Written by Richard T. Morris, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
This is the mighty moose.
The plot in a nutshell: A documentary about a moose doesn’t go as planned.
The documentary filmmakers are showing the moose in his natural habitat, but have to stop filming when the moose declares that he wants to be an astronaut. The director explains that moose cannot be astronauts. On the second take, the moose’s grandmother enters the film and says she had dreams of being a lacrosse goalie. On the third take, a giraffe steps in to say he wanted to be a doctor. Take four is ruined when the giraffe and Grandmother Moose launch the main moose into space. The director has a meltdown, declaring that moose should only do moose things. There’s no way to move on to take five, because the moose is now in outer space. The director yells that he wants an animal who acts like it’s supposed to, then he looks around and realizes his whole crew is comprised of animals doing other jobs. Together, they climb into a canoe and blast off for space, where they begin a new documentary, about the moose as an astronaut.
Author Richard T. Morris presents a ‘film-within-a-picture-book’ whose comedic cues seem to have their roots in everything from This is Spinal Tap to Looney Tunes. The documentary format is the perfect vehicle to tell this story and it’s a smart choice to give us a shared point-of-view with the director. It makes the realization that he is literally surrounded by animals doing human jobs that much more comical. The book’s text is pretty much just narration for the documentary and conversations between the subjects and film crew. A glossary in the back of the book defines some terms used in filmmaking, although the definitions are tweaked a little to make them specific to this book (such as the definition for ‘Camera Operator’ being ‘A monkey who controls the camera’).
Tom Lichtenheld’s illustrations are done in ink, colored pencil and gouache, with digital enhancement by Kristen Cella, in blues, greens and browns that evoke the Pacific Northwest. The artwork beefs up the comedy here, with the facial expressions telling us all the details about how the characters are feeling. The director, a duck, is named Billy Waddler (in a nod to classic film director Billy Wilder) which will likely be funny to different age groups for different reasons. The book’s endpapers feature a camera’s view of the moose with a call to focus at the front and a call of ‘That’s a wrap!’ at the end. It’s a very funny book with a great message about dreaming big.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that everyone has the potential to be more than what others expect them to be, so never let anyone’s expectations hold you back.