A Tuesday Ten: The Red Planet

Okay folks! A new Tuesday Ten!  Today we’re looking at children’s lit  that takes place on the Red Planet.  Mars is an incredibly popular subject matter for adult Science Fiction authors (just go check over at Goodreads if you don’t believe me!) but it doesn’t have quite the same popularity in middle grade and younger fiction.  That said, I still found ten books to share.  Some old, some new, some definitely bizarre!  But they all have scenes set on Mars!


Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins, 2015)

One of my favorite books from last year!  Alice Dare and whole group of Earth kids are shipped off to a the new colony that’s being created on Mars.  But once they arrive things aren’t quite as safe or as simple as anyone thought! Fun, funny and action-packed SF that’s meant to be enjoyed!


A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane (Harcourt, c2010)

One of my actual SF/fantasy mixes for the list.  This is Diane Duane’s 9th book in the Young Wizard series.  This time our protagonists travel to Mars to investigate and ancient civilization . . . but what they find may wind up setting events in motion that will put Mars and Earth on a collision course . . .


The Winds of Mars by H. M. Hoover (Dutton Juvenile, c1995)

Rebel forces strike at the all powerful Mars president, sending his daughter fleeing from enemies.  But what young Annalyn discovers soon has her questioning everything she’s been taught.  Are the rebels truly wrong?  What secrets has her father hid from her?  Science fiction with a social issue core and some dark discoveries in store for our main protagonist.



The Ship that Sailed to Mars by William Timlin (Dover Publications, c1923)

From there we jump back to 1923, when William Timlin decided to create a bedtime story for his children, complete with gorgeous illustrations.  In this fantastical story, a man builds a ship to sail across space to Mars.  So happy to see this one back in print so that everyone can experience it!  Worth a look if you can find it.


Mars Needs Moms! by Berkely Breathed (Philomel, c2007)

I’ve a few picture books on this list and Berkely Breathed’s is one.  The book went on to inspire a movie years later, but the original story tells of aliens who abduct a boy’s mom to bring her to Mars.  The boy stows away in the ship, suddenly realizing that the mom he’d grumbled about and gotten angry at isn’t worth losing to aliens.


Secrets of the Dragon-Tomb by Patrick Samphire (Henry Holt and Co. Expected Publication January 2016)

Martian Regency space opera.  Not the sort of thing you see very often in middle-grade fiction.  I’ll be looking forward to reading this one as soon as I can snare it!


There’s Nothing to Do on Mars by Chris Gall (Little Brown  Books for Young Readers, c2008)

Davey and his parents move to Mars, far away from all the familiar things Davey is used to.  But with a little creativity and effort, Davey begins to find that Mars may hold just as many interesting things for him to explore and do as his old world.


Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars by Ellen MacGregor (Mcgraw-Hill, c1951)

Yes folks, there is a middle-grade series out there that has a protagonist who is both a curmudgeon and a spinster. Miss Pickerell comes home from vacation to find a very strange ship on her property–and she’s not having it!  When things go awry, Miss Pickerell ends up on board for the adventure of a lifetime!  Of course this is only the first of this character’s adventures . . .


Space Cat Meets Mars by Ruthven Todd, illustrated by Paul Galdone (Scribner, 1952)

The 1950s also introduced readers to Space Cat, a clever cat who goes on all sorts of outer space adventures.  In this third book, Space Cat finally goes to Mars and discovers there are cats on the red planet!  Veteran children’s book readers will probably recognize the illustrator attached to these books!


The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars by Thomas M. Disch (Doubleday Books, c1988)

Many of you probably didn’t know this was a books series.  I’m guessing most of you didn’t know there was a sequel in any case.  Yup our favorite appliance is back again, and this time the Toaster is off to Mars to stop the Martian appliances from declaring war on Earth–can one toaster achieve peace between worlds?

So there’s my ten!  Any others you can think of? I’m always interested!  Add them in the comments below!

Flashback: Television Encounters of the Book Kind

One more flashback for today.  This one is prompted by SF Said’s campaign   which is a campaign to prompt more media coverage of children’s books in various media outlets.  You can read more about the campaign here.

It got me thinking back to my own childhood.


Recently we’ve seen the resurgence of Reading Rainbow a public television program here in the States that made its daily fare about books and reading, and always featured a variety of stories, discussions of genres and types of books, and reviews by kids themselves.  It was a show that I still remember discovering books from.  I’m so happy there’s a renewed interest in it because it really was a powerful force for encouraging readers and opening the door to some of the children’s books out there for kids.

But there were some other programs too.

CBS Storybreak

This animated show aired from 1985-1987 and then returned from 1993-1998 and featured books turned into animated stories for the viewing audience..  The original series was hosted by Bob Keeshan (Otherwise known as Captain Kangaroo).

Some of the books CBS Storybreak featured included

Ratha’s Creature by Clare Bell (1983) (animation here)

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell (1973) (animation here)

Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen (1982) (animation here)

ABC Weekend Special

This particular show air from 1977-1997, offering small movies and book inspired dramas for kids just after the cartoon ghetto on Saturday mornings.  While not all of it featured great children’s books, there were quite a few in the mix:

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (1965) (video here)

The Trouble with Miss Switch by Barbara Brooks Wallace (1971) (animation here)

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively (1975) (video here)


The fact is, these were things that as a kid made an impact.  They shared books with me I hadn’t thought about and opened the world of those books for kids who probably hadn’t thought much of reading.   It’s not like TV from stories has vanished–far from it!  But so much of today’s storytelling on TV is directed at the adult audiences.   There are plenty of kids stories that could be tapped.  And like the shows above suggest, it isn’t about  stories pulled out and serialized beyond their weight to hold together–it’s about smaller stories shared with the audience–about giving them something new every week or few weeks.

I remember these shows as magical.  The musical openings still fill me with that excitement I had as a kid to see what was in store for the program that day.  So what happened?  I’d love to see shows like this come back into being and share new generations of children’s books with potential readers and their parents.  Anyone know of anything like that out there?  If you do, inquiring minds want to know!


Flashback Fridays: Go Into the light . . .

You’re a ten year old boy in the early 1900s whose family just encountered a strangely feral boy with no clothes who just appeared out of nowhere.  The boy learns quickly how to be civilized and speak, until he’s simply one of the family–but the mystery of where he comes and why will remain with you . . .

Do you remember:

Born Into Light by Paul Samuel Jacobs (Scholastic Point, c1988)

From a vantage point of many, many years later, Roger Westwood recounts the events of a fateful day a wild boy shows up at their homestead.  Naked and feral, he nevertheless allows Roger’s sister to help him.  In a short time he is learning–or remembering–how to speak and learning the basics of civilization.  There’s no question that the Westwood family will take the poor boy in.  But the mysteries surrounding him, including the mysterious metal that falls to dust from a burned circle in the woods, do not vanish.  The boy is only one of many wild children found that year of shooting stars.  Some of them die early on, but many manage to live on with families. These children are startlingly strong, but fragile in many ways–and they tire quickly.  Roger’s life with his adopted brother explores the mystery and meaning of wild children and their arrival.  For they are not from earth . . . but from space.  It is a story of growth, learning and journey that will leave readers thinking and wondering at the end of the tale.

I don’t know if any of my readers are familiar with the movie The Thing that Came from Outer Space.  It sounds like a wildly awful B movie with monsters and bad special effects.  And even the original movie has a bit of that.  But it was my dad’s favorite science fiction movie, and I like it quite a bit too.  Not for the bad special effects parts, but for the dialog.  Our characters spend a lot of time talking and speculating about things–using the kind of language and wondering that is so part and parcel to science fiction, but so often gets lost in the horror or the adventure of the thing.  That movie is true speculative fiction at work, and it provides a thoughtful lens of narrative through which to view the story which immediately makes it less lurid and more soul-shaking.  This book is a bit like that.  It’s a thoughtful narrative that avoids falling into sensationalism–though this story could have been told in another way to create that.  Instead we have thoughtful explorations and reactions of our main character as he encounters these mysteries, and how they simply become a part of his life.

It starts from the perspective of a 70-year-old man recalling events that happened over his lifetime. That in itself is a highly unusual tactic for a children’s novel.  The book itself is fairly short, only 149 pages in all.  In recent times it’s hard to even find many novels for tweens and teens that run this short.  In these pages, we encounter our narrator as an old man, then jump back to him as a ten year old boy.  We follow him through his years growing up, all the way to adulthood.  And finally back to the old man he is at the beginning.  The story is full of family connections, small discoveries and gradual understanding.  We see it all through the eyes of the narrator as he grows up–so readers are not given all the speculations at once.  It’s the kind of book that speaks about science fiction on a different level.  Yes, this is aliens come to earth–but you hardly realize that in the course of the story.  It’s about something much more significant.  It’s about hope.  Hope for the future and a hope that reaches beyond us and our own lives, a hope that dreams of what one day may be–and being a small part of that.

A small spoiler here from a quote from the last pages, to give you a taste of the reflection. “They are probably traveling still, my niece and nephews, away from the sun, the star that briefly warmed them, past Vega, which guides them,  and toward their distant home.  Katarina and Chaz and Bobby and the others are on their journey.  They are carrying a small piece of us forward to another place and another time in the history of the universe.”

I finished a re-read on this with the mixed feeling that this is really science fiction for adults as well as teens and tweens.  This is  a SF story that has as much relevance for us as adults–or perhaps more.  At the same time, it is not inappropriate for teens or tweens, and it’s incredibly thought provoking.  It’s the kind of book to promote questions and ideas and arguments.  The kind of story that gives us the quieter side of science fiction–one that is no less significant for its quiet.

Paul  Samuel Jacob wrote one other science fiction story for young people, this one called Sleepers, Wake (Scholastic, 1991) that chronicles a young boy’s life when he wakes too early from suspended animation aboard a ship.

Other than this, the author published a historical fiction novel in 1997, but that’s the only information I could find.  I was unable to uncover further information about the author or why he only wrote these three books in his lifetime.

Born into Light may be an obscure bit of Science Fiction, but it is also one of the speculative fiction novels from the 1980s that could be reprinted to day without suffering tremendously from how the modern era has changed in the last few decades.  This is one of those books that’s admittedly hard to find, but certainly worth a read if you come across it!

Comments Welcome!


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