Note!: You might have noticed that even in these reviews, I focus more on the author than the illustrator. Most children’s books, just so we’re all clear, do have a different illustrator. I’m focusing mostly on the writing and providing links to the books, if you’re interested in learning more. If I do have a post where I focus inordinately on the illustrations, I will make sure to include the illustrator’s name.
Today, I’m going to look at Pluto Visits Earth! (2012) by Steve Metzger. The premise of this book focuses on Pluto’s downgraded status (from planet to dwarf planet). When Pluto learns of this news from a piece of speeding rock out in the outer reaches of our solar system, he (no comment on how Pluto–presumably Metzger designated his protagonist with the pronoun “he” since Pluto was named after the Greek god) decides to take matters into his own hands and visit earth and demand his planet status back from astronomers.
Pluto begins by looking for validation from his three moons — though only Nix and Charon respond, saying basically “well, you’re bigger than us.” Hydra, is strangely silent. Currently Pluto is recognized to have 5 moons (perhaps though, Metzger finished his book before the remaining two moons were discovered in 2011 and 2012, and the publishers saw no reason to edit this in?).
Pluto’s decision to visit earth means he must leave his orbit, and as he sweeps past the other planets, he seeks their support (thankfully, they say “no,” since that would have totally screwed with our orbit and our gravity!). Each planet is personified, and most of the planets have slightly unappealing traits like vanity or being too busy (managing their moons). Mars says it’s Martian Day and if Mars leaves, the Martians will be angry.
Martians. Wait, you mean, like, aliens?
Oh yes, that’s the message to send. That aliens — where else do children hear that word? Right, when certain people refer to undocumented immigrants — get angry easily. That, possibly, they’re violent or vindictive. That we should be careful not to provoke this type of response from the aliens, I mean, Martians. Alas, Pluto continues on his way to Earth (he skips asking Venus and Mercury for help, because then he’d have to go out of his way).
Pluto, like a little bully, hovers over the astronomers (definitely within our gravitational pull, I’d imagine — he seemed much larger than I’ve seen the moon–which means he could have come crashing into us at any moment and/or seriously messed with pretty much all the systems we rely on like weather and tides) and demands his status back as a planet. By this point in the book, he’s already claimed he “has a big heart.”
Of course he thinks he has a big heart. He’s beginning to sound like a Nice Guy (TM) — a Nice Guy (TM) might say, “but girls always want to sleep with the bad boys. I’m just soo nice, I’m not getting laid by those (insert derogatory term for women).” Nice Guy (TM) Pluto says “but I’ve got these two qualities of a planet, and a big heart, why can’t those (foul language) astronomers just see me as a planet??”
The astronomers, rather than being intimidated by Pluto looming overhead, stand their ground and refuse to change his status back. But, a little boy assures Pluto that Pluto will always be his favorite planet.
This is the type of validation Pluto was seeking all along! With this assurance (placation), he can go back to his orbit.
So, basically this book potentially teaches children to stand up for themselves, but only to the ends of seeking the validation of others, rather than reaching toward self-actualization. It teaches kids to see themselves as Pluto, no matter how much they try to bully others. Maybe it teaches children to shake off labels (I don’t care if you call me a dwarf planet!), but more than that, it seems to tell children to accept the labels others give them as long as someone still loves them.
Did I mention the little boy who assures Pluto that Pluto is his favorite is white? I mean, really except for white men, who can provide validation to someone else?
Would I recommend this book to children I know, or their parents? Possibly, but possibly not, for the reasons listed above — but also (and primarily) because I think there are plenty of books about space and the solar system out there that provide a lot more of the science facts I would have asked questions about. That being said, one of the best parts of this book, in my opinion was the text to the adult at the very end of the book, explaining why Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet. This provides adults with more information to answer questions that the book might have raised.