Flashback Fridays: Earth below us, drifting falling . . .

You’re a curious kid.  You find a giant space suit crashed to the ground and just have to see what’s on the inside.  But that curiosity might not be able to get you out again when that space suit starts moving . . .

Do you remember:

The Fallen Spaceman by Lee Harding, illustrated by Johan and Ian Schoenherr (Yearling 1982)

This book came to my awareness by an unusual route.  My mother used to read aloud to me and my siblings and she’d pull titles from Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook (whatever edition was out back then).  This was one of the books listed.  So she picked it up and read it to us.  A science fiction story–which is not my mother’s usual fare in any way shape or form.  Yet she liked it.  She still remembers it after all these years.   It also stuck with me.  I reread it several times as a kid.  And then in college I was at a used book fair and discovered it sitting in a pile.  I snapped it right up and still have it.

You might recognize the exterior arc of the plot.  An alien worker is inadvertently left behind  from the mothership and he must find a way to communicate with a young earth boy in order for them both to survive.  That’s where the similarities to E.T.  end.  Tyro, our alien worker, is a small, human-like alien inside a gigantic space suit/encounter suit of sorts.  He was working on ship repairs when an accident sent him hurtling down to Earth.  Erik, our curious young man starts out exploring the big empty suit, but becomes trapped inside when the suit starts moving again.   Tyro’s air he needs to breathe and Erik’s air he survives in are different things–and the oxygen rich air of the suit will kill Erik given time, or else the leaks will let in enough earth air to kill Tyro. Told in split perspective from Tyro and Erik’s POV, their mutual survival becomes dependent on each other, and a connection that boy and alien can share.

John and Ian Schoenherr’s line drawing illustrations help to flesh out the story, and make it appeal to younger readers just graduating from picture books into longer form chapter books.  John Shoenherr was a New York artist  who was also well-known as a science fiction illustrator.  He did work on the Dune series as well as the Dragonriders of Pern books.  He won the Caldecott medal for Owl Moon by Jane Yolen in 1988.  (I love what you can discover on the Internet).  Ian Schoenherr remains a prolific children’s book illustrator, with some of his latest works including The Apothacary by Maile Malloy (Putnam, 2011) and The Twistrose Key by Tolm Alhjell (Dial, Expected publication, October 2013).

This lovely young reader novel is sadly out of print and fairly unknown, particularly in the States.  When I’ve described it to people, I inevitably get responses like “Oh, it’s like the The Iron Giant.”  Well, yes and no.  The Iron Giant is actually more of a fable or fantasy tale with a giant robot that winds up defeating a creature that could destroy the Earth.  The Fallen Spaceman is much more pure science fiction,  with an alien inside a giant suit, the different atmosphere, the difficulty of communication.  It’s a beautiful story and if I had endless copies I’d hand it to any budding science fiction reader.  I read this to my son last year and enjoyed getting the chance to share it with him.  Intermediate science fiction like this is really an ephemeral creature–because the kids reading it are so soon on to longer and more complex works.  I’m glad to have it in my collection.

Lee Harding, the author of The Fallen Spaceman, isn’t particularly well known in the States.  This Australian born writer, however was highly influential in the Australian science fiction scene, helping to  found the Melbourne Science Fiction Club.  In 2006, Lee Harding was given the Chandler Award in gratitude for his life’s work. The Fallen Spaceman won the 1972 Ditmar Award for Best Australian Science Fiction.

While Harding has written several other books for middle grade readers, most of them have not made it to the States.

I’m going to appeal to any Aussie followers here to see if you have any more knowledge of Harding and his other works.  Inquiring minds want to know! ^_^  Comments are, as always, happily welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on March 2, 2016, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks, I love to discover hidden gems in books & literature.

  2. Sci fi for the younger crowd is a niche that needs more books in it! Maybe someone will reprint this one; it sounds very appealing. (Just the kind of thing I would have gobbled up as a kid—I always used to fantasize about aliens crashing in my backyard!)

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