The Fog Mound trilogy by Susan Schade and Jon Buller, bills itself as part graphic novel part heroic fantasy, and an adventure like no other! And it is all true! I LOVE this book! A week of reading books with squirrels as main characters - realistic squirrels, cartoonish squirrels, villainous quasi-medieval squirrels - has lead me here to Travels of Thelonious (published in 2006 - well ahead of the kid's graphic novel boom) and one spectacular chipmunk. I'm sure it's obvious, but I have to point this out anyway - Thelonious Chipmunk - Thelonious Monk - get it?!? Maybe I love this book so much because the first jazz album I ever bought was Thelonious Monk's Greatest hits when I was in high school, or maybe because there is a frozen scientist character who resembles the Buddha statue in the garden, or maybe because there is a porcupine named Fitzgerald who owns a bookstore in the City of Ruins. Or maybe because, above all else, this book is such a brilliant blend of words and pictures along with creative new characters and plots that it stands out among all the other books I have read lately. Rewriting this review some 3 1/2 years after it first ran in 2009, The Fog Mound trilogy remains the only book on the shelves that combines words and pictures, the graphic novel format and traditional middle-grade novel. The Fog Mound trilogy is also very special to me because, in a moment of dire need when my non-fiction loving son had to do a book report on a work of fiction, Schade and Buller's book came to the rescue. When he got off the bus and told me he had finished Travels with Thelonious I asked if he'd like to read the second one and he shook his head vigorously, "YES." Needless to say, we sped to the bookstore, despite the fact that I had just worked a full day there, and bought Faradawn, which he started reading in the car, then Simon's Dream when he had finished that. I am so excited now that my youngest son is almost able to begin reading these books on his own!
When I first read these books and wrote this review, I was new to graphic novels and there weren't too many on the shelves. I think there are more graphic novels for kids out there now then there were three years ago, but I also think that I am more aware of them. There are almost 50 titles under the Graphic Novel label on my blog and it continues to grow. The The Fog Mound Trilogy is a great series for so many reasons, the best being that it is fantastic for transitioning readers to longer chapter books that don't feel long and also good for weaning Wimpy Kid addicts off of novels with lots of graphics. The The Fog Mound Trilogy has chapters that alternate between 5 - 10 pages of graphic novel and 5 - 10 pages of text with illustrations and strikes the perfect balance. And, of course, the black and white illustrations, with blue accents in Travels with Thelonious, green accents in Faradawn and purple accents in Simon's Dream, are completely engaging. When I first read these books in 2009, I would share parts of the story that made me laugh with anyone nearby and was thrilled when my then four year old son, who still doesn't have the patience or attention span for me to read chapter books out loud to him, climbed into my lap more than once to hear what was going on with Thelonious, Fitzgerald, Olive the mechanically minded bear and the velocicopter.
Now, to the story itself! Thelonious is a chipmunk living on his own in the Untamed Forest, which is inhabited by speaking and non-speaking animals. He is in possession of a postcard with a picture of a skyscraper on it, however, to the animals of the forest, humans and their creations are the stories of myths since none of them have ever ventured out of the forest and seen where humans once lived and the creations they built. During a storm, Thelonious' house is washed away and he is carried downstream to the City of Ruins. There he sees a scavenging bear, encounters a shady lizard and a helpful porcupine. Somehow, the three of them end up airborne and headed to the Fog Mound of the title, but not without a few bumps and detours first. I won't say anymore because the pictures tell so much of the story and provide so many details to the characters and their environment, and the plot twists are so great, I want readers to be able to discover them on their own. But, there are a few mysteries presented that do not get answered in the first book, such as: what happened to the humans, what happened to Ragna and Ruby, Olive's sisters who also ventured off the Fog Mound, and what's up with Bill the frozen scientist, why does he look so blissful and why has he shrunk? Look for some of these answers in books 2 and 3.
I should have known I would enjoy this book. I always love chapter books that have illustrations, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by remarkable Brian Selznick being foremost in this category (despite the fact that the bestowing of the Caldecott Medal technically classifies this book as distinguished picture book.) And, I can't forget the book by the marvelously detailed illustrator and now author, Chris Riddell, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat. While Selznick's book really is more of a picture book with lots of text and Riddell's book is more of a chapter book with LOTS of pictures, The Fog Mound Trilogy books are truly chapter books interspersed with sections of graphic novels. During these parts, I often found my eyes speeding ahead, following the action, then returning to read the words. I'm not sure if this is how most people read graphic novels, but I have a feeling that this might be how boys read them, and maybe also why some boys begin to struggle with reading when they hit the age of eight or so - about the time when pictures in chapter books are less frequent, if present at all. If that is the case, I hope that Schade and Buller continue this fabulous series and unparalleled - thus far - genre of books for kids, and that other great writers and artists catch on and contribute their own ideas to this new territory in the world of children's literature.
All three books in this series, Travels of Thelonious and Faradawn and Simon's Dream are out in paperback!