Monday, October 10, 2011

Your One Book From Planet Earth

Imagine that you are preparing to leave Earth in a spaceship. You are traveling with your closest loved ones far away to a new world, and you will never return to your home planet. The spaceship is an older model than the fancier ones used by rich colonists. The spaceship was meant for exploration journeys, not colonization, and there is no time to upgrade the computer to store the vast richness of humanity's  history and literature. Really-- there's no time. The Disaster is imminent. Because of space limitations, each person in your family may take one hard bound or paperback book. You don't get to consult with other people outside of the family who will be traveling with you (because of the aforementioned time constraints) but you do get to talk with your family members about what you will bring.

That is the premise for The Green Book, a first-person plural point of view science-fiction novella by Jill Paton Walsh. The book was originally published in 1981 by MacMillan, and republished in subsequent editions by Farrar, Straus and Giroux's Sunburst imprint. The Green Book is available as an e-book, too, which is amusing, given the premise of the story.

I've read The Green Book several times since I was a child. It was published before personal computers and cell-phones, and yet (with a few tweaks to account for why the passengers can't bring their audio-visual media devices) remains relevant science-fiction for today's readers. It works as a contemporary children's book, too, as children, not adults, find solutions to the problems of how to survive on a new planet.

Here is the inevitable question: If you had the same constraints as the colonists in The Green Book, what is the one book you would bring? What book would you have brought as a child? It could be literature, or a how-to manual, or a science textbook, but it has to be one volume. You can't take the whole Enclopedia Britannica, for example, but you could take volume 15.

If I were leaving now, I would take my Globe Illustrated Shakespeare with the idea that even if someone else on the ship takes Shakespeare's complete works, it would be handy to have more than one copy. I know Shakespeare's an obvious choice, but I am thinking about my fellow colonists, not just myself! (Besides, I've not read most of the history plays, and I'd hate to leave Earth without knowing them.)

Lucia says she would take Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (and have to explain to the other children what happened in previous volumes). Bede is not home, so I don't know what he would want to bring, but if I had to guess, he'd bring something by Plato. If I were Lucia's age, I would probably have chosen my mother's copy of The Melendy Family, by Elizabeth Enright, which conveniently had three books in one: The Saturdays, The Four Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five.

9 comments:

Tony said...

The complete works of Plato would certainly be a tempting choice. But then again, I might want something practical too!

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Hmmm....tough question, which I will ponder, but I just want to say: It looks like a book Piper would love. Thanks for the tip.

Lone Star Ma said...

I got that book for the Lone Star Girl when she was in Kindergarten and I was faced with the difficult task of finding books on terraforming for a bright (and obsessed) kindergartener (I found several). Given that purpose, I was not thrilled that it included talk of suicide,though it was understandable in the book. I'm not sure what book I would bring (though the complete works of Shakespeare would be a top contender, as would be, I guess, the Bible) but I know I would not do what that dad did - I would so totally choose for the children. I'm mean and practical that way.

Kathleen said...

You'll be happy to know that one of our fifth grade classes just finished reading it as a group.

I've always loved the fact that the youngest child got to name the new planet and that she named it "Shine."

I'd bring Austen.

adrienne said...

Those kind of questions always stump me. Maybe the one-volume Lord of the Rings, which is kind of cheaty because it's three books in one (or six, depending on how you look at it). That is a series that I have reread many times, and I never get bored of it.

Saints and Spinners said...

Adrienne: I think the whole premise is cheaty. You're leaving Earth forever, after all, and there's no stipulations as to how much the book can weigh. Bringing a collection bound into one book is a good way to work around the limitation.

Kathleen: You would bring complete works of Austen, right? :) I like it that the youngest gets to name the new planet, too.

LoneStarMa: I would be "mean" and choose for the kids, too. The dad chose a manual for survival, and I suppose he felt he wanted to give the kids some semblance of choice in a time where there wouldn't be much wiggle-room for free action.

Jules: You're welcome! I thought Piper might enjoy the book, too.

Tony: It really isn't a fair premise... like many things.

Lisa Song said...

I remember this book! My 5th grade teacher read it aloud to the class, and I remember being horrified at the premise of taking along just one book. Maybe this is where a Kindle would come in handy...

Lone Star Ma said...

Space kindles!

Saints and Spinners said...

Lisa and LSM: Yes, indeed. They all needed Space Kindles. The ending never fails to make my eyes prickle, though. I sometimes wonder how the residents of Shine would fare if they really existed. Would there eventually be a "Cinderella and the Three Bears" story?