It would be difficult to find a more self-centred hamster than the one starring in this illustrated story. It’s a kind of extreme ‘Tales From the Riverbank’, where the hamster has all the charm of Toad of Toad Hall and is every bit as brazen. Hamster introduces himself to us by dropping in on his friends' picnic.
This is hotly followed by an invitation to read his friend Mole’s novel. But the novel is far too boring and Hamster imposes his own reading on the story: The hamster lit up the clearing. Each morning, a hedgehog and a mole smiled at him – as if to thank him for being there.
Hamster’s egocentrism is so startling I found myself compelled to read on! We travel with Hamster and friends from their clearing in a European forest home to the Arctic Circle, where he and his friends go on holiday.
This beautifully drawn story unfolds in short, sharply crafted scenes. At 128 pages, it is a type of book we don’t often see from English language publishers. The text is concise: it’s pure dialogue, like a great film script. The visual design and characters are integrated and sustained. Illustrator Pauline Martin began her career in graphic novels (bande dessinée) and it's clearly a strength of the book. The combination of image and text results in a book that is part picture book, part comic. It’s a sophisticated delight, as accessible to beginning readers as it is rewarding to the most able, adults included.
Besides the bumptious Hamster, the rest of his friends are utterly charming. These include Snail, who the Hamster requires to make a space craft from wood and nails; the irrepressible Mole; a red squirrel; a white rabbit (non-magical), and a very friendly bear. Together the group goes on holiday to the North Pole and there meet a polar bear, a whale and an emperor penguin (okay, penguins live in the Antarctic, but let’s not quibble). The encounters between creatures of different places leads to some thought provoking, funny and philosophical conversations. The use of white space in book’s design is a natural fit for the frozen landscapes.
Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster ends with all safely returned home and the promise of further adventurers and I cannot wait to join them.
About the illustrator
Pauline Martin was born in Paris in 1975. She attended the l’Atelier de Sèvres in Paris, and then l’institut Supérieur des Arts Appliqués, where she was mentored by Killofer and Dupuy-Berbérian. For many years she as a graphic designer for a publisher and explored her own ideas through drawing. Her published books include La Boîte and La meillieure du monde (published in English as The Best in the World). Pauline Martin illustrated Leonora for the celebrated graphic novelist David B. Today her illustration work is dedicated to children’s books and is published in France by Albin Michel Jeunesse.