Beginning with the title page, in The Eleventh Hour, the reader is drawn into a mystery. "A book
is read, a story ends, a telling tale is told. But who can say what mysteries
a single page may hold?" (Base 1989). Let the adventure begin as Horace
the Elephant turns eleven years old and decides to throw an exciting birthday party for himself. Animal friends arrive in elaborate costumes including Horace as a Roman Centurion, Mouse as a musketeer,
Cat as Cleopatra, and the list goes on. The revelers entertain themselves until
the eleventh hour when it is time to eat and they discover that the exquisite birthday feast has vanished with only crumbs
left! Ingenious Horace come to the rescue and produces a healthier but not so
fancy treat for his guests. The party goers never learn the identity of the food thief.
That task is left to the reader. The author challenges detectives with "close observation and some simple
deduction", to decide which of the eleven animals is the culprit. Simple
deduction is a matter of opinion! Every page in this picture book is chock full
of minute details woven into a tapestry of detailed, watercolor and acrylic drawings.
Even the borders leave clues to unravel. This is a puzzlers' puzzle. For the impatient or clueless, the author has included an ending for the reader
titled, "The Inside Story" and marked "Top Secret" which explains each clue in detail and leads the reader to discover
the identity of the scoundrel. Readers ar left with another challenge asking,
"Did you ever find out the name of the swan?"
The Eleventh Hour is a clever and whimsical multi-award winning picture book. Awards include, YABBA-Young Australian
Best Book Award (Picture), 1989, and CBC-Book of the Year (picture book), 1989 (Base 2002). Written in rhyming text, the reader is drawn along through this fantasy from beginning to end. Illustrations are an integral part of this amazing picture book with its interwoven elements. The reader must pour over the pictures again and again to capture the detail. Characters take on a life and a humanlike personality of their own.
The book was originally published in Australia and Graeme Base is an Australian author/illustrator. According
to the author, there are some cultural markers to look for in his story. He traveled
overseas and visited game parks in Kenya and Tanzania observing the wild game used in his illustrations for this book.
The entrance hall of Horace's house is based on the architecture of St. Peters in Rome (Base 2002).