THE DARKEST DARK
by Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion, illustrated by The Fan Brothers – Macmillan Children’s Books, 2016
ages 4 to 10 years / picture books + emotional resilience, powerful lives, s.t.e.m.
Chris Hadfield (astronaut, musician, author, celebrity crush for stem-loving women around the world) has said: "Every single thing that you learn really just gives you more comfort.”
He was talking about taking the opportunity to learn any skill, any idea, at any time—embracing the notion that knowledge is power and that with knowledge comes freedom. And one of the freedoms most everyone seeks for their children is freedom from fear, real or imagined. The Darkest Dark is about just that: overcoming fear. It's also a love story, a promise, an inspiration.
It's the story of a boy, his love for space, and how that love overcomes his deepest fear: fear of the dark.
It holds a promise that in overcoming fears, possibilities enlarge and dreams come true. And, being the slightly fictionalised account of Chris himself as a boy watching the moon landing and overcoming his fears, it’s an inspirational story that begs readers to see beauty in darkness, both literally and metaphorically.
Darkness takes many and varied forms in the lives of children, and sometimes it can simply be a naïve fear of not being able to see clearly—the monster under the bed type of fear that stems from lack of experience and a healthy imagination. That’s the fear of the boy Chris:
Chris is desperately afraid of the ‘worst sort of aliens’ who seem to be attracted by the darkness of his bedroom.
But he has a greater fear; one that his parents tap into because of their own desperate need for a good night’s sleep! (We’ve all been there I think.) Chris’s overriding fear is of not being able to see the moon landing on the neighbour’s TV.
When his parents point out that without a good night’s sleep they may all be too tired to go next door to watch the landing, Chris summons all his strength and courage to make it through the night, alone in the dark.
But darkness can also be a complex and personal metaphor for the fear that holds back personal growth in any arena. The boy Chris confronts those types of fears too:
After noticing that ‘Outer Space was the darkest dark ever … Chris did a little experiment. He turned off all the lights in his room … It was still dark … Nothing had changed. But Chris had changed. … For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.’
It’s right there that this story about a boy dreaming of life as an astronaut becomes, instead, a story about seeing goodness in uncertainty; stepping into the dark to follow a dream; and holding fast to hope for the future.
The power in this book:
This is a tale to validate big dreams. Of course not everyone dreams of becoming an astronaut, big dreams can be ‘about the kind of person you want to be … about the life you will live.’ Some dreams can feel just as unreachable as walking in space, and The Darkest Dark is about reaching for those, too.
It offers a pathway to overcoming a common childhood fear. For children who are afraid of the dark, this book confirms the reality of that fear. It acknowledges that other people have had that same fear too—and it won't be forever.
It introduces a real life hero—a good thing in the sea of superheroes don't you think? 'Chris Hadfield has orbited the earth thousands of times on three separate mission. Most recently, Chris was in Space for nearly five months, … when he served as the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station.'
A small reading hint:
After an initial reading or two, you might like to go slowly and look for the aliens hiding in the dark (on many pages). If you need it, the story could be a conversation starter for talking about fears, how they lurk in shadows and how they're not always what they seem. The book is a safe place to talk about being brave even in the face of fear. (It’s not until Chris begins to truly embrace the darkness that his fears disappear.)
The Darkest Dark is perfect for a child who loves all things Space, or a child who worries about the dark or anything else. It’s also perfect for adults or children who are in need of some life affirming, hopeful, dream chasing goodness.
P.S. Check out this video of Chris talking about the reality check of being on a space walk among the Aurora Australis. It’s on the front page of his website.
Also, heads up, Chris Hadfield is touring Australia in August—we're pretty excited!