In 1785 France, 10-year-old Emile serves as the sole servant and caretaker of a chateau where Benjamin Franklin, an American diplomat, is residing. Emile is humble, loyal, and finds “great purpose and satisfaction in his duties, and he devote(s) his life to his work.” Unaware of the political forces at play around him, Emile is inadvertently swept up into an adventure he could never have imagined. When Emile encounters the extraordinary team made up of Bernadette the sheep, Pierre the rooster, and Jean-Luc the duck—the first creatures to ever ride in a hot-air balloon—and Sophie, a talented and brave aeronaut, he begins to understand that there is more to reality than meets the eye.
Emile discovers that the unusual team excels at thwarting injustice, nefarious plots, and threats to society wherever they surface around the world. Now another danger to humanity has come to light: a sorcerer, a spy, and a hypnotist are seeking to use hot-air balloons and the world’s first heat ray, based on Benjamin Franklin’s design, for evil purposes. Bernadette, Pierre, Jean-Luc, and Sophie boldly work to stop the plotters from accomplishing their goals. Emile joins the team, first blunderingly and hesitantly, then courageously. He begins to view his existence in a new light: “My position as caretaker was all the challenge I thought I needed. But now … the last two days have been terrifying and worrisome and horribly chaotic, and part of me would love to just straighten up a bit in here. Yet, for the first time, I feel like I might be capable of more than just caretaking. Perhaps I have some potential of my own.”
Author and artist Matt Phelan skillfully blends history and fiction—and text and graphics—to unfold this dynamic, high-spirited, often hilarious, adventure which is sure to entertain and enlighten middle school readers. In author notes, Phelan explains what is factual in his narrative and which characters actually lived. (Greenwillow Books)