Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Greetings from Planet Earth

Kerley, Barbara. 2007. Greetings From Planet Earth.

One homework assignment. One picture and one minute, to share what they thought was most important about Earth (8). Their own "golden record" of sorts like the ones NASA spacecraft were planning to carry on their missions: a message, in pictures and sounds, from Earth to any aliens out there in space(7). One teacher. Mr. Meyer. Science teacher extraordinaire. Whose goal to guide his sixth graders leads him to ask five big questions. Who are we? Where do we live? What can we do? What makes us human? What have we accomplished? All leading up to the big question: What do you think is the most important thing about Earth?

Theo might appear to be your average sixth-grader. The year? 1977. His hobbies? Building models. Riding his bike. Hanging out with his best friend, Kenny. But with this assignment and his birthday, Theo's life is beginning to change. Almost overnight, Theo begins questioning everything he thought he knew. What happened to his father in Vietnam? What really happened? Why does no one talk about him? Is he MIA? A POW? Dead? Why does his mom forbid anyone to talk about him? Why are all the pictures of his dad missing from the family albums? What is so awful about his father and the war that would make his mom act like he never existed? But his grandmother--his dad's mom--is more than willing to open up with her grandson. Finally, Theo is beginning to get some answers. But will he likes what he learns? Will his quest for the truth bring him more than he bargained for?

Kerley's novel weaves together the after effects of the Vietnam War with NASA's space race. Theo knows little of one, but is obsessed with the other. As Theo begins to explore the world around him--the past and the present--he begins to learn the answers and ask the deeper questions. Here is a character who gets it. Who gets that life is more than pizza and farting dogs. A boy who knows that life must mean something. That life is more than fun and games. His journey is courageous and authentic. His questions real. Kerley has written a beautiful novel with memorable, lifelike characters. From the single mom shouldering a heavy burden to the bossy older sister. Each member of the family is honestly presented as part of an important whole in dissecting Theo and his world. Family. Friendship. Love. Forgiveness. The Meaning of Life. This book has it all.


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