Meanwhile Back on Earth...: Finding Our Place Through Time and Space

2017 BolognaRagazzi Award for Fiction winner Oliver Jeffers (A Child of Books) employs an ingenious device to depict the history of humankind through distances in space. Jeffers's distinctive art and charming wit playfully deliver a profound message of unity as a father and his two children navigate their car "at 37 mph" through the solar system.

The trio of space travelers use the time it would take them to reach various points in space--the moon (one year), the sun (283 years), Ceres (500 years), Neptune (8,000 years)--to look back at corresponding events in humanity's chronology, discovering that "humans... have always fought each other over space." The images in their car's rearview mirror show conflicts like the American Revolution, the Crusades, the Viking explorations, even the battles of the Ice Age where "early people are fighting each other with sticks and stones." Jeffers's brilliance with perspective in both prose and illustration emphasizes the insignificance of humanity's skirmishes within the whole of the solar system, "just one of billions."

Meanwhile Back on Earth is a companion piece to the art installation "Our Place in Space," but one need not experience the 10km sculpture trail to feel the impact of Jeffers's theme and gain this mind-bending perspective on people's place in the universe. His use of enormous numbers for time and distance drives home the idea that Earth's inhabitants are all much more alike than dissimilar; one simply must look from a proper distance. This endearing picture book offers a light that enables readers to see clearly. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

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