#WorldKidLitWednesday: Three picture books by Torben Kuhlmann: “Lindbergh,” “Armstrong” and “Edison”

I’ve always had a soft spot for mice. Not the computer kind, nor the kind that were supposed to make Victorian women shriek and fall into a dead faint. (Probably because their corsets were too tight….but I digress.) No, the cute, cotton, and cuddly kind.

So I fell hard for Torben Kuhlmann’s imaginative historical fiction with mouse heroes, a trio of picture story books (long picture books) nominally for ages 4-8, but truly enjoyable for readers of all ages. Lovingly illustrated, all three in this triumvirate reward repeated visits, as the illustrations are rich with exquisite, draftsman-like detail and endpapers that evoke Leonardo da Vinci.

These are beautiful books.

In each, the premise is simple and engaging. An intrepid mouse inventor or his equally intrepid descendant provides the inspiration for the human who is credited today. For his first story, Kuhlmann* chooses Charles Lindbergh’s flight; the mouse builds an airplane and crosses the Atlantic. Kuhlmann’s second book moves on to Neil Armstrong’s moon landing; the next mouse builds a spaceship to become the first terrestrial to step onto the moon. Finally, in Edison, Kuhlmann follows up with Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb… mousified.

Boiled down this way, the plots almost sound mundane. Not so! Each volume contains exciting adventures, obstacles to overcome, mysteries to solve, and villains to avoid, all enhanced by Kuhlmann’s amazing illustrations. As if that weren’t enough, all three books include factual back matter to round out the historical context, the first two replete with forewords from curators at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. And although Armstrong and Edison are sequels of a sort, each works well as a stand-alone read.

Kuhlmann’s next picture book, The Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany shows another airborne vehicle on the cover, a hot air balloon. Due out in March 2020 from Chronicle Books rather than NorthSouth, The Flight for Freedom has a separate author (Kuhlmann is “only” the illustrator rather than the author-illustrator). From what I can tell, there are no mice, either.

Still, I can hardly wait.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Written and Illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann
Translated from the German by Suzanne Levesque
2014, NorthSouth Books (96 pages)
ISBN: 9780735841673

Awards: USBBY Outstanding International Book 2015, Nami Golden Island Award 2015, Indiefab 2015 Book of the Year Award, MGA 2015 Best Children’s Book Award

Reviews: Publishers Weekly starred review; New York Times Sunday Book Review

Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon
Written and Illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann
Translated from the German by David Henry Wilson
2016, NorthSouth Books (128 pages)
ISBN: 9780735842625

Reviews: Publishers Weekly starred review; Kirkus

Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure
Written and Illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann
Translated from the German by David Henry Wilson
2018, NorthSouth Books (112 pages)
ISBN:  9780735843226

Awards: 2019 Mildred Batchelder Honor Book; 2019 ALA Notable Book

Reviews: Kirkus

*A big thank you to co-blogger Laura Taylor who introduced me to Kuhlmann’s fabulous work in her review of Moletown.

Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then(Humanoids, 2018) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second, 2017) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Her most recent translation is The Sisters, vol. 5: M.Y.O.B. (Papercutz); upcoming in 2020 are Little Josephine and A House Without Windows (Humanoids); Brina the Cat #2: City Cat and Supersisters, vol. 1-2 (Papercutz); and Undead Messiah, vol. 3 and Bibi & Miyu (TOKYOPOP).

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