Beautiful, Unusual Children’s Books 7

The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery – Graeme Base (writer and illustrator)

First, a short description:

Horace, a young elephant, wishes to throw an extravagant party in honor of his eleventh birthday. Planning, preparations, and the party itself go well and most enjoyably until… 

…but I won’t spoil it for you.

Now, for the content:

This is a treasure trove of a book. Just look at the artwork!

The Eleventh Hour

Does anyone else get the feeling of being in a cathedral or a palace? I’ve never seen such a lush, exquisite illustration in my life. Look at all the minute and precise details – from the opulence of Horace’ home to the proportions and features of each animal. I want this picture to be framed and hung in my house. I’d rightly call it the most elegant thing that I own.

The story itself, specifically how it’s told, has captivated me for years. The narrative rhymes throughout, but it’s more complex sort of rhyme than, say, “Horace was an elephant. / He lived inside a great big tent.” That is a made-up example. The actual language of the book is much, much richer. Here are the first two verses:

When Horace was turned Eleven he decided there should be / Some kind of celebration. “For my friends,” he said, “and me.” / For though I’ve been the age of eight and nine and six and seven, / This is the very first time that I’ve ever been Eleven!”

With that he set to work and wrote the name of every Guest, / And then eleven sorts of food that Elephants like best. / He wrote the invitations next (and sent them off that day), / And finally eleven Games for everyone to play.  

I can’t help but be enchanted. The words are elegant, but none of them are overly formal. None of them are so rare, or so outmoded, that a reader might not recognize them. I would not be at all surprised if the language of the story proved to be “immortal”.

Before purchasing this book, one thing should be known – the mystery is not solved within the story. Instead, an encrypted answer key is provided in the back. This answer key is also accompanied by a booklet that explains how to spot clues to the solution within the illustrations. So, do not be frustrated by the seeming lack of closure. That’s one of the best qualities of this book – that it provides an invitation to each reader to participate in the story, to become the detective that will solve this “curious mystery”.

Age level: I don’t think one can be specified. Give this book, or suggest it, to any child who is an independent reader.

Available for purchase:

– Circuit B


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