March 22, 2018
(++++) OUT OF THIS WORLD, AND ON IT
Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet. By April Pulley Sayre. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.
Olga #2: We’re Out of Here! By Elise Gravel. Harper. $12.99.
Gorgeous photographs that highlight the many beauties and wonders of our planet are the central reason for being of April Pulley Sayre’s Thank You, Earth, a simply written book intended to remind readers how many everyday things in the world are extraordinarily beautiful if we only take the time to look at and appreciate them. When described, the pictures do not seem particularly unusual: a spider’s web, a sandpiper on the beach, some clouds, a bit of seaweed, mountains, trees, and creatures ranging from a ladybug to a sloth to birds and squirrels and turtles. But Sayre’s careful selection of photos, her thoughtful sequencing of them, and the delicacy with which she decorates the pictures with just a few apt words, make Thank You, Earth very special. “Thank you for sounds” goes with a close-up view of a yellow warbler with beak open. “For struggles” has a squirrel straining upward on a branch of pussywillows in search of some treat or other. “Thank you for rays and radials” juxtaposes an extreme close-up of a purple coneflower on which a bee is perched with an almost equally close view of dandelion fluff. “Thank you for those that crawl” includes a strange-looking red mangrove root crab and a gorgeously colored black swallowtail caterpillar. And while many photos here are super-close looks at things, others are very broad views: “Thank you for sunsets” covers two pages and shows spectacular sky colors in Arizona’s Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The concluding sentiment, “Thank you for being our home,” simply and beautiful sums up all that has gone before, all the plants and animals and day scenes and night scenes and all the aspects of nature that make Earth and the lives on it so special. Interestingly, Sayre completely omits human beings and human creations from this “love letter,” implying in so doing that the beauties of Earth are strictly those that do not include or involve people – an omission that can open the door to discussions with young readers about the world they live in and how it intersects with and may often displace the loveliness of the world shown by the photos Sayre has selected from multiple sources and the words she has chosen to go with the pictures.
Among the words on the cover of Elise Gravel’s second book about a girl named Olga are “Ciao, Earth!” Young readers may wonder why anyone would want to get away from all the gorgeousness in Sayre’s book. Well, that is not really what Olga wants: she is something of a grump, and she simply wants to get away from people. OK, not all people – just most of them. And she wants to take Meh with her on a journey to Meh’s planet. If Meh comes from a planet other than Earth. Meh, you see, is a somewhat piglike, pink and fuzzy creature of unknown provenance, discovered in a trash can by Olga in the first Olga book, whose delightfully offbeat title is Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere. Olga is a budding scientist as well as a misanthrope, and the first book mostly involved her trying to figure out what Meh could be and deciding that there is no way to know, so Meh must be a new species, Olgamus ridiculus. Gravel’s idea in these books – in which the pictures and text are equally important even though the works are not exactly graphic novels, being more of a hybrid form – is to include some factual material along with the usual exploration-and-discovery-and-friendship stuff that is common in books for preteens. The mixture worked better in the first book than it does in the second, where the science is brought in somewhat heavy-handedly and repeatedly threatens to hijack the story and turn it (horrors) educational. Olga is considerably happier and more involved with human beings here than in the first book, even though the start of We’re Out of Here! is about her determination to get away from our home planet. As in the first book, Olga likes to wear the same sack-like dress all the time and does not like to wear socks or shoes – a fact that Gravel forgets at one crucial point, when Olga (who narrates the book) says, “I put my shoes on and ran, still wearing my pajamas,” but the picture clearly shows Olga barefoot, as usual. Anyway, the plot here starts with Olga looking into ways to explore space, then involves her investigating reports of alien beings or creatures coming to Earth, and eventually works its way around to the main point – which has to do with Meh (so called from the noise she usually makes) behaving strangely and smelling worse than usual and needing to go to a veterinarian. The vet, Dr. Spiffle, is a showoff obsessed with his Internet presence, but he does manage to give Olga some useful information: apparently this budding scientist never thought to measure Meh’s length or height, for example, but Dr. Spiffle does so. The best part of the book is the eventual discovery of why Olga’s appearance and behavior have been a bit “off,” and that discovery very definitely opens the door for future books in the series. So despite the second book’s title, readers can expect to be seeing more of Olga and Meh right here on Earth, hopefully having adventures in which the blend of amusement and information is handled as entertainingly but a bit more seamlessly than it is in We’re Out of Here!