Book Review: The Darkest Dark
Reviewed by: Peter Spasov
Title: The Darkest Dark
Author: Chris Hadfield with Kate Fillion
Illustrator: Terry Fan and Eric Fan
Ages: 4 to 8
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Date: September 2016
Retail Price: $17.99/9.99
Many children share two things in common: one, that they dream of great adventures, and two, that they have a fear of the dark. In The Darkest Dark, real-life astronaut Chris Hadfield shows them how to achieve the former and overcome the latter. This book brings us back to a pivotal moment in many lives, the time we witnessed the first human landing on the Moon, an occasion when the older among us remember where we were when it happened. In the truest sense of the word, the book can be a gift; we can give this legacy to our children.
The title page shows a toy rocket on a floor, a combo of the familiar and the hint of adventure. Next, an illustration shows a dark scene, yet there are signs of comfort such as a few lights and the glow of sunset. The story begins when young Chris plays pretend astronaut. He is also reluctant to go to bed, but he rebels respectfully because “astronauts are always polite.” Nevertheless, Chris attempts to sleep with his parents in their bed. He is reluctant to go to his own because of his fear of the dark. He imagines scary extraterrestrials. His parents struggle to convince him that he should sleep by himself.
The illustrations include a newspaper that highlights the imminent first lunar landing. This leads into the reason why Chris eventually goes to sleep, the hope that he too will witness this special day. He falls asleep and dreams about going to the Moon. We see a child’s point of view, cardboard toy rocket with him and his dog, both in astronaut suits, planting a flag.
The next day, he joins others crowding around the only TV on an island. Older readers will recognize the face of Walter Cronkite on the screen. In a sense, the authors and illustrators created this book for child, parent, and grandparent. The latter can appreciate a nostalgic memory of a glorious moment in human history, while children can learn of it. To young Chris, the moment is pivotal in making him the man he became, an astronaut bringing the thrill of space to the rest of us.
We witness people walking upon the Moon from a child’s view. I believe the book does this because ultimately the adventure of space travel is play time without which we cannot grow up to become an intelligent species.
Finally, Chris discovers that though space is really dark, people can safely explore it. And it even appears fun as the astronauts jump about in the low gravity. Next he experiments with turning off the lights in his room and sees the shadows that used to scare him. However, Chris has changed. He sees the beauty of the night when before he saw it as threatening and scary. The boy learns that there are dreams to keep you company in the dark, it doesn’t have to be lonely. It is the tale of a person who actually has made the dream come true.
The main text is simple with short sentences and is easy for an adult to read to a child. The illustrations are a careful balance of ominous dark and points of color. This helps us see that we need not fear the night.
The book ends with a scrapbook-like section highlighting the author from a child in his first spaceship—a cardboard box—all the way to doing a spacewalk and playing guitar in the International Space Station. A parent can use this section to connect the imaginary world of pretend to the real one of true story. It’s an adventurous yarn we all can enjoy.
© 2016 Peter Spasov