The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers, published by Harper Collins Children's Books
One of the first questions we can remember our toddler asking us was "where's the moon gone?" On that sunny afternoon it was a delight to grapple with the challenge of answering her on both a literal and existential level. She seemed satisfied if somewhat unconvinced by our explanation.
It was soon after when we first read Oliver Jeffers' marvellous tale The Way Back Home, which, over the months since, seems to have provided her with a far more useful clarification about the moon, its whereabouts and its occasional visitors.
When a boy discovers a propeller plane in his understairs cupboard, he immediately sets out on a journey to the moon. After getting stuck on its surface when the plane's petrol runs out, he finds himself alone and lonely, huddling in a crater as his torch light flickers and fades.
Just when he's starting to worry, becoming afraid of noises in the dark, another explorer from far further afield finds himself in the same predicament when his spacecraft chuggs to a halt. Happily, despite both of them initially imagining the other to be a scary monster, they realise they can each offer friendship and assistance.
We love the spread that follows, where the boy and the Martian consider their options and plan their return routes home.
As the story unfolds we see the boy and the Martian go to great lengths to help one another, despite the challenges in front of them and the temporary distraction of the boy's favourite TV programme during a quick popping back to earth to pick up some required tools.
The penultimate scene, in which they resolve their transportation problems and say their goodbyes, is one of genuine poignancy as they wonder if they'll ever make contact again. Happily Oliver Jeffers offers us a final clue to suggest that they just might after all.This is a wonderful picturebook, which delivers some important messages - of the value of friendship, overcoming differences, and why it's always worth persevering to find your way back home.