Ok, time to 'fess up. When's the last time you were so drawn in by a kid's book that you lost track of time? This one, by Graeme Base, did it for me. "The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery" is a book that I could spend hours with for several reasons:
1. Incredibly detailed and high-quality illustrations. Wow, this guy can really draw! You'll love his humorous and detail-packed images.
2. Layers and layers to discover - this book is a mystery, after all, and the reader is the detective looking for visual clues on each page to solve a theft. The best part is, that once you think you've solved it and know whodunnit, the author reveals in a clever way that there is still MORE to find in picture! What fun! I was up way past my bedtime hunting, decoding and generally feasting my eyes. Going back over each page led to many more delightful discoveries.
3. Setting: many of the illustrations are set in various rooms of a house, with each one decorated in its own historical artistic style. For example, the entrance hall is drawn based on the architecture of the high Rennaissance, the poker room has many art noveau and art deco influences, and the feasting hall is highly medieval. As an artist, I really appreciate the work and research that went into each page. As a homeschool mom, I have a fun springboard to teach my children about different artistic styles found throughout history.
While the detective work in this book was a bit over my 4 and 5 year olds' heads, they still enjoyed the rhymed verses which tell the tale of Horace's Eleventh birthday party. I think children in the 8-12 year old range would really enjoy this book; it requires logic, close attention to visual details, lots of decoding secret messages hidden within the illustrations... all wrapped up in the author's playful world of costumed animals. For the early elementary and preschooler crowd, I'd recommend Base's "At the Watering Hole". It's another superbly illustrated book centered around counting animals at a diminishing watering hole. And with the "Eleventh Hour", there is much more to see than found at first glance!