Book Review: Greetings from Planet Earth
Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson
Title: Greetings from Planet Earth
Author: Barbara Kerley
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date: April, 2007
Retail Price: $16.99
“What do you think is most important?” “Who are we?” Theo’s science teacher asks the class. Greetings from Planet Earth is set in 1977 when Voyager 2 is about to be launched on its journey beyond the solar system. Twelve-year-old Theo’s assignment is to choose one picture and make a one-minute recording that could be placed on the spacecraft to tell possible aliens about life on Earth.
Greetings from Planet Earth integrates physical and historical details about space into this novel about the life of a boy searching for answers to the Big Questions about what it means to be human. The questions prove especially difficult for Theo, who lives with his mother and sister and is not supposed to mention his father, who never returned from the war in Vietnam.
Theo’s search for answers is complicated by his father’s mother. On his birthday, she gifts him with a lunar geography book, a model kit of a Saturn V (that she labels as being from his missing father), and the secret gift of old letters sent from Vietnam by his father. Details from the geography book, such as the probes’ finding that Mare Cognitum (Sea of Knowledge) was not the smooth place they had first imagined, parallel the boy’s gradual understanding of the devastating effects that the war in Vietnam had on his parents. The model building provides a physical analogy for the gluing together of the scattered pieces of the boy’s past toward a future that will be full of big challenges, but also the hope of a new life.
Theo’s best friend, Kenny, provides a character to compare and contrast with Theo. He also fills the comic relief role in the midst of a story that deals with the serious consequences of war. The scene of the boys’ taping Kenny’s dog farting are laugh-out-load funny.
Space enthusiasts with family members unsympathetic to the “cause” are sure to relate to the chapter when Theo and his sister visit the Air and Space museum in Washington, DC. Theo is enraptured with the Apollo 11 command module on display, noting how small it is, while his sister complains “it’s boring in here!”
Theo has to face some serious and difficult issues in his quest to answer the questions about what is important and who we are. But as the book notes in analogy, “The far side never faces Earth. No matter how good a telescope you have, you can never see it. The only way to understand it is to go there.”
Greetings from Planet Earth is beautifully written, the science is accurate and interesting, the story captivating. I didn’t find one technical or grammatical error or misleading statement, and those of you who know what a nitpicker I am know that is very unusual! I was compelled to read it all in one sitting, and was sorry to have it end, though it ended very well indeed. This excellent novel about life, war, and space is full of great science detail and important issues for young people to consider.
© 2007 Marianne Dyson
NSS Featured Review for May 2007