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.