Another, illustrated and conceived by Christian Robinson, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 978-1534421677.
Field Trip to the Moon, illustrated and conceived by John Hare, published by Margaret Ferguson Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823442539. Release date: May 14, 2019.
Wormholes. Parallel universes. Space travel. Interacting with interstellar beings. Christian Robinson and John Hare inject some sci fi weirdness into their latest offerings and do so with striking images and no words. Successfully and playfully tapping into childhood wonder, both picture book creators take readers on cosmic journeys that make the reader say “whoa”.
Christian Robinson has deservedly earned acclaim and major awards (two Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honors, a Caldecott Honor, among them) for books he has illustrated for others. Another is his first solo effort, and it’s one that encourages and invites further investigation after an initial read. The compact story of a girl and her cat entering another dimension after crawling through a wormhole sustains a sense of mystery throughout. Robinson’s distinct, signature artistic style (paint and collage, edited digitally) works beautifully here; he fills each spread with warmth and joy. The tale begins at night with our heroine sleeping and her pet cat, bearing a red collar, wide awake. We see a red mouse (that turns out to be a cat toy). A flip of the page and suddenly there’s the wormhole that interests the feline.
Another page flip and we see another cat, this one wearing a blue collar, peering into the room from the wormhole. This visitor snatches the mouse toy and then slips back into the wormhole, prompting the girl’s cat to follow. The child wakes up and bravely pursues her pet. Robinson proves with these opening scenes that he has mastered the art of the page turn, so crucial in effective picture book storytelling. He also uses spare backgrounds effectively, and I love how his colorful circles pop off the page. When she enters the wormhole, we get one of my favorite images of the year so far: a gravity-defying view of the girl with her beaded hair floating up into the air. What the girl discovers on the other side is a wonder to behold: she finds her doppelgänger, and sees a diverse group of children (and their doppelgängers) playing and having a blast. There is no fear or dread in anything of this–only love and friendship. She smiles contentedly in every charming illustration, interacts with her double, happily witnesses her cat’s doppelgänger returning her pet’s mouse toy, and then returns to her room to sleep. But Robinson throws in one last little twist that keeps the questions coming. This is the strongest picture book co-starring a wormhole since Vera Brosgol’s Caldecott Honor winner Leave Me Alone!.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 expedition to the Moon. There are a number of non-fiction books about the topic planned for 2019. And there’s also the whimsical fictional picture book Field Trip to the Moon, which makes a great companion piece to Jon Agee’s hilarious It’s Only Stanley and Life on Mars (and quite possibly Dean Robbins’ and Sean Rubin’s upcoming non-fiction picture book The Artist Who Painted the Moon, which I admit I haven’t seen yet). Field Trip is both melancholy and magical, serving up a possibly nightmare situation (a girl left behind on the moon) but then making the scenario wondrous and funny. With his evocative acrylic paintings, Hare introduces us to an introverted child who keeps herself removed from her classmates. She carries a drawing pad and some crayons. The artistically minded child seems content just to stop, lean against a hill, look at faraway Earth and draw it. After the girl wakes up from a nap, she sees the interstellar school bus flying away, leaving her behind. Hare effectively employs graphic novel style panels during this sequence. He also does wonders with the colors black and sandy gray, and with shadows–the art has a cool dusty 3D look.
Instead of wallowing, she returns to her drawing, and then Hare throws in an amusing twist. She does not know that a bunch of gray friendly-looking one-eyed moon creatures have appeared behind her. I love the moment when she looks at the reader (her face hidden by the helmet–but we can only imagine her look of surprise) when she finally senses their presence. The book turns into a surreal romp with the girl, undaunted and not scared, sharing her crayons with the creatures. They, in turn, draw on EACH OTHER! and then the moon rocks. Ah, the healing communal power of creating art (although one senses isolation as the creatures bond with each other over their drawings and the child stands apart). After the bus returns and after a warm embrace between caregiver and child, Hare throws in a slyly funny moment: the adult orders the girl to clean up the crayon markings made by the moon creatures (who have fled) thinking she created them. Hare does an excellent job with body language. In a delightful touch, when the girl waves goodbye to creatures, we see them popping up out of the sand, each clutching a crayon. Then a flip of the page and we see the girl on the bus, helmet removed for the first time, serenely drawing one of the creatures. Field Trip to the Moon serves up a sense of adventure and some laughs. What strikes me about the book though is its touching portrayal of a solitary child, last seen happily creating with the one gray crayon that remains.