by Beth C.
Last fall, Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure, written and illustrated by Frédéric Othon Aristid — better known as Fred — received so much advance praise and was so well-received that TOON Books has accelerated their publishing schedule for the Philemon Adventure series, which will contain sixteen books in all. In 2015, fans will be able to get their hands on the next two (yes, two!) books: The Wild Piano (just released) and The Suspended Castle (due in October). Yay! The Philemon Adventures are geared towards kids 8-12 year olds, but they are most definitely stories that adults can read and enjoy, as well.
Pardon all my enthusiasm and exclamation points (you’ve been warned, there are more to come), but I loved The Wild Piano. It lives up to the hype, and then some.
First, it can be risky for the publisher to compare their comic book series to other comic strips and literary works, especially when those titles are such admirable and well-loved classics. It just sets the reading expectation bar really high. But comparing Philemon’s alternate world — the letters A-T-L-A-N-T-I-C on maps are each islands populated with surreal flora and fauna, people, and landmarks — to Alice’s Wonderland, Little Nemo’s Slumberland, and Oz is spot on.
Second, with few exceptions, I tend to not read series whether it be comics or books. I can see the appeal — being able to return and spend time with a favorite character in his/her world — but often subsequent titles are just missing the magic of the first. The Wild Piano is one notable exception. I didn’t think it was possible but I enjoyed The Wild Piano as much, if not more, than Cast Away on the Letter A!
I think the main reason why I loved The Wild Piano so much is that after the briefest of recaps of what happened in Cast Away on the Letter A, the new story begins and hits the ground running with page after page of new adventures on a different island (the letter “N” this time), with new people to meet, all set in a surreal landscape. It was a fun and exciting read! Cast Away on the Letter A was terrific too, of course, but since it is the first book in the series, some space is devoted to setting up the story, explaining the alternate world, and the like.
The Wild Piano begins with Philemon getting told off by this father for not paying attention while he was talking because Philemon was thinking about Mr. Bartholomew, who is still trapped in the labyrinth at the bottom of the well. (Readers of the series will understand all of this context.) However, Philemon’s Uncle Felix knows Mr. Bartholomew and knows all about the letter “A.” Readers get the impression that Uncle Felix knows more about this alternate world and maybe has even been there. For the rescue mission, rather than travelling to the “A” via the well, Uncle Felix shrinks Philemon by using the smaller end of a spyglass, placing him on the second letter “A” in Atlantic Ocean on his table-top globe, and giving the globe a spin. Unfortunately, Philemon ends up in the seas between the letters “A” and “N,” but with some help from citizens of this strange alternate world, Philemon lands on the letter “N.” Of course, once Philemon arrives he unintentionally breaks a law and is sentenced to face the Wild Piano.
Each title in the Philemon Adventure series concludes with a visual glossary. You may be asking, “Why does a (children’s) comic book need a glossary at the back?” Well, in addition to the Philemon Adventure stories being wonderfully fun, absurd, and surreal, there’s a bit of high-brow too. Fred’s comic panels feature occasional playful tributes to works of literature, historical events, and art — and if you didn’t understand the references while you were reading, there’s a full explanation in the back.
The Wild Piano is wonderful, and I am looking forward to The Suspended Castle being released later this fall — as are many Philemon fans. Here’s to hoping that in 2016 TOON Books publishes at least two more new Philemon Adventure titles!
Get your copy of The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure, as well as other releases from TOON Books: