Dial Books, 2019. Hardcover Picture book, 40pp
Biggs’ astronaut, Randolph Witherspoon, is sure to resonate with his Child-audience. You can see how he might get bored being shut up in that spaceship. But he has to get permission from Ground Control to go outside and play.
“Eat some lunch, get some exercise, and clean up the place a bit,” ordered Ground Control. “Then you can go outside.” (emphasis mine)
Randolph will do as asked: eating Brussel Sprouts, running, and picking up floating objects (which will include a sock). Once he’s done, Ground Control gives him clearance, and some parental direction (more rules). He misses the last one, but you have to wonder if he’d ignore it anyway, because he meets the coolest stranger on his space walk.
The turn of the page has an incredible effect. It’s a great big—er—place out there! Where the pages up until now had been white with blues and reds, space a small porthole, now the ship and astronaut are small against black; planets, rocks, and stars are bold bright colors. Our faces surely reflect Randolph’s own.
The next sequence will be textless, reliant on gestures. We take in the wonders with Randolph, as well as the encounter.
The genius in that initial exchange between astronaut and alien is to be experienced. It’s pretty funny. It’s also…intriguing. Spotted as if another phenomena in space, Randolph turns his camera toward the alien creature and takes a picture. The flash startles and Randolph quickly realizes his error—he pointed a machine at someone without permission, and the favor is about to be returned. He also forgets that he’s the alien (a phenomenon) and presently extraterrestrial.
Biggs cuts the tension with humor and a friendship and underlines the merit of getting outside and making friends of your neighborhood kids (no text required). For the astronaut, it isn’t too big or scary out there, but full of wonder and delight. And at the end of the story, Randolph is eager to go outside again. Of course, Ground Control has a list of things in reply, and a “We’ll see in the morning,” but Randolph is already inspired—and so is the reader.
Of the long list of space- and astronaut-related books, this one is a wonderful and necessary addition. It brings the idea of an astronaut down to earth, and launches them back again as stars of stories of courage and adventure. Biggs’ offering also gives us a narrative that changes the face of the intrepid explorer. The encounter remarks on the need to be conscientious, empathetic.
Biggs also dabbles in thoughts about obedience. Randolph is a good model for doing what is asked; but he also wouldn’t have had such a meaningful encounter and a new friend if he’d heard (listened to) Ground Control… That’s something maybe for both caregiver and child to mull over.
Also: what about the part where the alien looks like a piece of technology… but then, doesn’t the Astronaut, in his suit especially, and with the camera? Tech is a big concern for parents, add to it, a global setting. And here we inspire our future astronauts with dreams that require technology and its advancement.
One should never underestimate children’s picture books.
In the meantime, Biggs’ illustrations have an easy, timeless charm. His stories are always a smile that deepens with every read and intriguing notion.
Brian Biggs was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He currently makes illustrations for books, posters, puzzles, and games in an old garage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.