Donn Kushner

Illustrated by D.J. Knight

Childe Thursday Books / 103 pages / February 1999

It isn’t often that you can describe a book in one word, but through every page of Life on Mars a single thought kept surfacing: charming. The characters are charming. The story is charming. The illustrations are certainly. Kushner’s prose is quite charming. The whole package will have adults — young and old — under its spell.

Suppose those far-reaching Viking missions just missed the real story on Mars? There was life all right, but it had the good fortune to escape detection. And for that very reason, it is still there.

The Martians of Kushner’s creation resemble nothing so much as big-eyed versions of Fantasia’s dancing mushrooms. Or, perhaps, the unlucky inside-out umbrellas after a big storm. They are quiet, guileless creatures, spending their days soaking up sunlight and playing the games they based on a few moments of garbled television transmissions from Earth. (Fortunately, The Jerry Springer Show had yet to be created.) The gentle Martians spend their nights resting and dreaming of things that may or may not have been. And watching over them all is their Chief, unseen but involved in every aspect of their lives.

**Warning! If you’ve longed for a tribble since the first time you saw that show, you are going to fall and fall hard for these little guys.**

(You could build them out of mashed potatoes, I suppose.)

Life on Mars is the kind of story that takes you back to the books you adored while growing up. These are the books you search for now for your little guys, only to find they went out of print before you got your learner’s permit. When we were about 11, we would have inhaled this book in one sitting. Of course, when we became teenagers, a charming little tale like this would have been far too babyish for our tastes. One of the great gifts of life is outgrowing that self-depriving phase and returning to the things that simply bring us wonder and joy.

Why is it more fun to pick out books for my nieces and nephews than for myself? Maybe because their books are just more fun.

Then again, maybe it’s the hidden messages that lie within such pages. Chances are, a young child is not going to pick up the subtle point of the story, but the adult reading with them will hear it clearly and, hopefully, pause to think about the moral. It’s worth mulling over. Then again, maybe kids already know the message. They usually come out of the womb with more common sense than we retain.

Go on! Get out there and find a copy of Life on Mars for your children. Or, pretend to have kids. Or, just have the confidence to waltz in and openly buy it for yourself. Like all genuinely enriching works for children, it ought to be required reading for all of us.