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Good Night, Planet

Good Afternoon, (Picture Book) Planet! I have to say that one of the best moments of this Calling Caldecott season was realizing that Argentine artist Liniers is currently a Vermont resident, making his comic book story Good Night, Planet eligible for Caldecott consideration. (Helps a bit with the disappointment of not being able to cover the brilliant Written and Drawn by Henrietta in 2015.)

It’s quite a deep and existential piece, is Good Night, Planet. And so, how appropriate that the first art we see is a spot on the title page where our stuffed animal hero, Planet, is enclosed in dark space through which he (picking a pronoun at random here) is either floating or falling. Yes, later in the book we find out that he’s falling, but here it is entirely ambiguous. And that ambiguity sets up quite a lot of the book for me. Is Planet a floppy, passive stuffed animal without self-determination (as he appears to be in the beginning of the story) or an active, sentient being? Is his relationship with Elliot the dog antagonistic (as we first think) or friendly? Is Planet a simpleton who thinks he can reach the moon by jumping toward it (and who in fact believes that the moon is a giant cookie) or a wise philosopher who knows that “every animal, big or small, is a whole universe”?

The tension in the story is what makes it work; and the art supports that tension by placing the events within a reassuringly mundane setting (the little girl’s yard and house) and by convincingly portraying Planet as both a floppy, passive stuffed animal and a jauntily active protagonist. Liniers makes both states seem perfectly plausible.

Others can talk about how the panels function better than I can, but Liniers is clearly a master of comics pacing. He uses panels expertly to speed up and slow down the passage of time, to heighten and diffuse drama, to zoom in on or away from scenes and characters.

As many reviewers have noted, Linier’s crosshatching in the quite-realistic line and watercolor illustrations adds an extraordinary amount of depth, particularly in the outdoor, nighttime scenes. There’s truly a sense of infinity on, say, the illustration on page 23 of the night sky behind that full moon.

I’d love to hear from those more knowledgeable about comics than I am about Good Night, Planet. I’d also like to hear from anyone who’s read this with kids. What do the children notice, and what do they take away from the book? For me one of the biggest surprises is the Elliot the dog/Planet relationship. It’s so clear that the little girl thinks Planet needs to be protected from Elliot (it’s why Elliot can only watch longingly through the window while she and Planet play outside) — and for sure Elliot is hellbent on shaking Planet as hard as he can whenever he catches Planet. Will kids like that we eventually discover that Planet loves that game? And will they note that this shaking game sets up Planet’s later access to the treetop? Please report in!

 

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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Comments

  1. I count myself as someone who sorely needs to become more familiar with this style of picture book, though I have seen this particular work and think it dazzling and indeed as you insightfully pose, existential. I did not realize Liniers qualified, but am so thrilled that he is indeed in the mix. I nearly purchased this title, but will do so later today. I really liked “What There is Before There is Anything There” from a few years back, and do recognize this artist as sophisticated and enormously gifted. To directed respond to your final paragraph questions I will have move forward with a reading, something I will do very soon. Fabulous and unexpected review!

  2. I read GOOD NIGHT PLANET to my classes today. They adored it. The part they loved best was when the mouse told Planet and Elliot “Somebody knows how to get up there. I sometimes see a big bite taken out of that cookie.” This opened up an astronomical discussion about lunar phases. Of course the lead up to this (the climbing of the tree, Planet’s falling) had they riveted. Amazing character chemistry, a deep emotional connection and magnificent art adds up to a book that well deserves being added to this roster. Now I am smitten with it, and would love to see it honored.

    I am also hoping that Juana Martinez/Neal is eligible as she has moved from Peru to Arizona. Her magnificent art for “La Princese and the Pea” in collaboration with Susan Middleton Elya is Caldecott worthy!!

    Anyway, I do hope everyone gets to GOOD NIGHT, PLANET. It is a missing episode of The Twilight Zone, but I do say that is the most favorable sense. It really stays with you!

  3. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Thanks so much for checking back in, Sam. And your report that your classes liked the moon-as-cookie part best reminds me that one of the great things about the book is that it does bring in large existential questions while remaining truly child-centered.

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