Wednesday, 16 March 2016

TO BOLDY GO: Picture books in space

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.

As someone who grew up at the time of the Apollo Missions I’ve always found the idea of space travel hugely appealing and had a particular interest in stories that are set in space.

I've pitched several space-set stories to publishers over the years. However, while I’ve had some success getting space-set chapter fiction published …

The Captain Comet chapter fiction books illustrated by Andy Parker are set in space.

… none of the space-set picture books I’ve pitched have ever made it into print.

An art sample by illustrator Steve Cox for Invasion of the Botty Snatchers,
an unpublished space-set picture book we developed together.

Of course this could be because none of them were any good, but when another of my space-set picture book ideas was turned down last year, the publisher told me that one of the reasons was that, “picture books set in space generally don’t sell.”

If this is true, then I think it shows that the picture book market is currently catering to the tastes of a demographic that is relatively narrow compared to its potential readership. There are plenty of picture book age children that are interested in stories set in space. However these children are currently having this appetite fed by TV shows and films rather than books. My son and several of his friends were obsessed with the original U certificate Star Wars trilogy from the age of four and when I went to see the new Star Wars film over Christmas, I was struck by how many parents had brought small children to see it, despite its 12 certificate rating.

If publishers want to show these children that picture books are every bit as capable of matching the appeal of their favourite films and TV shows, they might consider “boldly going” into space a little more often. And I do mean “boldly”; it’s not just the setting that’s important. There is a market for gentler picture book stories set in space, but such books will not cut it with young readers with an appetite for dogfights and death stars. These children need picture books that can match the dastardly villainy, thrillingly perilous predicaments and sophisticated craft and weaponry evident in films like Star Wars.

Here are three space-set books that are a good deal “bolder” than most.

The King of Space written and Illustrated by Jonny Duddle is one of the best picture books of the last ten years and shamefully under-recognised by reviewers and awards judges alike. It’s a brilliantly illustrated, tech-tastic, action packed epic, filled with battling spaceships, menacing robots and a pint-sized megalomaniac.

The hardback edition comes with a dust-cover that unfolds to make this awesome poster of a 'warbot'.

Nuts in Space written and illustrated by Elys Dolan is a madcap space epic that's brimful of comic references to both Star Wars and Star Trek. Charged with transporting “The Lost Nuts of Legend” across the galaxy, the crew of Forest Fleet’s finest starship encounter a mischievous menagerie of creatures from little green men to ravenous Ewok-like bears, before falling into the clutches of Daft Monkey and his legion of simian stormtroopers.

The book is full of amusing in-jokes for sci-fi fans young and old, such as this encounter between Daft Monkey and Commander Moose.

Mungo and the Spiders from Space written by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Adam Stower is part of an excellent series of Mungo stories in which Mungo, the young hero, enters the world of a favourite bedtime book. In this story it's a comic book adventure featuring a Dan-Dare-like space hero called Captain Galacticus.

Galacticus and Mungo join forces to thwart the villainous, Dr Frankenstinker, the "maddest scientist on Mercury".

Can you recommend any other picture books that "boldly go" into space? If so, I'd love to hear about them in the comments box below.

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