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Lindbergh by Torben Kuhlmann (Review)

Book Review

Lindbergh children's book cover - mouse on airplaneOne might expect this book to be about the famous American aviator who flew solo across the Atlantic. It's not. It's about a mouse, a German mouse who wants to go to America because someone has, in fact, built a better mousetrap. (Cue There are no cats in America.)

The cover caught my eye while I was browsing a bookstore in France. I saw a mouse on an airplane, and I was sold. The story is an inspirational tale of inventiveness and perseverance. I did see a review that accused it of being predictable, which is fair, but do we want our intrepid mouse to be eaten by an owl? The book is formulaic in the manner of many children's stories to teach us to not lose heart if we fail; but instead to get up, dust ourselves off, come up with new and better ideas, and try again and again and again, until we reach success. The mouse protagonist doesn't mindlessly try the same failed method over and over. She* takes inspiration from nature and human inventions to create a better flying machine each time. And that's precisely the sort of lesson we want to impart on the next generation.

The text, however, plays second fiddle to the illustrations. These are gorgeous, detailed images in a subtle, vintage color scheme. The cover and the pages are made to look aged, which is a nice touch for a story set a hundred or so years ago. Some of my favorite illustrations are the mouse using human glasses to read books in the library, the mouse working on a prototype while surrounded by watch parts and other mechanical bits (steampunk mouse!), and the mouse with wings attached to her body perched on a clock overlooking a train station full of anonymous passengers. Their features are indistinguishable; it's a sea of suits and hats, in contrast to the mouse's individuality as an inventor. She rises above the faceless crowds by sheer force of her creativity and audaciousness.

 

Colorway for Lindbergh

 

Lindbergh is a picture book, but it may be too scary for some children. The story includes harrowing dangers; such as cats, owls, and mousetraps. There are images of dead mice caught in mousetraps; they aren't bloody but still rather shocking. It's a fantasy story that doesn't shield readers from the real world dangers in a rodent's life. The book is on the wordy side for a picture book. That, plus the dark elements in the story, suggests a slightly older audience than your average picture book. The illustrations are works of art and will appeal to adults, unless of course those adults have musophobia; there are a lot of mice in the images.

*The copy I have is the French translation by Anne-Judith Descombey, which has the added benefit of mice being feminine in French. Thus in my mind, the mouse is a girl, even though I realize that is simply an artifact of French grammar. The English version is translated by Suzanne Levesque. The mouse is referred to by the pronoun "he" in the English translation. Also, judging by the online preview, the English version includes a foreword by F. Robert van der Linden, the curator in charge of the Spirit of St. Louis in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. My French copy lacks this foreword.



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