City of Light
Heather Potter & Mark Jackson
Wild Dog Books, 2023
40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
February 20, 1962 and astronaut John Glenn is about to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth in a spaceship. From his viewpoint he will be able to see big things, huge things, giant things like the Pyramids, the Amazon, and the Grand Canyon. But how will he see a little boy and a little girl in a little street, in a suburb in a small city like Perth? There is a way – and he did!
This is a story based on the true story of how Perth turned its lights on to say hello to John Glenn and capture the excitement of one of the first forays into space by humans. It tells of a simpler time when life was very different and such events were huge news, and how the idea of two small children captured the imagination and brought a community together.
For those of us who remember a time when the world really was a smaller place without television, let alone the internet and a 24/7 news cycle, life was very different and apart from exploring the enormity of this event in itself, readers are also taken back to that time through both the illustrations and the text – the time that their grandparents were children and could have been those kids in the story. Teachers’ notes offer lots of ideas to compare and contrast the times including imagining how they might signal a spacecraft passing overhead in 2023. Would they run around the neighbourhood in an era of phones and text and email? A purposeful way of examining how a specific timeframe and context shape the storytelling.
But as well as being an account of a real event, it is also a story of hope. Because amid the constant bombardment of overwhelming commentary of climate change, plastic pollution, the cost-of-living and more immediate disasters like the earthquake in Türkiye-Syria, our young readers need to know that they can have ideas and do things that will change big things, even in a small way. But that small way can grow into something that becomes momentous.
Lots of potential for lots of exploration of so many topics