawings recall Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches. Fittingly, we view the mouse’s sketch of a bat on one page and on the facing page, original designs for his own wings.

As with any inventor, the mouse must test his wings. Kuhlmann offers a lovely light-filled, drawn and painted scene of the Hamburg train station, with hurried travelers dressed in suits and hats. The eye lingers on the dramatic profile of the mouse atop the old clock as he anticipates takeoff. Although his attempt fails, the would-be pilot gains potentially useful information when he notices the trains get their power from steam.

Revisions lead to further improvements: wings and rudders. Readers will pore over the many humorous details that depict the miniature inventor’s thought process: how he pulls the shoelace from an old boot, how he peeps out of an old typewriter labeled Flieger  (German for “flyer”), how he accumulates a multitude of springs and gears from timepieces.

The goggle-wearing mouse straps on his new and improved winged contraption and manages to fly briefly before crashing. Thanks to a photojournalist, the unusual pilot finds his way into the newspapers: “Hamburgs Fliegende Maus Gesichtet!” (Flying Mouse Spotted).

Stunningly, the next double-page spread shows large, orange-eyed owls studying the lead story and its photo of a mouse in midflight. Kuhlmann proceeds to ramp up the dramatic effect by providing subsequent images of the fierce predators as they spy on the mouse, even as he tinkers in his attic workshop.

SPOILER ALERT: The intrepid rodent receives a hero’s welcome when he eventually arrives in New York, and a mesmerized young Charles Lindbergh, with model airplane in hand, becomes inspired to aim high—or so it’s said in this alternate world. The engaging story is complemented by a short illustrated history of aviation, including a brief account of the American pilot who made history in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis.

While longer than most picture books (mostly because of illustrations), Kuhlman’s Lindbergh soars with its distinctive artwork, spectacular details, and its bright little star.

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/lindbergh-tale-flying-mouse#sthash.rgHcP9Ug.dpuf

An adventurous spirit reaches new heights in Torben Kuhlmann’s debut picture book Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse.

Any mouse with a swirling tail and a fervent wish to fly could snag a child’s interest, but Lindbergh immerses the reader in a fantastical world with atmospheric, sepia-toned watercolors and pencil drawings and an imaginative plot with myriad historical links portrayed with dramatic flair.

Intellectual curiosity propels the protagonist to take action again and again. The furry, unnamed mouse camps out for months at a time in a library, reveling in leather-bound volumes conjured with a warm, vintage sepia palette. One day he emerges to discover he’s alone, as his friends have fled Hamburg after the “nightmarish” new mechanical mousetraps occupy homes.

Echoing the historic Charles Lindbergh 1927 transatlantic flight in reverse, the mouse decides he must fly to America. The author/illustrator, playing with the German word for bat, fledermaus, shows how our vivacious hero becomes inspired by observing bats. The rodent “carefully studies the strange flying relatives” and then sets out to construct his own flying contraption. Kuhlmann’s realistic pencil drawings recall Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches. Fittingly, we view the mouse’s sketch of a bat on one page and on the facing page, original designs for his own wings.

As with any inventor, the mouse must test his wings. Kuhlmann offers a lovely light-filled, drawn and painted scene of the Hamburg train station, with hurried travelers dressed in suits and hats. The eye lingers on the dramatic profile of the mouse atop the old clock as he anticipates takeoff. Although his attempt fails, the would-be pilot gains potentially useful information when he notices the trains get their power from steam.

Revisions lead to further improvements: wings and rudders. Readers will pore over the many humorous details that depict the miniature inventor’s thought process: how he pulls the shoelace from an old boot, how he peeps out of an old typewriter labeled Flieger  (German for “flyer”), how he accumulates a multitude of springs and gears from timepieces.

The goggle-wearing mouse straps on his new and improved winged contraption and manages to fly briefly before crashing. Thanks to a photojournalist, the unusual pilot finds his way into the newspapers: “Hamburgs Fliegende Maus Gesichtet!” (Flying Mouse Spotted).

Stunningly, the next double-page spread shows large, orange-eyed owls studying the lead story and its photo of a mouse in midflight. Kuhlmann proceeds to ramp up the dramatic effect by providing subsequent images of the fierce predators as they spy on the mouse, even as he tinkers in his attic workshop.

SPOILER ALERT: The intrepid rodent receives a hero’s welcome when he eventually arrives in New York, and a mesmerized young Charles Lindbergh, with model airplane in hand, becomes inspired to aim high—or so it’s said in this alternate world. The engaging story is complemented by a short illustrated history of aviation, including a brief account of the American pilot who made history in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis.

While longer than most picture books (mostly because of illustrations), Kuhlman’s Lindbergh soars with its distinctive artwork, spectacular details, and its bright little star.

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/lindbergh-tale-flying-mouse#sthash.rgHcP9Ug.dpuf

An adventurous spirit reaches new heights in Torben Kuhlmann’s debut picture book Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse.

Any mouse with a swirling tail and a fervent wish to fly could snag a child’s interest, but Lindbergh immerses the reader in a fantastical world with atmospheric, sepia-toned watercolors and pencil drawings and an imaginative plot with myriad historical links portrayed with dramatic flair.

Intellectual curiosity propels the protagonist to take action again and again. The furry, unnamed mouse camps out for months at a time in a library, reveling in leather-bound volumes conjured with a warm, vintage sepia palette. One day he emerges to discover he’s alone, as his friends have fled Hamburg after the “nightmarish” new mechanical mousetraps occupy homes.

Echoing the historic Charles Lindbergh 1927 transatlantic flight in reverse, the mouse decides he must fly to America. The author/illustrator, playing with the German word for bat, fledermaus, shows how our vivacious hero becomes inspired by observing bats. The rodent “carefully studies the strange flying relatives” and then sets out to construct his own flying contraption. Kuhlmann’s realistic pencil drawings recall Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches. Fittingly, we view the mouse’s sketch of a bat on one page and on the facing page, original designs for his own wings.

As with any inventor, the mouse must test his wings. Kuhlmann offers a lovely light-filled, drawn and painted scene of the Hamburg train station, with hurried travelers dressed in suits and hats. The eye lingers on the dramatic profile of the mouse atop the old clock as he anticipates takeoff. Although his attempt fails, the would-be pilot gains potentially useful information when he notices the trains get their power from steam.

Revisions lead to further improvements: wings and rudders. Readers will pore over the many humorous details that depict the miniature inventor’s thought process: how he pulls the shoelace from an old boot, how he peeps out of an old typewriter labeled Flieger  (German for “flyer”), how he accumulates a multitude of springs and gears from timepieces.

The goggle-wearing mouse straps on his new and improved winged contraption and manages to fly briefly before crashing. Thanks to a photojournalist, the unusual pilot finds his way into the newspapers: “Hamburgs Fliegende Maus Gesichtet!” (Flying Mouse Spotted).

Stunningly, the next double-page spread shows large, orange-eyed owls studying the lead story and its photo of a mouse in midflight. Kuhlmann proceeds to ramp up the dramatic effect by providing subsequent images of the fierce predators as they spy on the mouse, even as he tinkers in his attic workshop.

SPOILER ALERT: The intrepid rodent receives a hero’s welcome when he eventually arrives in New York, and a mesmerized young Charles Lindbergh, with model airplane in hand, becomes inspired to aim high—or so it’s said in this alternate world. The engaging story is complemented by a short illustrated history of aviation, including a brief account of the American pilot who made history in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis.

While longer than most picture books (mostly because of illustrations), Kuhlman’s Lindbergh soars with its distinctive artwork, spectacular details, and its bright little star.

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/lindbergh-tale-flying-mouse#sthash.rgHcP9Ug.dpuf

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