As nights become longer and Halloween looms, my thoughts turn to things-that-go-bump in the night. Who can say that they’ve never been afraid of the dark? Whether down in a cobweb-covered basement, along a deserted sidewalk, or even in your own bedroom (true confession: to this day, I can’t sleep with a closet door open), I think it’s safe to say that everyone, at some point in her or his life, has been afraid of the dark. Which is why I’ve chosen to feature Today’s Perfect Picture Book:
Title: The Darkest Dark
Written By: Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion
Illustrated By: The Fan Brothers
Publisher/date: Little Brown and Company/2016
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: darkness, fears, dreams, space exploration, history, first steps on the moon
Opening: “Chris was an astronaut. An important and very busy astronaut. When it was time to take a bath, he told his mother, “I’d love to, but I’m saving the planet from aliens.”
Brief Synopsis: Based on a true story, astronaut Chris Hadfield shares incidents from his childhood when he was afraid of the dark, and how he overcame that fear to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut.
Links to Resources:
- Learn more about Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon;
- Ask an adult to share recollections of that first moon walk, or another historical event
Why I Like this Book:
I well remember Apollo 11 and those first steps on the moon (am I dating myself?). In an era when many of us worry about children watching newscasts, and in an era when we often view news instantaneously, alone on individual phones, tablets or computer screens, I loved reliving the moonwalk and experiencing it through the eyes of a space-loving child surrounded by family and friends huddled in front of one black and white television. And while I’ve never dreamed about becoming an astronaut, I love books that show kids how someone can achieve his or her dreams when they overcome fear or other obstacles.
With their blue-gray, moody palette, the Fan Brothers are the perfect choice to illustrate this story. The illustrations combine fantasy, including the dark-loving aliens of Chris’ imagination, and more realistic, almost photographic, images. Befitting a book about darkness, the palette is understandably dark. As befitting a book about an historical occurrence, the illustrations at times are granular, much like the 1960s television images of the first steps on the moon.
A Note about Craft:
Chris Hadfield is a real-life astronaut who has teamed with collaborator Kate Fillion to highlight a problem of his childhood, fear of the dark, and the incident/realization that helped him overcome his fear. The story follows a typical arc: MC wants something, overcomes a problem, and changes. In order, The Darkest Dark presents Chris’ dream, to become an astronaut (see Opening, above, which shows young Chris playing at being an astronaut), explores his fear of the dark and the problems it causes, and offers the solution via the incident that changed everything for him, in this case one of the most momentous events in history. By focusing on this one childhood weakness and showing how he overcame it, Chris offers a way for children to think about overcoming their own fears and realizing their dreams. I think this broadens the scope, and market, of the book beyond the particulars of an astronaut and space, to encompass all dreaming children who overcome fear to realize their dreams.
This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list.