I love being part of a book tour, and even more so when it is a friend whose work you have seen evolve, deepen and knock-socks-off for a number of years. This is Fred’s début middle grade, and I am glad to say, the first in a series. I am also especially thrilled that it is published by Boyds Mills Press as I loved doing a tour of their publishing division when I was at Highlights over the summer.
Title: Garbage Island
Written & Illustrated by: Fred Koehler
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press, Sept. 2018
Themes: Great Pacific Garbage Patch, ocean garbage, fantasy, animal communities, bravery, friendship, predators, enemies, friends, bravery
Genre: animal fantasy
Mr. Popli looked out from his only porthole into the world, scrunched his whiskers and gasped.
What stole his breath was not seeing Archibald Shrew in the lagoon, but rather the ramshackle floating bicycle he appeared to be pedaling.
Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had. (Publisher)
Why I like this book:
This has all the stunning world building of the classic Redwall rodent series with all the non-stop action and suspense of a Hatchet survival story. I love to see picture book author-illustrator friends stretch their literary wings with lengthier texts, and Fred has debut with a page-turner, which will have you gasping for breath to keep up, but which is also filled with so much heart and character growth.
While told from two points of view, Mr. Popli, a sober pragmatic mouse Mayor and the impetuous inventor shrew, Archibald.
Through his latest invention, a telescope, Archie spots the community’s number one enemy, Colubra, a massive snake, with an egg. He rescues the egg believing it to be a bird’s like his bestie, Merri. Mr. Popli and Archie end up adrift with the mysterious egg and together face a series of epic greek-style hero’s journey adventures, including: a monstrous storm, an island of vicious spiders, a shark attack, and the unexpected hatching of the egg that I think readers will have enjoyed already guessing the content thereof.
The final challenge when it seems like all is lost, they face on returning to Garbage Island. There is a wonderful mix of conflict and collaboration between our two protagonists and their contrasting personalities adds much to the humor of the story. Despite their differences a lovely friendship based on the respect grown through proven loyalty and bravery develops. The conclusion is dramatic and sweet and lays the stage for the next adventure.
Fred manages a poetic balance of humor, action and depth through very thoughtful language and character growth, and some nuanced anthropomorphism! The text is interspersed with black and white sketches of key scenes, and if anything, I would have liked more illustrations!
Let me leave you with some of my favorite quotes, which will give you taste of the story and Fred’s skill as a writer.
“A week into his punishment for the sea-cycle incident, Archie had taken to his new routines with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed starfish.” p.30
A common expletive I love- “Snakespit!“
“Archie had always thought leadership was giving orders and making others do what you wanted—this was something altogether different. He felt weak and strong at the same time—weak because he was powerless on his own, yet mighty because he had earned the trust of his comrades.” p.245
I would highly recommend this as a great 4th grade classroom read-aloud.
Definitely have your students do some research on the extend and makeup of the real ocean garbage patch from which Fred got his inspiration for this story. https://www.theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/
Don’t miss this interview I did with Fred Koehler a couple of years ago.
Fred Koehler won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End. He is the author-illustrator of How To Cheer Up Dad, which received three starred reviews, and he is the illustrator of This Book Is Not About Dragons and Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and Flashlight Night. He lives with his children in Lakeland, Florida.
The publishers will send a copy of the book to one of my readers (in US/Canada only) as a part of the giveaway. Please leave a comment about the strangest/coolest thing you have found drifting in the ocean or washed up on a beach (can be ocean or lake.)
EDITED to add that John Smith was the winner of the random draw! 10/15/2018