UP, UP AND AWAY
by Tom McLaughlin – Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016
ages 2 to 8 years / emotional resilience, heartwarmers, s.t.e.m.
The vastness of space is at once overwhelming, inspiring and personal:
– overwhelming in sheer numbers: the sun’s mass is about 330,000 times the mass of the earth!
– inspiring in its implicit promises of futures and infinity.
– and personal when we see planets and stars every night that we choose to take a moment to look, and find ourselves alone with all that vastness and promise. The boy in this story chooses to respond to the inspirational and personal:
“Orson was the kind of boy who loved to make things. And today he was going to make something extraordinary. … A PLANET.”
Having studied planets, Orson knew he'd need rocks, water, metal and nothingness. (He gathers as much nothingness as he can.)
Then—my favourite part—he needed a big bang! So … balloons. I love that the words simply state that he needed a big bang and that it was:
"easier … than Orson imagined."
Which leaves plenty of room for talking about the difference between the big bang and a big bang. But the pictures show Orson with a clutch of balloons about to pop one—making it fun for adults and older readers, and simple to move on past for younger readers if the concept is beyond them.
Orson loved his planet and took good care of it, and so it grew until it became so big that it began to attract things:
“First it was just a few spoons and the odd unicycle.
But soon EVERYTHING wanted to join in.”
Orson realised what he had to do—his planet must be let go. After all, it belonged among the stars.
There’s a lot to think about in this book. The story is fun and easy to read, it’s the kind of story that can be read to a young child for the sheer enjoyment of seeing impossible dreams come true. But it is also full of life lessons, like:
The balance between creating and caring—Orson discovers that building a planet is not as difficult as caring for it. That’s true of many things we create, not least the relationships we create with people or with pets.
The confluence of being brave when doing the right thing—Orson recognises that his planet needs to be let go and that the right thing to do is to let the planet be with the stars. It’s hard because Orson loves his planet. But he does it anyway. Hard things can still be right.
The importance of caring for the planet we do all have—Orson feeds, tidies and dusts his planet – much as we need to care for the soil, waters, and air on our own planet.
The value of moving on—once Orson has settled his planet where it belongs, he isn't sad for long. He has another idea! (Be sure to read the title of the book Orson is reading on the last page.)
As well as being an interesting story with twists along the way, the illustrations have a charming science-ish feel to them—they do a great job of filling in the details. And they add some in-jokes for older readers, the big bang page for example, or the box of nothingness that Orson takes off the shelf. I also really appreciate the little bits of science scattered throughout the story, like the way the planet starts to attract inanimate objects once it gets bigger:
“You see, Orson hadn’t realised, the bigger planets get, the more things get stuck to them.”
“everyone knows that you need lots of empty space for a planet.”
Bits of science woven into narratives are great because they helps to normalise science as part of everyday life. Of course, there’s no escaping the science that surrounds us, but making it part of a narrative helps us notice it, I think.
Also, any book with a beautiful depiction of home is an instant favourite for me—I do love Orson’s home!