Award-winning Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnason’s fable for the 9-to-12 crowd has much to teach all readers about solidarity and responsibility.
The Story of the Blue Planet
By Andri Snaer Magnason
Illustrated by Aslaug Jonsdottir
Translated by Julian Meldon D’Arcy
Seven Stories Press.
“Once upon a time,” award-winning Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnason begins, “there was a blue planet far out in space.” Life there was idyllic, if odd. Inhabited only by children, the blue planet was home to myriad animals and plants. What’s more, a large variety of multi-hued kids frolicked without conflict. Cooperation was a given, and no one made notice that some children were fat and others thin, or tall versus short. Skin color and gender were similarly ignored. “Now,” Magnason writes, “someone might ask: ‘Where did the children come from? How did they multiply? Did they never grow up? How were they born if there were no grown-ups on the planet?’ The answer is simple: Nobody knows.”
Magnason’s engaging and charming tale – geared to readers aged 9 to 12 – takes us into a magical kingdom and introduces Hulda and Brimir, best friends who spend their days chasing fireflies, climbing rocky cliffs, collecting shells at the beach and watching sea turtles lay eggs and subsequently give birth. Their favorite activity, however, is watching the annual flight of the butterflies — the day the fluttery creatures awaken and, en masse, fly from the mouth of a cave. “The flight of the butterflies was the greatest wonder on the blue planet and a day of true happiness,” Magnason writes.
Yes, life on the blue planet was good, if predictable…. Then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, a spaceship makes a surprise landing in the center of their community and out comes a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing salesman who calls himself Gleesome (aka Jolly) Goodday. In short order Goodday turns the blue planet upside down, offering the kids a once-in-a-lifetime deal: The ability to fly like the butterflies they revere in a world of constant light. The cost? Just a tiny bit of their youth.
Adults might have bristled at the deal, but the kids were overjoyed and, in short order, they’re high in the sky, flying from hither and yon and back again. Walking and even running suddenly seem unnecessary – and oh-so-dull. After all, the kids have no responsibilities so being as free as a bird is, simply put, a dream come true.
At least for a while.
Yes, like all things too-good-to-last the children’s new life comes to an abrupt halt when Hulda and Brimir accidently fly farther than they’d intended and end up on the other side of the planet where everything is dark, dank and lifeless. The children they encounter there are near-to-starving since without light and warmth their food sources have withered and died.
The dreary and desperate scene shakes Hulda and Brimir from their privilege and they are forced to confront some serious philosophical and pragmatic concerns. Is it okay to have everything when others have nothing? Is there a moral imperative to share what one has? These questions send the pair into a tailspin, and when they return to their bright and sunny home they convene their pals to share their dismal discovery and air their confusion.
Suffice it to say that they work out a plan that involves the division of resources and the outsmarting of Jolly Goodday – but the process of coming to consensus is fraught with hearty debate and bickering.
It’s a delightful and pointed tale. Indeed, The Story of the Blue Planet, aided by Aslaug Jonsdottir’s fanciful and evocative illustrations, raises important issues about greed, collaboration, friendship and trust that will kick-start discussions among children and their caretakers. Home and school libraries would do well to add it to their collections.