A young researcher goes to Antarctica with his friend, Mouse. The researcher excitedly explores the frigid waters, but Mouse is not impressed. Mouse is cajoled into participating in activities like penguin watching and swimming in waters heated by an underwater volcano, but Mouse keeps asking when they can go home.
This is a good first graphic novel for early readers, with a very simple storyline and easy humor. Mouse emulates a petulant child, or perhaps even a cat, with his or her constant dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. However, that lack of satisfaction moves the story alongside some basic information about the Antarctic to pique a child’s interest in the remote region. Of course, if Mouse is any indication, a child might only find fault in the icy waters.
I had to read this several times to fully appreciate it. At first, I breezed through and ended feeling like I had missed something. A reread left me annoyed with Mouse. I mean, look at all that awesome stuff, Mouse! What’s your problem? The third time, however, was the charm where I appreciated that Mouse was a realistic reluctant hero standing in for the reader who might never have imagined going to Antarctica.
The writing is simple for the intended young audience, but the scope of the story is fairly epic in this journey to the bottom of the world. However, the “About the Author” section is about as long as the rest of the book. It gives the back story of how the book came to be with some anecdotal asides. Viva based the book on his own experiences aboard a ship to the Antarctic which made the whole story more fascinating to me. Granted, my undergrad was in geography, so the traveling to the great unknown is in my blood.
The drawings are in a style similar to Viva’s previous critically acclaimed book, Along a Long Road. A few colors, portrayed in solid blocks with no shading, make up the palette, so the characters pop off the very graphic pages. While everything looks interesting, nothing is particularly pretty. But, I now want a fairy penguin or a stuffed toy fairy penguin after seeing how cute they are in this book.
Many books for early readers are formulaic and boring for the adults forced to read or to listen to them over and over again. This one only gets more enjoyable with a reread or two, and the pictures are unique and fun to look at. However, if you’re looking for a regular Fun with Dick and Jane kind of beginner book, this one is probably too out there for you.
A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse
by Frank Viva
Toon Books, 2012