Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

More than a year ago, I received an email from TOON Books, telling me about their Fall 2012 line.  Among those books was this title from Frank Viva, A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse.  I requested it immediately, because I loved Viva's previous book, Along a Long Road.  And when it came, it went right into my "To Blog" pile, because I was excited about it.  And sadly, there it sat.  Through two Cybils panels, through many,  many other blog posts, it sat in the pile.  And it wasn't because I didn't like it - it just always seemed like I was on deadline for something else or had another book I was really enthusiastic about.  And A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse waited patiently for me.

In the meantime, Frances and Gloria grew and changed.  They both are voracious readers now (just like their mama).  And while I am enthusiastic about this book, it truly belongs to Gloria.  In fact, at least once a week Gloria asks to take it to bed with her.  She also asks regularly when it will get out of my blog pile so she can keep it in her room for good.  So now it's time to talk about A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse so Gloria can finally get it for her very own.

One of the things I love best about Viva's artistic style is how he regularly breaks "out of the box".  The story begins on the endpapers.  As a ship sails through a series of icebergs, there is one sad question "Are we there yet?" With just four words, Viva manages to convey the length of the journey to Antarctica and the tedium of such a lengthy journey by sea.  On the title page comes the answer "Soon, Mouse."  It is in a differently colored speech balloon, to indicate a different speaker.  All you can see is the freighter, sailing placidly along under a midnight sky.

Once they "get there", Mouse and the other speaker (a young boy) peer over the side of the ship.  And all Mouse wants to know is "Can we go home now?"  The anxiety is evident in his face as he asks - whiskers sticking straight out in alarm, worry lines radiating around his wide eyes.  But the answer is "Not yet, Mouse."  The reader can plainly see that the trip does not agree with Mouse, even before he lists all the things that are difficult to do in the waves: "eat...sleep...kiss...draw...and stand!"  Mouse does not want to be there, and he doesn't care who knows it.

As his friend excitedly explores Antarctica, with its enormous sky, its penguins and whales, Mouse's familiar, repeated chorus is "Can we go home NOW?"  There is always the steady, patient reply "Not yet!"  The discoveries continue, until finally the ship sails off into the horizon.  And on the endpapers, one final question from Mouse: "Can we go back there soon?'

This is a fun book, a funny book.  Viva does a terrific job bringing Antarctica to the comprehension level of the youngest readers (it's marked Level One, which is defined as approximately K-Grade 1).  Mouse is the perfect foil  to the other explorer.  Not only does Mouse's repeated question help beginning readers decode the action, but his plaintive request will most likely sound familiar too.  Gloria quite often gets somewhere fun (a movie, a birthday party) and announces "I want to go home.".  Sometimes parents talk up an activity, and it isn't quite what the child has envisioned.  So many children can feel for Mouse and his preference for home.

I mentioned already that Mouse and his friend use a list style to give facts about the Antarctic.  It is a fun way to give a lot of information.  For instance, when Mouse friend notes "It is COLD out there, Mouse."  Mouse suggests that he needs "boots...mittens..a hat...a scarf...and a snowsuit!"  And quickly adds "Can we go home now?"  On many pages, four of the options take up one page.  Each choice in the list is in its own box, with bold, heavy black lines separating the panels.  The last choice is on its own page.  In the list of clothing,  Mouse is shown in each panel adding on more clothing also.  So by the end, in the snowsuit panel, Mouse looks quite silly indeed, peering out of one boot with mittens over his ears.  And those worry lines around his eyes haven't gone away.

Viva keeps the lists feeling fresh.  In a list of different types of penguins, each penguin is seen through a telescope, which gives the effect of an old-fashioned cameo.  A goldenrod line leads from one speech balloon to the next, guiding the reader's eye.  It keeps the sense of fun for new readers, and it is one of the things I appreciate most about TOON Books.  These are very visual stories, and this style suits Viva's graphic sensibility perfectly.

One final thing I loved about this book came at the very end.  In a page about the author, it is noted that this book was based on Viva's own trip to Antarctica on a Russian research vessel.  What an amazing experience!  But the blurb also notes that Viva, much like Mouse, became very seasick.  It forms a great connection between the author and the story, and can lead to some interesting discussion with children.  This could also be paired with simple nonfiction books about Antarctica to enhance their learning about this continent.

I can't wait to read other collaborations between Frank Viva and TOON Books.  This seems to be a natural, dynamic fit.  In the meantime, I started writing this post one afternoon, and then set my notebook down.  As soon as Gloria saw the book with my notebook, she started asking for it again.  I need to hit publish so she can have it back!

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse.  Frank Viva.  TOON Books, 2012.

sent by the publisher for review

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