The Fog Mound, Book 1: The Travels of Thelonious
Written by Susan Schade; Illustrated by Jon Buller
Aladdin Paperbacks; $8.99
The first thing you notice about The Fog Mound is that it’s an interesting mix of chapter book and graphic novel. Chapters alternate between being told first with illustrated text and next with comics. I’m halfway through the second volume now and I’m still not sure why they chose to do it that way, but I like it for a couple of reasons.
First, it breaks up the visual monotony that comes with any 200-plus-page book. Maybe it’s just me, but unless the story is the greatest thing I’ve ever read, I always find myself counting how many pages I’ve got left when I’m reading longer material. There’s just something about seeing page after page of text or comics panels that makes my eyes glaze over. I also set my DVD display to show me how much time I’ve got left when I’m watching movies, so like I said, maybe it’s me.
I didn’t have that problem with Thelonious though. Each chapter felt new and interesting because it was a different format from the one I’d just read.
The second thing I like about the format is that it’s – theoretically anyway – a cool transition from prose to comics or vice versa for anyone who could stand some diversity in his or her reading. I say “theoretically” because I haven’t tested that notion yet. I love both formats and so does my son whom I read Thelonious with. This is one of our first chapter books though, and it’s encouraging that he was so into reading a chapter a night and looking forward to the next night’s installment. I’d love to hear stories about whether or not it works to introduce a comics-loving kid into a chapter-book reader though (or the other way around).
I asked my six-year-old what I should say in this review and he told me that “we liked it.” When I asked him why, he said, “Because of the characters.” He’s an animal fan and the Fog Mound characters are mostly talking animals.
The main one is a chipmunk named Thelonious. “Thelonious Chipmunk.” I just now got the gag with his name. I’m slow sometimes; even with other jazz references in the book.
Anyway, Thelonious lives in a post-apocalyptic world in an area called the Untamed Forest. All the humans are gone (supposedly), but the remnants of their civilization still exist and they fascinate Thelonious. He gets his chance to examine them close up when a flood washes him out of his home and onto the shores of the City of Ruins, a former urban area that’s now inhabited by other talking animals.
Thelonious meets a couple of these. One of them is a lizard named Brown who’s a lackey for a nasty someone called the Dragon Lady. The other is a porcupine named Fitzgerald who shares Thelonious’ interest in human culture. About the time things start to get really sticky with the Dragon Lady, a lost bear named Olive shows up with a flying machine and tales of her utopian home, the Fog Mound. The rest of the book covers Thelonious and his friends’ attempt to locate the Fog Mound and uncover the mystery of what happened to the humans. They do one of those things; the other seems to be the major question of the whole series. Then again, I’m only halfway through Book 2 (there are three out, so far), so I might not know what I’m talking about.
Like my son said, the characters in The Fog Mound are loveable and charming. Thelonious is all wide-eyed excitement at the new world he’s discovering. Fitzgerald’s curiosity about the humans and his willingness to share his knowledge with Thelonious is endearing. Olive is as gentle and kind as she is large and intimidating. Even the sinister Brown proves to have some heroic qualities and as the only other main character who’s Thelonious’ size, he and the chipmunk form an interesting – if uneasy – relationship.
My only criticism of The Fog Mound is that there seems to be no artistic rationale behind which chapters are told in prose and which are told as comics. There’s a strict, alternating pattern that makes the choices feel arbitrary. Not that I ever felt a particular chapter would’ve been better suited for the opposite format (and so I think I’m probably looking for something negative to say here), but I would have loved it if there had been something in the story that demanded certain chapters be told certain ways.
Then again, if they’d done that, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the diversity of formats to the same extent that I did. So never mind that last paragraph. The Fog Mound, Book 1 is wonderful just the way it is.