I bought this book two years ago from Barnes and Noble in Brentwood California [if I am not mistaken]. I’ve always been fascinated by Graeme Base’s work – he manages to infuse codes, secrets, and clues that you would have to unlock, discover, unravel as you flip through each of the gorgeous pages. Absolutely perfect for our Whodunit theme this May/June 2011.
An Invitation to a Fancy Dress Birthday Party. Horace the Elephant and Chef Extraordinaire is celebrating his 11th birthday party. He invited eleven of his friends to a fancy dress birthday party with lots of games and a delectable feast that he prepared himself “for Elephants are verily the best cooks in the world.”
The guests came in their fancy dresses: An Admiral Pig, a Punk Zebra, an Astronaut Rhino, a Cleopatra Cat (Queen of the Nile, no less), Twin Giraffes with haloes in their head (of course, there has to be an angel), a Mouse Musketeer – among others.
As all birthday parties go, there were lots of games to be played, the entire mansion and its sprawling loan the guests’ playground. Horace, the Birthday Boy, however – has just one teeny weensy request: the guests can only start eating the delectable feast that he has prepared during the eleventh hour. And not one minute before. Makes sense, he is after all, turning eleven.
There were lots of activities to amuse the guests, however: a sack race across the Croquet Lawn, musical chairs in the Ballroom with Sam the Judge Alligator playing Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ and ‘British Grenadiers’, a board game (with actual pythons, asps and adders), an enjoyable Cricket match – followed shortly by a game of pool, Blind Man’s Buff (with the Admiral Pig in blindfold) and a Tennis Match to boot.
The Crime. The Suspects. The codes and clues. Unbeknownst to the guests and Horace, a crime is stealthily being carried out in a highly-organized fashion while everyone seems mighty involved with their games.
The Crime? The entire feast – gone! Stolen! A thief in the midst.
The cakes had turned to scattered crumbs, no cream was to be seen,
And nothing now remained where once the Chocolate Mousse had been.
The Centrepiece had toppled, not a strawberry was left.
‘But who’, they cried, ‘could possibly have managed such a theft?’
This is where Graeme Base’s genius becomes even more manifest. Not only are the page spreads absolutely riveting in its full color glory – there are apparently a lot of codes embedded in the margins, the borders of the page, even the clock leaves clues – since as Graeme Base pointed out in The Inside Story found at the end of the tale: “A careful examination of the pages reveals that the time of the theft can be pinpointed to within a minute or so.”
This is a story that you do not just read – it is an ingenious activity book that children would have so much fun discovering and poring over. There is even a “Notes for Detectives” page which the bright, enthusiastic young reader can use to challenge himself/herself – and a detailed Author’s notes per page!
I also enjoyed Graeme’s powers of alliteration, and the way that the poetry did not at all seem hackneyed or dull with singsong like quality that most authors deem ‘suitable’ for children. He does not ‘dumb down’ his writing or his illustrations to suit what is expected to be the simple child’s sensibilities. Far from it. He lays down the gauntlet, so to speak, and challenges the reader to keep up and join him in his adventure.
Resources and Links. I found several detailed book reviews devoted to The Eleventh Hour as I was surfing for websources. This one is from the Sydney Morning Herald published in 2008 aptly entitled “Codes, Tricks, and Treats.” It also includes an incisive look into other works created by Graeme Base such as Enigma and Animalia.
This downloadable pdf link is from Teachingbooks.net – it contains an extremely comprehensive ten-paged interview with Graeme Base himself where he talked about the influences of his travels in his creation of picture books. TeachingBooks also had the privilege of asking Graeme Base details about each one of his books from The Water Hole, The Sign of the Seahorse, and Jungle Drums to name a few.
The book has also received several recognition including the following: Joint winner in 1989 for CBC Book of the Year, Winner in 1989 for Kids Own Australia Literature Award (KOALA), Winner in 1989 for Young Australian Best Book Award (YABBA) (source here).
The amazing Graeme Base. Born in England in 1958, Graeme now lives in Melbourne Australia since 1966. He obtained a Diploma of Design from Swinburne College of Technology but a string of advertising work has made him realize that this area is not for him. And so he became a rock star instead, joining the band Rikitikitavi – and he ended up marrying the lead singer (source here). Not bad! If you want to know more about the multi-awarded, extremely talented Graeme Base, click here to be taken to his official website.
The Eleventh Hour, A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base. Puffin Books, Doublebase Pty Ltd., 1998. Bought my own copy of this book.