Fuse #8

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Review of the Day: The Travels of Thelonious - The Fog Mound


There’s nothing I love more than a good post-apocalyptic children’s book. Your “Eva”s. Your “Z is For Zachariah”s. You know what else I love? Cute woodland creature books. Things like “Poppy” and “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”. Gosh, wouldn’t it be swell if we could combine those two things into one great big post-apocalyptic furry woodland creature story? Bambi meets Logan’s Run. Well now there is an answer to my prayers in the form of “The Travels of Thelonious”. The second children’s book to come out this year with the name “Thelonious” in its title (“Thelonious Monster and the Sky-High Fly-Pie” was the other), Susan Schade and Jon Buller have brought us an odd but amusing little tale of talking chipmunks, bears with thumbs, and a world post-human beings. Part graphic novel, part prose, this is one of those titles that bridges genres and may well get twice the readership as a result.

You can’t tell Thelonious the chipmunk that the Human Occupation was a myth. Though his sister Dolores mocks him incessantly for it, Thelonious is convinced that humans were once real. As proof he owns a postcard of a skyscraper which he believes was an honest-to-goodness human creation. Soon, however, Thelonious is able to see firsthand what a human city must have looked like. One day a particularly violent rainstorm picks up Thelonious’s tree home and deposits him in the midst of a dirty run-down and dangerous city. Once there he meets a shifty lizard who wants to sell the little chipmunk to the local despot, The Dragon Lady (less “Terry and the Pirates” and more komodo). He also comes across a porcupine with a penchant for human books and a bear named Olive who has harnessed the power of flight. Now chipmunk, porcupine, bear, and even lizard are going to try to make it back to Olive’s idyllic home at the top of the Fog Mound. It will take their respective skills and talents to get there, but the trip will certainly be worth it.

The idea of making a book part graphic novel and part, um, novel novel is not a new idea. With the ever-rising popularity of comics in bookstores and libraries alike, publishers are slowly realizing that this may well be a smart way to go. For those parents who would like their kids to branch out a little, books like “The Travels of Thelonious”, come as welcome crossover titles. Whenever the text ends and the pictures begin, those same pictures continue the story along rather than bogging it down.

Yes, but is it any good? Actually it is. For such a dark concept (all the humans, save one, are dead dead deadski) the book moves at a fast and cheery clip. Schade is clever enough to slowly parcel out the information as we come to it. In this way, then, we learn that some animals have gained the power of speech while others still cannot. We also discover that many creatures have grown opposable thumbs and that the Fog Mound is as idyllic as it is because some concerned human(s?) made it that way. The writing itself isn’t going to blow you away. It’s good for what it is (the first of many future adventure tales apparently) but nothing so deep as “Watership Down” or “The Wind In the Willows”. Consider it “The White Mountains” for younger kiddies.

As for the art, I liked what I saw of Buller’s style. Chipmunks in general aren’t overly expressive characters, but Thelonious is a delightful hero. Also, while I can think of many many mouse and rat heroes of children’s literature, chipmunks are few and far between. Buller takes a great deal of care with his characters and settings. The style is fairly cartoony but with plenty of details as well. Also, I was impressed by how well he strategically presented the one naked human the animals come across later in the story.

I mean, I wouldn’t go shouting its name to the hilltops, but for a book that’s a lot of fun for a wide range of child readers, this first adventure in “The Travels of Thelonious”, comes across as a worthy read. This may well be one of those rare titles that attracts both hard-core reader fans of books like the “Redwall” series AND the “Captain Underpants” / “Babymouse” reluctant reader crowd. All the fun of reading a graphic novel with the rewards of simple prose.

2 Comments:

At 11:04 PM , Anonymous Jon Buller said...

Thanks for the review. Having worked on this book for a year, we have had lots of time to work on our coccoon of self-delusion, imagining that people might actually shout about the brilliance of our work from the hilltops. Now that the book has actually been published, however, it is time to emerge into reality, and acknowledge our appreciation for at least being judged "a worthy read." Of the three reviews that we have received thus far, fusenumber8's was the most thoughtful and nicely written, and it also provided us with the chance to get acquainted with this blog, to which we will return periodically. In general, we were pleased with the production job that Simon and Schuster did for THE TRAVELS OF THELONIOUS. Our one disappointment was that they somehow omitted the map that was to serve as a frontispiece. If anyone is interested, here is a link to that map:

http://www.bullersooz.com/fmap.html

 
At 11:01 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Howdy, Mr. Buller. Always lovely hearing from talented illustrators like yourself. I was obsessively checking my Sitemeter this morning (found at the bottom of my blog) and saw that someone had Googled the title of this book and then spent long luxurious periods of time looking at Fuse #8. That could only be someone intimately familiar with the book itself and lo-and-behold here I found your comment.

You are correct about the map. It really should have been included in the book, possibly somewhere around the endpapers. I suppose S & S's reasoning against its inclusion was that it would make sense to include it in future books but not necessarily this one. After all, only the last 20 pages or so take place on The Fog Mound. That said, it is a loss. A good map like that one (with such attention to detail and the like) should really be included with the original title.

Anywho, welcome to my twisted little blog. And, as I tell all my authors, if you've any future projects coming up or interested child-lit factoids to impart, do not hesitate to let me know about them. I do love breaking a good children's literature story.

 

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