When the Voyager cruised into the unidentified to take its pioneering photographic study of our cosmic area, Carl Sagan petitioned NASA to indulge his inspired, completely unscientific, totally poetic concept of turning the spacecrafts electronic cameras back in the world from the outer edges of the Solar System. That grainy, transcendent photograph of our “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam” ended up being the central poetic image of his now-iconic Pale Blue Dot meditation on our cosmic place and fate, which in turn inspired Maya Angelous “A Brave and Startling Truth”– the staggering poem that flew to space aboard the Orion spacecraft, inviting a fractured humankind to reach beyond our divisive ideologies and see ourselves afresh “on this little and wandering world,” to face our capabilities and contradictions, and lastly see that “we are the possible, we are the amazing, the real wonder of this world.”
A generation later on, this spirit comes ablaze once again in If You Come to Earth (public library) by Sophie Blackall– one of the most beloved picture-book makers of our time and one of those unusual artists, so few in any offered generation, whose work of great skill and fantastic tenderness is bound to be cherished for epochs to come.
Bewitched by the color wheel in the forgotten vintage gem The Little Golden Book of Words, Sophie set out to paint a captivating new vocabulary of colors “to paint whatever on the planet”– names drawn from the method colors wash our lives, the method they saturate our remembered experience and embed themselves in the crevices of our psychological landscapes. She invited people in her world– friends, next-door neighbors, readers– to recommend color names. Being the storytelling animals we are, this seemingly easy invitation unloosed miniature memoirs of soulful, amusing, tender, exceptionally human minutes in human lives, concentrated and consecrated by a specific color-memory. Amongst those shared by readers on her Instagram– which is its own lighthouse of pleasure– was this story by an early childhood teacher named Joey Chernila:
When I was in high school, my grandma Nettie came to live at my daddys house. Nettie, who was exceptionally kind and extremely amusing, had begun to show indications of Alzheimers. Her preferred color was an unearthly pink.
As her attention period grew much shorter, so too did her caps. They resembled yarmulke or the caps Marvin Gaye used in the 70s. She could end up one in a day, and would offer them out to all my teenager buddies who were always about your house. Quickly my small high school halls were dotted with individuals using these garishly colored small knit caps. Did the instructors stress that the kids were being pulled into a brand-new sort of spiritual sect?
In a manner, we were. Nettie would pull us aside and scold us with her fiercely humanist maxims. Chief among them was this:
Just be a person.
We got to hear that one a lot, due to the fact that she didnt understand if she had actually told us that before and was old enough to not actually care excessive. Anyway … “Netties Cap” is a good name for a color.
Enhance If You Come to Earth with the story of how the Golden Record was born and astronomer Natalie Batalha, who led NASAs Kepler search for habitable worlds outside our solar system, reading and assessing Dylan Thomass poignant cosmic serenade to the wonder of being human, then revisit the sensational illustrations of the nineteenth-century researcher who created the word ecology to weave the extremely varied lives of our planet into a fragile tapestry of interbeing.
Illustrations thanks to Sophie Blackall; pictures by Maria Popova
Page after page, what unspools is a joyful event of the spectacular variety that makes our planet a habitable world: the myriad type of climates we reside in, the myriad type of homes we reside in, the myriad kinds of bodies we reside in, the myriad sort of animals living together with us, the numerous of them that make music– birds, whales, human beings– and the numerous sort of music we make.
Drawn into the story are curiosities that have dappled Sophies imagination for many years, decades, a lifetime. At the pointer of a promontory on a spread about the water cycle, there perches a miniature variation of her Caldecott-winning lighthouse. Blazing across another spread about the unknowns of life and death is a comet inspired by a sixteenth-century brightened manuscript.
Emerging from the story is likewise a quiet catalogue of the discoveries and creations that have actually constantly broadened the limits of our creaturely imagination, bringing us closer and closer to one another, closer and closer to the truth of this gorgeous, improbable, continually impressive world we are fortunate to call a house: fire, music, Braille, the bicycle, air travel, medication, the fossils the discovery of which transformed our understanding of evolution and deep time, the amazing animals of the deep sea, believed to be a lifeless world up until Carl Chuns pioneering deep-sea expedition.
And so Netties Cap ended up being one of “the colors you need to paint everything in the world,” set down on the edge of the page simply below the burnt-orange of Mars, opposite the pitiable algae-green of Second Place, and numerous chromatic continents northeast of Slug Belly.
Captivated by the color wheel in the forgotten vintage gem The Little Golden Book of Words, Sophie set out to paint a lovely new vocabulary of colors “to paint whatever in the world”– names drawn from the way colors clean our lives, the way they permeate our remembered experience and embed themselves in the crevices of our emotional landscapes. She welcomed individuals in her world– buddies, neighbors, readers– to recommend color names. Soon my little high school halls were dotted with individuals wearing these garishly colored small knit caps. Nettie would pull us aside and berate us with her increasingly humanist maxims. I do know this: Right this minute, we are all here together on this lovely planet.
Informed in the kind of a letter from a kid to an alien visitor– a particular kid called Quinn, whom Sophie fulfilled while taking a trip around the world with UNICEF and Save the Children, and whose uncommon creativity fomented hers– the story is occupied by drawings of other real-life children she met on her journeys in India, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a particular class of twenty-three kids she befriended in a Brooklyn public school, and her own real-life buddies and next-door neighbors. Animated by the childrens wild, marvelous, touching concepts about the most crucial things to communicate about our improbable, incredible world to a visitor from another, the book radiates the spirit of the Voyagers Golden Record– a poetic pill of humanism and collaborative meaning-making, the true function of which is not to encode for some interstellar other however to translate for us who and what we are.
In her authors afterword about the making of the book, Sophie assesses our location in the cosmic plan– a rocky world orbiting a single star in a specific planetary system, within a galaxy populated by billions of stars, within a known universe populated by billions of galaxies– and composes:
I do know this: Right this minute, we are all here together on this stunning planet. Its the just one we have, so we ought to take care of it.