Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
When there is a clever, charming trailer for a book I am reviewing, I will include it after my review. I have never started a review with a trailer, but the trailer created for Oliver Jeffers's newest book, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, is just so perfect, from the images shared to the message conveyed, that I had to lead with it. Jeffers's new book is dedicated to his son Harland and was written in the first two months of his life when he realized he was giving his son an ever-expanding tour of the world, starting with their one room apartment in Brooklyn.
During my 25 years as a parents and almost 20 years as a children's bookseller, I have read my share of "Welcome to the World" picture books and finding one that is sincere without being twee and thoughtful without being didactic is rare. Here We Are: Notes for Living on the Planet Earth is both sincere and thoughtful, and a book I enthusiastically advocate as ideal for all gift giving occasions, for adults and children. While it was begun two years before the current climate we are living in, Jeffers's book is the perfect, gorgeously illustrated message to share with our children and each other. In fact, Jeffers, who is a multimedia illustrator, incorporates quotes into every corner of Here We Are, which begins with a quote from J.M. Barrie's The Little White Bird, "Shall we all make a new rule of life from tonight: always try to be a little kinder than necessary?" Jeffers ends his book with quotes from Dr. Sally Ride and R. Buckminster Fuller, as well as one from his dad, which, for me, is worth the price of the book: "There are only three words you need to live by, son: respect, consideration and tolerance."
With his wonderful sense visual and verbal humor, Here We Are takes a (sometimes cheeky) bird's eye view of all aspects of life on earth, noting the absence of scientific accuracy in favor of a more general introduction. Whether talking about the natural world or human beings, Jeffers encourages readers to take care of what we have. Of people, Jeffers says, they "come in many shapes, sizes and colors. We may all look different, act different and sound different . . . but don't be fooled, we are all people." And, while he notes that things can, "sometimes move slowly here on Earth. More often, though, they move quickly, so use your time well. It will be gone before you know it." So simple, but so true, especially when you are reading Here We Are to the child sitting in your lap, knowing they will be too big to fit soon enough and, a bit later, out the door and out in the world on their own.
Jeffers ends Here We Are telling the reader, "if you need to know anything else . . . just ask. I won't be far away. And when I'm not around . . . you can always ask someone else. You're never alone on Earth." This sentiment plays out beautifully over several pages, moving from a view of the galaxy to a father rocking his son to sleep at night, to the father holding his son in his arms, the infant gazing out at a long line of loving family that grows into a long line of humanity.