Certain books capture our imagination by paradoxically permitting us to give free rein to it. Often short and labeled as "children's literature," tales such as Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, and (to a lesser extent) Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull are written in such a way as to lull the uncynical reader into participating in the fantasy, until bam! the writer has worked in something profound in the midst of childlike (but never, ever childish; a mistake many writers make in trying to capture such a tone in their stories that younger audiences might read) wonder and imagination. Like that ghostly afterimage people often see after staring at a bright object too long and then turning away, these stories often leave us with much to consider long after the last page has been turned and the book closed.
Almost three months ago, I was sent a curious little book from a small imprint of Random House's, Flying Dolphin Press. It was called a "visual novel," and the title was Mr. Fooster: Traveling on a Whim. Intrigued, I started to read this tiny (barely 100 pages) book. Here is what hooked me:
Mr. Fooster has a long list of things he likes to do. One is dreaming. Another is looking for arrowheads. On this Tuesday morning he did neither. He simply put an old wrinkled letter back into its envelope, placed it into his coat pocket, and headed out the door with no particular place to go.I began to recall times when as a child, I would watch mud harden and wonder how if I were to dig deep enough, the soil would be clay. How could I make this into modeling clay?, I wondered then (and still do). Why do cracks form in the hardening mud? What would happen if ashes from the charcoal grill were added to it? What if...?
As he walked, his mind began to wander. How was it that prophets could manifest things and he couldn't? How come mandarin oranges came in perfect little segments without any mechanical engineering? Why was it that bubbles bobbled to and fro, yet always found their way back to a perfect sphere?
And there I was, lost in a world parallel to that of Mr. Fooster's. As he traveled on that driving whim of his and encountered all sorts of fantastical (and decidedly scary objects if they were in another medium) beings, his questions, ponderings, and wanderings began to create the faint, hazy outlines of something greater than what was being stated in this tale. Like Sendak's wild creatures or the places that Harold's purple crayon takes him, Mr. Fooster's wanderings began to act as a conduit for my own imagination to walk about, to stop and puzzle at strange oddities, before accepting them wholeheartedly and moving on, just as I did as a child.
Craig Frazier's illustrations add much to this whimsical tale. Drawn in sepia-like tones, there is a sense of warmth there within even the strangest of illustrations. These illustrations serve as a perfect complement for the scenes being depicted and they help with the immersive qualities of Corwin's tale. When I reached the last page and saw that Mr. Fooster's whim had taken him to a simple and yet profound conclusion, I found that for me, the story was left hanging there, until the next time that I myself might have a whim of my own and wanted to explore mentally as Mr. Fooster did physically. For those who like to indulge in such "flights of fancy," Mr. Fooster: Traveling on a Whim will make for a wonderful, magical experience that will conjure memories of rainy day dreams and proddings of rain-refuged earthworms wriggling on the wet ground, of wondering just how many beauties and mysteries one can discover on this planet. It certainly is a book that I will add to my small canon of works to be re-read periodically whenever life's burdens threatens to weigh me down. Most highly recommended.
Publication Date: June 17, 2008 (US), Hardcover.
Publisher: Flying Dolphin Press
P.S. For an audiobook/book trailer experience of the book, click on this link.