Steampunk literature is proliferated with hundreds, if not thousands, of steampunk novels and stories. Magazines, both commercial and independent, are dedicated to the genre. It’s even made its way into comic books and the occasional movie (e.g. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Curiously, steampunk has not made a mark in children’s literature. There have been novels for young adults, but books for the littlest among us have been lacking.
That changes on February 28th with the release of Her Majesty’s Explorer, a steampunk bedtime story. Emilie P. Bush, author of Chenda and the Airship Brofman and The Gospel According to Verdu, has collaborated with illustrator William Kevin Petty and watercolorist Bridie Rollis. It will be available on Amazon. The cover suggests the gentle story within about an automaton who travels far and wide. He returns to his encampment dirty, dingy and in need of a bath, much like the little one who may be listening to the story after a long day. Our explorer dutifully does his chores and goes to bed tired and without any fuss. There’s also a short illustrated poem where “made of gear and fit with cogs, exploring rivers streams and bogs” the Steamduck wends his way from bathtub to the wider world.
Automatons were created by watchmakers to show off their skills to favored patrons and members of high society. They are unique, rare and exceedingly intricate. Featuring an automaton in a steampunk children’s story is not only appropriate for the genre and audience, it’s also timely. Automatons have been popping up in the news and popular culture. The Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, has one on display and the Morris Museum, in NJ, showcases a collection. Sunday Morning, on CBS, recently covered automatons. The movie, Hugo, centered around one of these clockwork marvels.
The artwork and story are gentle and charming, but as a review farther along in my adulthood than I’d like to admit I’m not the target audience or expert. So, I asked a friend if I could get the opinion of his nine-year-old daughter. She reports she enjoyed the story and artwork and enjoyed the illustrations and story of Steamduck “because he was nice to all the animals and ran on soda-pop.” Ducks have a universal appeal to children whether then be in the bathtub, in Boston or, in this case, powered by steam and soda.
This is the perfect childhood book for steampunk parents to introduce their children to the steampunk subculture. I use that term loosely. Steampunk has managed to increasingly wedge its way into popular culture and this book drives that opening wider and opens it to the youngest of readers.