Off the Shelf: The Eleventh Hour

Have you missed Off the Shelf? I sure have! I’m finally getting around to sharing another little something from my bookshelf. For you newbies, Off the Shelf is when I grab a book off the shelf in my living room — typically a kids’ book — and page through it with you. It’s fun times looking at glorious illustrations with totally unsophisticated commentary by me.

Today is Graeme Base’s “The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery” (1988).


Do you guys remember this one from your childhood?

I sure don’t. Where has this book been all my life?

It’s a simple story with a cliffhanger ending, and you — the reader — must search the illustrations for clues to figure out whodunnit. It’s like “I Spy” on steroids.

The title page gives you fair warning:


It all starts with Horace the Elephant.


Here he is writing invitations to his birthday party. If you look closer, you notice all sorts of little details: clues scribbled on the discarded papers at his feet, the letters on the wall, the question mark Post-It on the cork board.

All his animal friends show up to his mansion for the party dressed in costume — very nice touch! Since this ends up being a mystery, it’s only fitting that each character is trying to appear as something they’re not.


First thing’s first. Horace shows his guests the birthday feast he prepared. They all lay their eyes on it and drool. But lunch isn’t till 11:30, and they’ve got games to play first.


The animals play 11 games, and we learn things about each animal as they socialize. Here they are playing blind man’s bluff.


But we can’t ignore the details in the illustrations. See the black-and-white ribbon border? See the dots inside? Is it a code? Is the Bingo card the key?

Even when you’re not looking for clues, there’s a lot to appreciate in these hyper-detailed illustrations. Love the bird’s-eye perspective on this one. And look at the detail on the rug!


The two-page spreads are wonderful. Here’s the gang playing tug-of-war.


After playing all their games, the hungry animals retire to the dining room to scarf down the delicious lunch Horace prepared, but to their astonishment and angry grumbling bellies, they see that someone has STOLEN the food!


Who would do such a dastardly deed? All the animals deny it, and the perpetrator is never caught.

Horace whips up a batch of sandwiches, and they have an outdoor picnic instead of an indoor buffet lunch, and it all turns out OK in the end … but you can’t help wondering which guest spoiled the original lunch…

There IS an answer! Only it’s hidden in the clues sprinkled throughout the book.

You’ve got to look closely and pay attention to detail.

For example, check out the border surrounding the text box here.


See the backward writing? “Don’t be mistaken. Don’t be misled. Trust not in messages. Just use your head.”

Here’s another example. See the letters on the scattered tennis balls? They spell out a clue. But wait. We’re not supposed to trust in messages. Help!


Did you work out the mystery when you read this book as a kid? Do you know who the thief is? Well, DON’T tell us! Haha.


Did you like seek-and-find books when you were a kid? Which were your favorite? (I loved “Where’s Waldo“)


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