Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 186
Published: January 29th, 2019
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review
Opening Lines: "There was no question in Freya's mind that this was her last chance. Either she would find a way onto the balloon, or she would live out the rest of her days on this miserable rock."
Freya has always craved a bit of adventure but has lacked the courage to actually give it a try, but once she starts reading Hints to Lady Travellers, she is inspired to stowaway aboard Captain Salomon August Andre's hot-air balloon expedition to the North Pole. Zoose, on the other hand, has always wanted to be the first mouse explorer to reach the North Pole and he has no qualms in telling anyone who will listen about it. Moments after sneaking aboard the balloon, the two come face to face when they're tossed about as the balloon has difficulties staying airborne. Freya is dignified and lady like where Zoose is uncouth and ill mannered, needless to say they don't initially hit it off. However, when the hot-air balloon crash lands in the Artic, they start to realize that they need one another more than the thought.
At first glance, I was expecting a light hearted story about an unlikely friendship between a rockhopper penguin and a mouse. What surprised me was the adventure they had aboard Captain Salomon August Andre's hot-air balloon, and that it is based on the real events of the Swedish polar explorer's expedition to reach the North Pole with a hydrogen balloon in 1897. While the story does provide some of the historical details of their attempt to reach the North Pole, the story is told primarily from the vantage point of Freya and Zoose viewing the explorers progress. Meaning they don't really interact with the humans but do observe them building sledges, discussing what supplies to abandon after they crash land, and they witness the difficulties the crew experience being stranded in the Artic. There are several tense moments when the crew and Freya and Zoose are thrown overboard from the boat, risking drowning, as well as a polar bear attack on their tent. Again the kinds of things one would expect with such a challenging expedition, but would require picking just the right kind of reader for the story. This is not merely an adventure friendship story, it also includes huge feats of survival and themes of death and dying.
Freya and Zoose are such polar opposites. Freya has impeccable manners and feels bad about trying to stowaway on the crews boat after they crash land, thinking that they'll just add to their load. However, Zoose doesn't seem to be bothered by taking what he can from the crew and would just abandon them all together and go it alone if need be. The friendship that develops between the two was my favorite part of the story. The way that they learned more about each other's past and found that they had more in common then just stowing away together. Included in the story are several black and white illustrations by Jennifer Thermes which are quite delightful in the way that they capture Freya and Zoose in action. Especially the one where the boat tips over and Freya is gliding through the water to rescue Zoose. While I was surprised at first about the historical aspects of Captain Andre's expedition the story illustrates how a rockhopper penguin and mouse can form an unlikely friendship and develop a home for themselves.
**Thank you Emily Butler for my review copy**
Favorite line: "I never worry about what I'll do. Doing is what happens along the way."