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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Darkest Dark, written by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion. Illustrated by The Fan Brothers. Tundra, 2016. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"And Chris tried,
he really did, but
his room was dark.
Very, very dark.
The kind of dark
that attracts the worst
sort of aliens.
But his parents
meant it.
Chris. Was. Going. To.
Sleep. In. His. Own. Bed."

We know him as commander of the International Space Station, a Canadian astronaut admired by many for his outstanding work while he was working and since his retirement. He was the first Canadian to walk in space, a place that epitomizes our perception of 'dark'. What can be darker than outer space?

To think that fear of the dark held him in its grip as a child is almost impossible to fathom. All he ever wanted to be was an astronaut. His days were spent imagining what life in space would be like, acting out his imagined dreams, and never sleeping comfortably ... astronauts, he reasoned, were always busy and had no time for sleep. In fact, the dark caused him great concern until the night his father voiced an ultimatum.

Their neighbors were the only ones who had a television set on the island. The next day was the scheduled moon landing - July 20, 1969. Watching the astronauts he emulated, and their incredible feat was a defining moment for the young boy. He noticed something about their surroundings:

"Outer space was the darkest dark ever."

It changes the way the young Chris faces his fears ... and helps him learn that "The dark is for dreams - and morning is for making them come true."

The Fan Brothers create realistic artwork, rendered in graphite and digitally colored. I especially liked the image of Walter Cronkite as he broadcast news of the landing. It looks just as I remember it those many years ago. Then, the shadows are filled with the small alien creatures Chris feared as a child. They are everywhere, but they are only a tiny bit spooky. You will need to look closely to see them all.

Backmatter offers information about Mr. Hadfield's life, and also includes personal photos and a message from the astronaut himself.  If you know a child afraid of the dark, or with a dream, this might be just the book to share.

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