From learning to fly across the Atlantic, to traversing the moon, the main character in Torben Kuhlmann’s Mouse Adventures books is about to enter an entirely new dimension: time travel. The fourth installment in the series, Einstein (NorthSouth, Sept.), builds upon previous storylines by exploring space and the theory of relativity, seen through the lens of a young mouse.
“Like the main characters in each of the mouse adventures, this mouse has a dream and uses scientific methods to achieve his goal: making observations, testing hypotheses, and refining approaches,” said Beth Terrill, editor at NorthSouth Books. Once the mouse’s desire to attend a world-famous cheese festival seems within reach, the action suddenly shifts into high gear, with enemies to confront, riddles to solve, and of course, plenty of cheese to sample.
Along with an inventive plot and richly drawn characters are Kuhlmann’s highly detailed graphics that Terrill calls “a visual feast for kids of any age. His illustrations are filled with unusual machines, fierce-looking foes, and intriguing inventions.”
Tiny but Mighty
When determining which historical figure would inspire his next work, Kuhlmann found meaning beyond his own personal fascination with Einstein. “Albert Einstein provides me with a perfect modus operandi to tell this wacky story,” he told PW. “Einstein is known for his thought experiments, which often start with one question: ‘What if…?’ ” By adopting this same approach, Kuhlmann mused on the mouse’s role and influence on developing the theory of relativity—a natural fit for introducing a time traveling component to the story. The author-illustrator, who lives in Hamburg, Germany, has been writing the Mouse Adventures series since 2014, featuring Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse, Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon, and Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure.
But, as Kuhlmann explained, incorporating Einstein’s factoids into the book was not without its challenges, particularly when it came to discussing science and philosophy. He concentrated on his illustrations to demonstrate concepts like the space-time curvature. “To explain the physics of time travel in the text would be a bit beyond my abilities,” he said. “The medium of picture books, however, makes it possible to suggest things on a visual level. Everyone can then use their own imagination and decide how credible my suggestions might be.” His own curiosity about Einstein’s theory of relativity prompted him to explore the topic in this book. “Clocks actually tick at different speeds depending on where you are—whether on a planet or in space—or how fast you’re moving. So my goal was to open the door a little bit to this fascinating topic,” he added.
As for showcasing the title character, Kuhlmann drew upon the time travel aspect by portraying two separate versions of Einstein: an older man with a mustache and white hair (as seen in black and white photographs) and a younger man in the second part of the book. “Here, I tried to meticulously recreate the city of Bern [Switzerland] in 1905 and a convincing daily life for this young and scientifically ambitious patent clerk,” he said. Using a mixture of pen and watercolors, he recreates this time period with sepia and ochre tones—a nod to Kuhlmann’s first mouse adventure, Lindbergh, which also took place in the 20th century. A later rendering of 1980s Switzerland, featuring dot-matrix displays and MS-DOS computers, offers a sharp contrast.
To help spread the word of Einstein’s release, NorthSouth has partnered with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance on its Reader Meets Writer series. On September 11, Kuhlmann was interviewed by middle grade author Constance Lombardo and drew live in his studio. Giveaways included signed prints and bookplates, as well as Einstein posters and bookmarks. The event was open to members of the SIBA and New Atlantic Independent Bookseller Association.
According to NorthSouth’s managing director Riky Stock, Einstein is the biggest book that the company has released in more than a decade; publication is being supported by a $100,000 marketing plan. For further information, librarians and educators can access the book’s website and teacher’s guide.