cover image Moletown


Torben Kuhlmann, trans. from the German by Andrew Rushton. NorthSouth (IPS, dist.), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7358-4208-3

Kuhlmann follows his sprightly debut, Lindbergh (2014), with a somber social commentary, some of whose significance will be grasped only by older readers. In 15 cutaway spreads of life underground, he depicts the rise and fall of a civilization of moles. A single mole settles under an idyllic daisy-studded meadow and digs for coal. The coal-mining operation takes off, attracting mole immigrants who arrive with suitcases and headscarves and live in tenements illuminated with bare light bulbs. Massive industrial growth with ever-larger mining machinery culminates in a metropolis glittering with lights and choked with traffic. The story’s most poignant scene is a cross-section of the now-prosperous but lonely moles sitting in rooms crammed with enormous speakers, cathode-ray tube TVs, and rotary telephone assemblies. “Many generations later,” Kuhlmann concludes, “the moles’ green meadow had completely disappeared. Almost.” The final page hints at a solution. Even if younger readers don’t fully understand the allegory, they will be transfixed by the gracefully drafted and soberly colored paintings of the moles, their intricately engineered machines, and their exhausted, poorly-lit world. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)