Skip to main content

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice, translated by Anne Smith and Owen Smith, 64pp, RL 4

Breathtakingly beautiful, exciting, and perfectly presented in a trim size larger than most graphic novels, Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, book 1, by French graphic novel writer and artist, Alex Alice. His bio notes that, as a child, Alice developed a lifelong passion for the, "ruins and castles of the medieval and romantic ages." This, with a touch of Jules Verne, some steampunk flourishes and a splash of history, informs this two volume epic.

Aether, a concept originated by Socrates, is the element that scientists, politicians and royalty are seeking in 1869 in the hopes of harnessing its power, for good and bad. As Castle in the Stars begins, Claire Dulac is preparing to ascend 11,000 meters into the atmosphere with a light bulb designed to detect aether, her husband Archibald trying to talk her out of this crazy experiment, her son Seraphin looking on. Claire's mission is both a success and failure.

A year later, and Seraphin is obsessed with aether, turning an assignment for his Latin class on Venus, the goddess, into an opportunity to discuss Venus the planet (not a star) and the probability that planetary conditions allow for dinosaurs to exist there, making the development of an aether-engine that can get an expedition to the planet a necessity. The story shifts quickly as word of the discovery of Claire's ship's log are sent to Archibald, along with the command that he leave for a castle in Bavaria immediately.

The action moves quickly in Castle in the Stars as Alice layers in detail after detail, both in story and illustrations, to this magical story. Bismark, the Prime Minister of Prussia, and his desire to unify the many kingdoms, duchies, principalities and city-states of Germany, along with Ludwig, the King of Bavaria, bring action, drama, intrigue and to the story as Seraphin and Archibald find themselves at Swan's Rock, an elaborate and fanciful castle built by the king with his personal fortune. Alice incorporates many biographical aspects of Ludwig into Castle in the Stars, including his profound love of the composer Wagner and the frescoes decorating the walls of Neuschwanstein (Swan's Rock) with scenes from Lohengrin, Parisfal, Tristan and Isolde and other operas. This alone would make Castle in the Stars compelling, but Ludwig has a secret, if eccentric plan in the works and he needs Archibald's design expertise to help see it to completion - and stop the Prussians from stealing it.

At Swan's Rock, Seraphin befriends Hans, a lad with a love of air travel, and his half sister Sophie, a castle servant. Together, they form the Knights of the Aether with the goal of stopping the Prussians and saving the great airship that Ludwig is having Archibald (once Archibald dissuades the king of having an orchestra pit on board) build. Book 1 of Castle in the Air ends on a moment of cliff hanging excitement that will have you anxiously awaiting Book 2 while also reading Book 1 over and over, noticing something new every time!

Source: Review Copy


Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there l…