Nine and ten-year old children are gifted with a unique kind of wisdom and freedom of thought. These students realize a father has not only given his son but other daughters and sons of the present and future a remarkable gift. HERE WE ARE: NOTES FOR LIVING ON PLANET EARTH (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, November 14, 2017) written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers is a message of hope, a gift of love.
The dedication reads:
To my son, Harland
This book was written in
the first two months of
your life as I tried to make
sense of it all for you.
These are the things
I think you need to know.
First we see a drawing, stretching across two pages, of our solar system with an arrow pointing to Earth with our moon revolving around it. Then we read:
Welcome to this planet.
We call it Earth.
This is a greeting given to a child; a greeting of gratitude from a loving parent. It continues with an invitation to explore.
Generalizations are explained about land and sea; the two basic components of this globe we all call home. The layers of atmosphere, the precipitation which forms and falls from it and the starry wonder beyond are spread before us. It's difficult to understand but infinitely interesting.
People walk upon this planet with marvelous bodies needing food, water and warmth. There is a warning to heed regarding the value in caring for each body. No matter how different we may appear from one another, we are the same. An array of animals on the land and sea are our companions. Most of them can't speak like you will. Patience is a virtue.
Each twenty-four hour period is divided into two parts. Time is a tricky thing. Make sure you enjoy it regardless of the perception of it moving slow or fast. As a general rule people are improving but there is lots of work to still do. The world is large but it and all of us need copious amounts of TLC. Parting words issue the most comforting revelation of all.
When Oliver Jeffers speaks to his son, it's as if he is speaking to all children (or the child in every single one of us). His conversational insights contain a deep and abiding affection for this planet and all its inhabitants. On some of the pages tiny extra thoughts, comments, contribute to a gentle humor. The particular topics he includes move from one to the other with pure perfection; links in an unbreakable and essential chain. Here is a sample passage.
There are animals, too. They come in
even more shapes, sizes and colors.
They can't speak, though that's
no reason not to be nice to them.
The soft, cool blue hues seen on the front of the dust jacket, night sky, clouds and stars, extends over the spine to the left, on the back. Our Earth happily hangs on the front as signs of our technological advances orbit in circles around it. On the back a smaller Earth is identified as the place where we live. Above it our moon is identified as a place devoid of life, but that could change.
The book case is a smooth pale blue with tiny embossed stars on the front and back. A navy and gold Earth, a smaller version of the one on the front of the dust jacket, is surrounded by three gold orbits. Instructions on how to navigate using a northern and southern sky through the constellations are placed on the opening and closing endpapers.
Oliver Jeffers's signature full-color illustrations reflect a prevalent use of shades of blue, purple, pink and red. Each page turn transports readers to places on planet Earth; the land, sea (above and below), the atmosphere and space, people (inside and outside an individual's body and from all walks of life), animals of land and sea, a quiet countryside and a bustling city along a harbor. Shifts in perspective, ranging from vast panoramic views of Earth and space beyond and then moving to closer more personal scenes, allow us to appreciate the value in the words we are reading
One of my many favorite pictures is the cityscape along a harbor. A large ocean liner is leaving the docks as smaller vessels move over the dark apricot water. An airship, a helicopter and several planes fly in different directions. Purple buildings rise into a rose and peach colored sky. Pigeons fly above a man waving a flag on a rooftop. All kinds of people are featured in the windows of the closest building to readers on the right side of the image. Cars, trucks and a school bus cross a bridge. A subway car moves beneath that same bridge. You can almost feel this picture vibrate with life.
No matter how many times you read HERE WE ARE: NOTES FOR LIVING ON PLANET EARTH written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers you will continue to find more details in the illustrations which lift the impact of the narrative. This blend of text and art conveys a love for a single child and for all our children. It also asks the adults who read it to be our best selves. Oliver Jeffers also has three important quotes listed on the page after his final sentence. They are by Sally Ride, R. Buckminster Fuller and Oliver's dad. All collections, professional and personal, will want to have a copy of this title.
To learn more about Oliver Jeffers and his other work, please follow the links attached to his name. The second link offers readers all kinds of activities as extensions of his books. Oliver Jeffers has an account on Instagram. Oliver Jeffers is interviewed at Foyles, Wired, and Publishers Weekly. Oliver Jeffers speaks about this title on First Time Dads. He also explains how the book evolved on BBC Radio Ulster. Enjoy the official book trailer and this video about Oliver Jeffers.
Oliver Jeffers from Bas Berkhout on Vimeo.