If You Come To Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come To Earth by Sophie Blackall
Review Copy from Chronicle Books
To me, a picture book is a 32 page work of art that sits on a shelf rather than hanging on a wall, and more than any other picture book I have read in recent memory, If You Come To Earth is a work of art. When I started work as a children's bookseller back in 1995, the illustration and design style was still reminiscent of my childhood favorites from the 1970s. I am grateful to have worked with children's books for two and a half decades, especially when it comes to illustration. Pulling Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yin Bridges off the shelf to read at a Saturday story time in 2002 (to this day, I cannot read Ruby's Wish without getting choked up) was the moment that I fell in love with Sophie Blackall's work and when I realized that picture book illustration was changing before my eyes. Almost 20 years later, holding If You Come To Earth in my hands and turning the pages feels a bit like the culmination of Blackall's work of the last two decades, in part because the catalog style of many of the illustrations perfectly suits the detailed eye she brings to her art, but also because both the story and the illustrations exemplify the quality of humanity that she consistently brings to the page and the empathy and compassion that spring from it.

If You Come To Earth is written in the form of a letter to "Visitor from Outer Space," from a child named Quinn (see Blackall's author's note for more on Quinn) who offers to tell the visitor everything they need to know about our planet and the life on it. Blackall starts wide and narrows her scope over the course of 80 (yes! 80 pages! Almost 3x the normal page count for a picture book - yet ANOTHER reason to love, buy and give this book!) pages. Blackall telescopes from a view of the universe to a fingernail clipping, her most powerful moments coming when she focuses on the variety of human experience and the ways we are different and the same, the tone of her text simple and elegant. Quinn tells the visitor that "kids go to school to learn stuff, so we'll know what to do when we're grown up." On the following page, the words "Grown-ups do lots of things to make the world work," are accompanied by a portrait gallery, some folks you might even recognize. I especially love the pages where Blackall catalogs a slice of the animal kingdom, as well as things that are "part of nature" and things that are "made by people." Quinn tells the visitor that "Some of us who are deaf talk with our hands and faces. Some of us who are blind read with our fingers." The accompanying two page spread includes Blackall's hand drawn ASL and Braille alphabets.

Blackall's author's note adds to an already rich book and is a must-read, especially if you are reading this book out loud. As much as I love the pages of animals, things and places, it is the pages with children that I love most in If You Come To Earth, perhaps because of what Blackall shares in her author's note about the inspiration for this book, her work with Save the Children and her many, many classroom visits, particularly Ms. Greta's class at the Brooklyn New School.

Reading If You Come To Earth (something I have done many times) sparks curiosity, unites us and inspires love for, as Blackall writes in her author's note (and illustrates in the pages of this book), "this beautiful planet. It's the only one we have, so we should take care of it. And each other. Don't You think?"

A few of my favorites from Blackall
                                  Big Red Lollipop                                   Pecan Pie Baby

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