Come Back to Earth, Esther!
Come Back to Earth, Esther!
Halifax-based Nimbus Publishing offers readers this lovely story about a little girl with a dream.
Esther, who seems to be about seven or eight, wants above everything to travel into space.
Esther likes it when people tell her she has her head
in the clouds. It makes her think about the immensity
of the sky and her biggest wish: to travel on a spaceship,
visit the Milky Way, discover constellations, and, of course,
walk on the moon.
Esther, described at the beginning as “an ordinary girl”, likes dodge ball and chocolate spread. Most often, though, whether reading upside down or floating in the ocean to experience the feeling of weightlessness, Esther is thinking about outer space. And it is not enough to dream. Esther takes action, designing and building her own spaceship, accompanied at every step by her little dog Paillette.
For several days, Esther searches for materials to build her
spacecraft. She looks in the recycling bin, picks up old, broken
toys, walks in the forest nearby…
She is very relieved when her parents help her find the tools
Today, Esther’s room is transformed into a space centre,
ready to welcome the new spaceship.
She nails, she glues, she measures.
She cuts, assembles, and adjusts.
She reflects and she tests.
(And she has a snack break – all this work makes her hungry!)
A spacesuit can be fashioned from a sleeper, some mittens and the judicious application of duct tape. Then, in the wonderful climax to the story, Esther does not simply imagine flying into space – she actually blasts off.
The clear, direct language of the book makes it all entirely believable. The multi-ethnic faces in Esther’s school class (Esther’s family, itself, is black) and the non-traditional make-up of Esther’s household (she appears to have two mothers) are both part of the backdrop for a discerning reader to note, but nothing is made of either fact. The emphasis on a female being interested in things scientific, and the unwavering support of the adults is to be applauded. Yes, Esther is allowed to daydream a bit in school. Yes, she is allowed to make a mess in the course of planning and constructing her spaceship. Yes, one Mom will gladly string up some Christmas lights around the trees by the launch pad while the other one rigs up some kind of pulley contraption. And ultimately, Mom and Mom will stand in the yard and wave a ‘bon voyage’ to this adventurous and far from ordinary girl.
Bisaillon has won awards for the illustrations of several previous books (The Snow Knows; Bedtime 1, 2, 3). Here, the richly-toned pictures, which appear to be a combination of collage and ink drawing, are outstanding, and echo in some ways the work of Ezra Jack Keats. There are many places where the day-to day life of Esther is shown, complete with fun details such as her variously polka-dotted, stripy or star-spangled garments. But two double-page spreads, in particular, impressed me: one of Esther floating deep under water in a luminous pale green sea, and the last one, a picture of Esther’s spaceship rocketing through the heavens of an inky teal, with Paillette along for the ride.
Readers are not shown whether Esther ultimately answers the plea in the title, for she is on her way to the stars and may just not return to earth. Because, as the last line in the book says:
It’s even more beautiful than Esther had imagined.
Three cheers for Come Back to Earth, Esther!, an outstanding picture book that should find a spot in many public, school and home libraries.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.