Sunday, December 10, 2006

A boy, a dog and a rocketship: Murphy, Mary and Mark Oliver. Foley and Jem. London: Magi Publications, 2004.

A picture book for children up to about seven I think.

This is partially a story of a boy, his dog and space.

Foley loves his dog Jem but as he grows older his interest in space grow. He builds a rocket and sends Jem to Mars.
But Jem has grown more miserable over the years, he has felt himself losing Foley's love to the rocket ship and to space. He doesn't want to go to Mars. But he is a good dog and learns to operate the space suit, and eventually he takes the rocket up to Mars. In space he realises why Foley is so fascinated by space. On Mars he sends back pictures. He misses Foley and back on earth Foley finally misses Jem.

Then Jem goes for a walk and round the corner on the other side of Mars he discovers Martians who look a lot like dogs. He takes one last picture, of hmself in the space suit, and sends it back to Foley, with the message that he'll send the rocket back. The rocket explodes on entry, and Foley looks at the photo, and feels sad, "But at least he is happy on Mars."

One night a puppy approaches Foley on a hill. He calls her Judy and loves her properly.

"And Jem? He really was happy on Mars, happier than he would have though possible. Just like any dog would be."

The paintings are bold and joyous, and unusually the little boy grows into an adolescent. The growing space-wonder of the boy can be read on his face and his bedroom is full of technical drawings of rocket ships and a telescope--the rocket ship he builds will be a real mechanical thing. By the time it is built he has trajectory calculations on the walls, but we can see that Jem does not share his enthusiasm, the dog looks ever more depressed. But in space, Jem is captured by its beauty, this is not an anti-exploration, stay home book. And Mars is exciting to Jem, it's Foley who decides Mars, with its "rocks and cracks and sand" is not interesting after all. Although Jem does find aliens, it's actually Mars that comes to interest him, Jem acquires a sense of wonder and Foley loses his. A bittersweet book.


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