A boy describes his identity as an Earthling in this clever, enchantingly illustrated picture book by veteran author Weisberg (Talking to the Dead, 2005, etc.) and artist Arnold.
Most people think of the unnamed narrator as a boy and his sister as a girl, “But we’re Earthlings,” he explains. Grouping himself with other residents of the planet—animals as well as humans—the narrator describes things that make Earth and Earthlings special. Scientific concepts such as gravity, the atmosphere, the water cycle, and general human anatomy are described in dramatically simplified layman’s terms. Rather than delve into the science, the narrator skims over the ideas to focus on how some of these things are unique to Earth and how earthlings are “perfectly made” for their environments. The theme underlying the concepts is a little more abstract: “I can’t see my own back or face without a mirror, but I can see those of other Earthlings….We can see one another, but we can’t directly see our whole selves.” Although never stated directly, the philosophical implication that other beings are required for us to truly see ourselves is an interesting one for a picture book aimed at the lower grade school audience. While most of the illustrations focus on the narrator—a small blond boy wearing primary colors—in the final pages, a diverse spread of humans fill the pages, featuring different skin tones, clothing styles, and religious and cultural details, further suggesting that seeing ourselves through diverse eyes helps us better understand who we are; after all, our shared planet is more important than our differences. Arnold’s watercolor images are delightful, with nods to space travel and sci-fi at every opportunity (robot toys and rocket ships are typical inclusions). But the premise is almost too clever: since there’s no story here, only abstract concepts, some young readers may scratch their heads. “He’s an Earthling—so what?” It is not quite detailed enough to please science readers nor direct enough to give an explicit moral. But the quiet, thoughtful tone may well work for others, especially independent readers more interested in questions than answers.
An intriguing picture book with an abstract theme and illustrations that invite young readers to reimagine themselves as citizens of the planet.