Book – Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth
Author: Written and illustrated Oliver Jeffers
Publisher: Harper Collins $24.99
Oliver Jeffers is my favourite children’s author and illustrator of all time. It’s a big call, I know, especially in a world enriched by the likes of Eric Carle, Julia Donaldson and Mem Fox. But there is something about Jeffers’ ability to tackle deep and complex topics, coupled with his stylised yet detailed and colourful artwork, that I find inspiring. His latest offering to the world of children’s literature is no different.
Dedicated to his newborn son, Jeffers spent the first two months of his son’s life figuring out what it means to live on Earth. “Here We Are” is a summary of his conclusions and life lessons – a user’s guide to living on this giant, floating rock we all call home.
The book begins in outer space – a stark reminder of how small and fragile we really are in the grand scheme of things. Our view is gradually drawn in, looking in greater detail at the structure of our planet and the inhabitants who populate it (both human and otherwise). Finally, we are invited to witness an intimate scene of a father holding his newborn son before we zoom out again and are reminded that each of us is part of a family, a community, and of the world.
Being part of this world means that we have certain responsibilities. This is the first lesson that Jeffers wants to impart to his son. There are plenty of problems still to be solved on Earth, but there are plenty of resources for everyone. It is our job as citizens of Earth to ensure that these resources are shared. I was fortunate to hear Tiago Mattos speak at a conference earlier this year and he reinforced this concept that there is plenty for every person on this planet. There is enough food for everyone in the world, it is just unevenly distributed. There is enough fresh water for everyone, it is just not accessible by everyone. We live a world of scarcity, where we hoard resources for fear of running out, meaning that some people miss out altogether. If we can change our mindset to one of abundance, where we believe there is enough for everyone, we can solve some of world’s greatest problems, including hunger and access to fresh water.
Changing our mindset requires a key characteristic: kindness. This is the second message Jeffers wants to instill in his son. One of my favourite spreads in this book is the one with all the people. The more you look at these pages, the more you notice. I have observed children spending lengthy periods poring over these pages, identifying people similar to themselves and identifying the ways in which people can be so different. But the main message from these pages is that even though we look different, behave differently and speak differently, we are essentially all the same. We are all human. Jeffers extends this message to the different animals that live on Earth. He reminds us that even though these animals can’t talk, we still need to be kind to them. Kindness is such an important lesson for our children as they grow up in an increasingly global world. Compassion for others is crucial. It’s OK to be different and have different views. We can agree to disagree, but still need to be kind to one another (to borrow the phrase coined by the great philosopher, Ellen DeGeneres). It is this kindness that will help us to adopt a mindset of abundance.
I believe the final message that Jeffers wants to pass on to his son is that life is short: use your time wisely. Our world is busy and changing rapidly. Not all this change is good. The automation of jobs has great impacts on humans. The rise of artificial intelligence presents many challenges for humans. If we don’t change some of our behaviours, we will run out of some our natural resources, lose some beautiful parts of our environment, and put our planet at risk. But there is hope. There are so many good people in the world. Positive change can be made if we choose to use our time well.
These are the messages we need to be instilling in our future generations. We are all responsible for the wellbeing of our planet and its inhabitants. With kindness and a desire to act for positive change, we can ensure that all humans can share Planet Earth for many generations to come. I urge you to pick up this book and take some time to read and discuss it with your children. Revisit it and explore these concepts in greater depth. Help your child become an active, influential and positive member of their global community. Because as Jeffers says, we have to look after Planet Earth – it’s all we’ve got.