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Review of Life on Mars

agee_life on marsstar2 Life on Mars
by Jon Agee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Dial    32 pp.
2/17    978-0-399-53852-0    $17.99    g

It’s Only Stanley (rev. 5/15) was a star-crossed (canine) love story that ended on the moon. Now Agee brings readers to the Red Planet. What would you bring along on a trip to search for life on Mars? Our little astronaut brings chocolate cupcakes but soon thinks, “I don’t think I’ll find anybody to eat them.” Though the story depends on a repeated visual joke — the astronaut keeps missing the Martian in the 
background — it is hardly dull; one 
can imagine the child listener or reader 
hollering, “There it is! Look behind you!” every time, and then dissolving into giggles when the story continues. Agee’s world is one with heavy dark outlines, where the emotional life of the characters — Martian or human — is clear because of the slightest raise of an eyebrow or tilt of a mouth line. Whenever the two figures are in the same picture, their movements and facial expressions mimic each other. Astronaut has a worried hand to mouth? The Martian has the same. Little space-suited arms at sides? Martian’s arms are at sides. When the child gets lost, the Martian provides secret help, but the inside joke continues as the astronaut has no idea just how nearby the extraterrestrial is. Agee’s use of dark browns and blacks and very mild greens for the terrain allows the one sign of life that the child sees to really pop: a yellow tulip against the dull planet surface brings hope to everyone. The humor continues through the very last page. Agee, with his unique and winning view of the world, never talks down to children and always asks readers to slow down and enjoy his take on what they might not otherwise see.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.

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