Sophie Blackall: If You Come to Earth

Illustrated by the author

Published by Chronicle Books, California, 2021

This is a wonderful picture book about our unique blue planet, I think everyone should read it, whether you are young or old. Within its pages, you will discover all the important things you need to know about our planet earth: the people who live in it, the animals that roam the skies, plains and seas, the homes we inhabit, the way we travel, the weather around us, the work we do, what we think, how we communicate, the ways we can love and hurt each other, and how we help one another.

It’s written as a handy guidebook for any curious and adventurous visitor from Outer Space that happens to stop by on its way elsewhere. The invitation comes from Quinn, a young boy lying on his bed who is thinking about the best way to describe the world he lives in, to someone who might not know.

The illustrations are breath-taking; my favourite double-page spread shows a large bird gracefully airborne, the image made up of a myriad of smaller birds within its shape. You can see a penguin, an owl, a flamingo, a puffin and a pigeon, just to name a few.

At the very end of this picture book, Sophie Blackall explains how the idea for it blossomed over many years, while she was travelling in different countries working for Save the Children, speaking to thousands of children and wishing she had a book just like this one to share with them.

The character of Quinn is based on a real boy, who said to Sophie that most likely visitors from another planet should be given mashed potato as a snack, because who knows if aliens have teeth? Very sensible.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-100 years, and below are more suggestions for books which look at our unique blue planet and explore the wonders within it:

Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Emily Sutton

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

This Small Blue Dot
by Zeno Sworder

Only a Tree knows how to be a tree by Mary Murphy

The Astronaut’s Cat
by Tohby Riddle

Listen by Holly M. McGhee Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre

How Did I Get Here?
by Philip Bunting

Your Planet Needs You!
by Philip Bunting

All Sorts by Pippa Goodhart Illustrated by Emily Rand

The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Hike by Pete Oswald

Small World by Ishta Mercurio Illustrated by Jen Corace

My Friend Earth
by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Francesca Senna

Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Hello World by Michael Foreman

Book of Numbers by Oliver Jeffers

Book of Animals by Oliver Jeffers

We Go Way Back
by Ishta Ben-Barack
Illustrated by Philip Bunting

A Song of Gladness
by Michael Morpurgo Illustrated by Emily Gravett

Philip Bunting: Give Me Some Space!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia, NSW, 2020

A dear friend recommended watching a short YouTube video of Carl Sagan talking about The Pale Blue Dot. In less than 4 minutes, while listening to Carl’s mesmerising voice, the enormity of the universe and our miniscule place in it overwhelmed me. Our vast, diverse world is so small compared to the infinite universe in which we move, spin and exist.

Bringing all of that largeness into a picture book, Philip Bunting has focussed on the cosmic details, the planets in our solar system and how space affects our individual lives, all through the character of young Una.

Una loves space. While she waits to become an astronaut one day, Una makes plans for her first imaginary mission into space to find life and maybe a planet better than Earth! When Una rockets into space, we journey with her through the Solar System learning fun, interesting facts about the planets, travelling all the way to Pluto tucked away in the Kuiper Belt. It is only when Una is as far from Earth as she can be, that she realises the shimmering blue dot in the far distance is actually Earth and that there is no place like it. This unique planet contains all the elements which sustains life: air, water, space, food and living organisms.

“We are all travelling through space, right now! The Earth is our spaceship and it’s the only home we’ve got. It is our mission to take care of the Earth so that we can explore the Universe for light years to come.”

You are so right Una.

Stop Press! Here is some information that I found on Philip Bunting’s website, if you are keen, register for this free event:

On May 19th 2021 (11am AEST), this book will be read simultaneously to over 1 million children across Australia and New Zealand. Better still, Give Me Some Space! will be read live… by an astronaut… from the International Space Station!

For those of us on the ground, I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and space enthusiasts of any age. Below are more suggestions for picture books about space:

Life On Mars by Jon Agee

The Way Back Home
by Oliver Jeffers

Toys in Space by Mini Grey

Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max

Let’s Go into Space!
by Petr Horacek

Pete the Cat Out of This World
by James Dean

Eight Days Gone
by Linda McReynolds
Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke

Tiny Little Rocket
by Richard Collingridge

Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare

The First Hippo on the Moon
by David Walliams
Illustrated by Tony Ross

Maisy’s Moon Landing
by Lucy Cousins

There’s No Place Like Space!
by Tish Rabe
Illustrated by Aristides Ruiz

Simon James: The Boy From Mars

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books, London, 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to face reality. Especially if your reality is scary, unpleasant, uncomfortable or just too difficult to put into words. Sometimes all you want to do is fly away and leave the problems far behind. Maybe you will come back and face them another day, or maybe not. Sometimes it feels like you should sort the mess on your own but no-one else understands how you feel or how to help you.

Simon James addresses some of these issues in The Boy From Mars.

Young Stanley has to say goodbye to his mum, who is leaving for work and will not be home overnight, and he is feeling a bit lost with this idea. The first thing Stanley does is run out to the garden and climb into a big box that is his spaceship and zoom off to Mars. Fortunately, Stanley comes back, but he is not Stanley anymore. He is a Martian! And this particular Martian does not behave quite like the other boys on Earth.

Martians don’t wash their hands before dinner, they don’t eat vegetables, but they do love ice cream. Martians don’t wash their teeth before bed, but they do keep their helmets on in bed. This particular Martian doesn’t behave so well at school either. Dad is a bit worried about what mum will think when she arrives home. Of course, mum does come home and the first question she asks is whether this little Martian has been good.

What can the Martian do? Jump back in the spaceship, go to Mars and bring back Stanley!

This is a wonderful story that explores what it is like to miss someone. We all have different ways of coping with this feeling. Fortunately for Stanley, his family allowed him the space and time to work it out.

The illustrations are tender and poignant, filled with all the details of life at home, making it very accessible and familiar.

Did you know that Simon James trained as a policeman after leaving school? Fortunately for us, he was asked to leave after penguin drawings were discovered in his notebooks!

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and here are more of my favourite books by Simon James:

Mr Scruff
Dear Greenpeace
Nurse Clementine
Sally and the Limpet
George Flies South