on a galaxy far, far away… a list of five interplanetary messages for tiny earthlings

mr. wuffles cover imageMr. Wuffles, a nearly-wordless book by David Wiesner

Mr. Wuffles is a handsome cat who disdains all the sorry little toys his owner buys for his amusement. Bor-ring, his regal gait says as he pads past them all…

…until he spies one of interest. Looking a bit like a tea ball on teensy wrought-iron legs. Mr. Wuffles’ sharp claws emerge. His gleaming, yellow eyes fixate on it. He bats it about as though it were prey. But it’s not a toy; it’s a spaceship. A crew of tiny green aliens are just high-fiving a successful landing when — whomp! — they are sent reeling andmr. wuffles illustration david weisner tumbling by this Creature with Menacing Eyes. Worse — one of the gizmos that powers the ship is broken. Bad luck indeed.

Bravely dashing out to forage for repairs, the green guys meet up with a colony of ants who apparently have been waging war with Mr. Wuffles for quite some time. Can the two groups combine forces to get the spaceship humming again, when they don’t even speak the same language?!

David Wiesner has crafted another out-of-this-world book, using scores of imaginative details to tell an adventurous, humorous, fantastical story. His watercolors are as astounding and polished as ever. Language bubbles with different symbols representing these foreign tongues, hairsbreadth escapes, eccentric camaraderie, repair improvisations to make McGyver green with envy, and cave drawings chronicling past battles with the cat…that’s just a bit of what you’ll find here. Way too much to absorb in just one wordless-reading. New in 2013, it’s a complex story sequence that will tickle the imaginations of kids and adults, ages 5 and up.

take me to your bbq cover imageTake Me to Your BBQ, written by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Adam McCauley

Farmer Willy is just mindin’ his own business, working in the garden while he waits for the barbecue grill to hot up, when yippee ki-yi! — a UFO beams itself right down into his yard. Whooee, it’s a big ‘un.

Out march some toothy green guys with three eyes and very bossy attitudes. Willy is nervous, understandably, but they claim all they want is a bite of his dee-licious barbecue. This gets out of hand in no time. When Willy starts fiddlin’ and the aliens hoedown till they drop, Willy sees his chance and makes a break for it….all the way to outer space…where he’s soon servin’ up BBQ to one odd collection of spacedwellers!

Duval’s rollicking, rhyming story is full of zest and humor, but Adam McCauley’s artwork blasts it into the stratosphere. I love his mix of dusky desert  burnt-oranges intercepted by alien lightbeams of glowstick blue and pink. The overlapping effect is crazy and wonderful. These aliens are sufficiently ugly and boorish, yet they are grinning, striking a nicely worrisome but not-too-scary note. Perhaps best of all, there’s an epic 3-page foldout when we rocket out of town — so cool! — plus a recipe for Willy’s famous BBQ sauce. Great fun for ages 4 and up.

the way back home cover imageThe Way Back Home, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

One upon a time there was a boy and a Martian.

The boy happens to find an airplane in his bedroom closet. Don’t ask him why it’s there. It just is. So why not take it for a spin, he thinks. He’s flying merrily higher and higher when…cough…sputter…he runs out of fuel and has to make an emergency landing on the moon — a scary and dark place.

Meanwhile, the Martian is zipping around in his spaceship when his the way back home illustration oliver jeffersengine starts to smoke. Never a good sign. He also lands on the moon.

Troubles are much nicer shared, and these two team up to figure out how to repair their vehicles and return home. They are quite resourceful and successful, which is good news and bad news. Good, because they rather like home; bad, because they’ve grown fond of each other. Will they ever meet again?

Oliver Jeffers’ quirky, sweet story is matched by endearing illustrations that emphasize the smallness of two unlikely friends alone in vast, uninhabited spaces. There is a matter-of-fact feel to these worlds, yet a tender, childlikeness as well which easily scoops us into the shoes of these beleaguered travelers. It’s a great little read for kindergarten and up.

fortunately the milk cover imageFortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

It’s breakfast time, but alas! there is no milk for the Toastios. Dad’s solely in charge as Mum’s off at a conference, and Dad’s a good egg. He blithely agrees to trot off to the corner shop and get some milk for his dear children.

But…he doesn’t come back…for ages! And when he does! oh Nelly, does he have a strange tale to explain why he’s been so long!

It all starts with an odd, thumming noise, a shimmering beam of light, a giant spaceship descending, and a passel of globby, grumpy creatures emerging. Very bossy folks. Determined to master the planet. Good ol’ Dad won’t have anything of fortunately the milk illustration2 skottie youngit, so he spangs off through an Emergency Exit door and…well…adventures ensue.

Fortunately, throughout the entire episode of  pirates, piranhas, peculiar professors, potty prophecies, and So Much More…Fortunately, I say, the milk stays firmly in Dad’s noble grasp throughout. Phew.

If you’re looking for a sort of Junior version Doctor Who, you’re in luck. Neil Gaiman’s twisted, nonsensical, tale of utter oddness has just that sort of flavor. Skottie Young’s weirdly wonderful pen drawings add gobs of quirk —  I could not have dreamed up the convoluted creatures and conveyances he has drawn for us. This book looks like a chapter book, but there’s only one chapter. Just over 100 pages long, with lavishly illustrated pages at that. Fantastic book for a reluctant reader or a zingy read-aloud. Ages 8 and up.

alistair and the alien invasion cover imageAlistair and the Alien Invasion, by Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Roger Bollen

Alistair Grittle is an impeccably dressed boy genius who irons his shoelaces and jots off to outer space in his spare time.

His teacher, Mr. Fudwinkle, has just assigned Alistair’s science class to bring “the most unusual plant you can find” to school, and Alistair is taking this assignment very seriously. He’s headed to outer space to see what he can find.

But wouldn’t you know it. Just as he rounds the bend by Venus, he notices an alien spaceship cruising towards Earth. It’s an invasion. Alistair is a bit peeved. He doesn’t really have time for this smack in the middle of his science project. But what’s a boy genius to do? Alistair swigs some invisibility potion and sets to work. Can Alistair save the planet and still get his homework done on time? It’ll be a close call.

Alistair is a delightful character and this is just one of his many adventures written by Marilyn Sadler back in the 90s so you can certainly search for more. The wacky situations and deadpan humor are a killer combination. Great fun. Roger Bollen’s comical illustrations burst with kool-aid bright colors. His mix of oodles of aliens with that plaid sleeper sofa of Aunt Margaret’s — weird and normal all jumbled together — is perfect. Ages 5 and up.