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[Monday Reading] #EmiratesLitFest Features Oliver Jeffers

"It seems we humans... have always fought each other over space." - Oliver Jeffers


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). It has been awhile since I joined this reading community and I intend to be more present this year, life circumstances permitting.

Similar to last year, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized
  5. Translated or international literature

Meanwhile Back On Earth (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books (2022)
ISBN: 9780008555450 (ISBN10: 0008555451) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

First off, allow me to admit that I am an unabashed Oliver Jeffers fan, and have featured most of his picturebooks here over the years. And so, I was predictably over-the-moon when I discovered that he was coming here to Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. In fact he did not just have one, but two events! How awesome was that. I thought that it was also the perfect time to finally read his picturebook which has been languishing in my virtual bookshelves for quite awhile now.

I found the book to be quite ambitious in its scope, with its attempt to tackle head-on conflicts that have existed throughout millennia in earth’s history, and at the same time get its scientific facts accurate (he mentioned the importance of STEM and STEAM in his presentation here at the Emirates Lit Festival), while remaining ‘playful’ at the same time. In fact, I debated whether I should include this as part of our #DecolonizeReading2023 theme, as there were problematic aspects in the narrative that I felt had not been sufficiently addressed.

However, I did get a chance to hear him talk about what prompted or inspired the writing of this book during the festival (a way to explain the conflict in Northern Ireland, ostensibly to young people or to ‘smart people’ as he noted in his introduction of the book), and I felt that this book could still be used as a way to illustrate how petty human conflicts and arbitrary borders and boundaries are if perceived from outer space. I feel, though, that the intention of this book was better than its execution, notwithstanding the brilliant idea of juxtaposing the distance between earth and the planets (150-year drive to Mercury at 37 miles per hour) to what was happening to its people, say 150 years back.

The narrative remained a White-centric narration of colonization that presented a litany of historical conflicts without necessarily providing a window of redemption for humans’ follies. However, it can be argued that the narrative may have been deliberately left in limbo in the end, to provide spaces for the readers to explore their own ways of perceiving ‘home’ or what ‘going back home’ would be like with the knowledge of all this history of oppression and White supremacy and dominance. Note that Jeffers could have provided a counterpoint to the centralization of conflict – such as the birth of art or science or monuments built during that period in history he touched on, but his book after all, as seen in its title, is a “cosmic view of conflict” – so perhaps another book can explore this side of humanity.

I feel that the story would have benefited from an extensive Afterword that detailed each historical account alluded to in the story to provide some context. I get that the idea is to show the pointlessness of human conflict. However, instead of risking the appearance of seemingly-dismissive, or worse, tone-deaf (I keep on asking in my head, what then? what’s next?), a hopeful guidepost – rather than an abrupt going “back home” (wherever that is) – that is sensitively and thoughtfully conveyed would have been nice as an afterword.

Here’s a video that I have taken of Oliver Jeffers talking about his books, including Meanwhile Back On Earth, here at the #EmiratestLitFest:

The Fate Of Fausto (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books (2019)
ISBN:9780008357917 (ISBN10: 0008357919) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

2023 has been declared as the Year of Sustainability here in the United Arab Emirates. In fact, the country is hosting COP28 – the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) – in Dubai in November. As an educator, I am on the lookout for books that do not hammer down this message of ‘sustainability’ to young people (or even adults), but rather, portray the problems our planet (and humanity as a whole) is facing in subtle ways.

Enter The Fate of Fausto. I read this book roughly at the time when it came out, and I made sure to re-read it again for this post and for our #CEDUReadingChallenge2023. I was again taken by its message of greed and avarice and power and its self-annihilating nature:

Much of what’s wrong with the world is people like Fausto whose desires are insatiable and sense of entitlement so staggering it’s almost laughable. The absurdity of this arrogant man who claims to own a flower, a lake, a mountain, the sea – is a representation of why we, as a society, are in the state we are currently in.

Fausto is a cautionary tale of how ultimately, in the end, we own absolutely nothing in this planet that we live in, our collective home that we need to take better care of.

Oliver Jeffers also mentioned Fausto in his presentation, and he read aloud the sobering poem of Kurt Vonnegut found at the end of the book:

A searing yet subtle portrayal of humanity and its often-contentious relationship with the environment. Definitely a must-read.

#DecolonizeReading2023 Update: 9/10 out of target 100

How about you? Have you read Oliver Jeffers’ latest books yet? Do share with us your thoughts.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “[Monday Reading] #EmiratesLitFest Features Oliver Jeffers

  1. Love hearing about these books, Myra, & your times with Jeffers. Both are new to me & I wonder how I missed them. I have enjoyed his work in the past. Thanks for your thorough reviews. There is much being said about the greedy billionaires in the US lately, and why they continue to acquire more with little sympathy for others’ needs. I wonder if something will be done? Hope all is going well with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool art in this book!
    I read a lot of boks in translation, or directly in other languages (I can read novels in French, Spanish, and Italian). There are 6 of those in my Sunday post: https://wordsandpeace.com/2023/02/12/sunday-post-78-02-12-2023/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your insight about the unaddressed issues with the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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