From the endpapers on, this book is an extraordinary display of Oliver Jeffers’ talent. It is a truly wonderful dedication to the new life of his son, written in the couple of months after he was born.
The endpapers teach you to navigate by the stars, should you find yourself lost – with the front showing the constellations in the Northern Hemisphere, and the back showing constellations in the Southern Hemisphere. Then, Earth is placed in context within the solar system, and we get a quick tour guide patter started: ‘We’re glad you found us as space is very big.
‘There is much to see and do here on Earth, so let’s get started with a quick tour.’
The tour-guide patter reminds me a little of Marvin on a good day, from the Douglas Adams books. It is quirky and sweet, and perfect for a book intended as a guide for living. As we go through the types of land, Jeffers labels pictures: a volcano (hot), a snowy mountain (cold), a plateau (flat) – without needing to use language that is above a child’s level.
Sometimes, instead of labels, he has gone for a straight dive into the majesty of the world, for example, under the sea. My 7-year-old found plenty to see here, identifying as many underwater characters as he could – including a ghostly Bluebeard on a sunken galleon.
From big-picture to small, we then go into a bit of biology, then sociology. There is a cut-out of a child with their vital organs showing – my favourite part of this page is the note that shows which bits will grow back (nails, and hair). Then: ‘The most important things for people to remember are to eat, drink and stay warm.’His demonstration pages of the diversity of humans, and of animals are detailed and amazing. I noted that he no longer only puts sticks in place of legs (unless the animals have twiggy legs), as he did for many years.
The book of Jeffers’ that this reminds me of most is his previous title (written by Sam Winston), A Child of Books – it has a similar tone which could be read as a bit saccharine if it wasn’t for the way he pulls it off. The message though, is wonderful. It gives any child a lot to look forward to, without making them anxious about not fulfilling the ambitions of their parent for their future.
‘It looks big, Earth.
But there are lots of us on here
(7,327,450,667 and counting)
so be kind.
There is enough for everyone.’
Once Here We Are makes it into board book format, I’ll definitely be recommending it as a gift for any new baby (alongside something local, of course). In the meantime, this hardcover edition with the most gorgeous indented cover under the dust jacket, will join picture-book lovers’ collections worldwide (as well as staying on the ‘good shelf’ until baby won’t destroy it.)
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth
by Oliver Jeffers
Published by HarperCollins NZ