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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Life on Mars, written and illustrated by Jon Agee. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"It's dark. It's cold.
I've brought this gift
of chocolate cupcakes.
I don't think I'll find
anybody to eat them.
Wow. I was wrong.
Mars is nothing but
miles and miles of
rocks and dirt! It's
obvious. Nothing could
possibly live here."

Early years listeners and readers are going to love knowing more than the young boy who shares his observations about Mars. He has always wanted to travel to the planet, firmly believing that he will find proof of life there. Once he arrives, he realizes just how dark and rocky it is. His gift of chocolate cupcakes may be for naught as he wanders aimlessly on the desolate landscape. He begins to have doubts of his own.

Abandoning his gift, he heads back to the spaceship. Wait! Don't give up! As he wanders, he loses his way and is astonished to finally find a living thing  - it is a bright yellow flower. He is ecstatic. Now he will be able to prove to the naysayers that he was right. There is life on Mars! As he continues his search for the spaceship, he is further surprised to see the box of cupcakes in a different location than where he thought he left it. No matter. He picks it up, carries it and the flower to the top of a nearby mountain and sees what he has been looking for - his spaceship. It's time to go home, where a bit of a surprise awaits.

Once again, reading this book for the first time, without benefit of illustrations, will allow kids to put their imaginations to work and also garner many different visual interpretations of the text. Once you read it the second time, while sharing Jon Agee's brilliant and telling artwork, they will see the story as the wonderful joke that it is. Now, they will see what the spaceboy is not seeing - a rather large, orange, pear-shaped Martian who tracks him and apes his sentiments as he explores the red planet. Only one joke, but it will have little ones screaming out warnings and hooting as the creature silently shares his take on the alien visitor and his exploration.

Jon Agee knows how to tickle funny bones and produce terrific books with memorable characters. His illustrations are full of fun, and his text is perfect for kids just learning to read on their own.

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