Life on Mars

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Life on Mars Book Poster Image
Little kid astronaut explores Mars in sweet, funny story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Concepts of space travel, astronauts, life on other planets, terrain on planets.

Positive Messages

If you have a dream, stick by it, even if others say you're crazy. If you lose your way, you can figure out how to get back on track. Life is an adventure, and you can enjoy it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The little boy astronaut maintains a positive attitude. He believes he'll find life even though "[e]verybody thinks I'm crazy. Nobody believes there is life on Mars." He does temporarily lose faith when the planet appears lifeless and desolate, but he rises to the challenge when he loses his way and takes great pleasure in ultimately finding the flower.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Life on Mars by Jon Agee (It's Only Stanley) is a fun story about space travel and life on another planet. When a boy astronaut travels in his spaceship to prove there's life on Mars, he finds a flower but never sees the hulking martian who trails him. The martian looks something like a big, pudgy stuffed animal toy; he's more cuddly than scary, and his expressions are more curious than threatening. The book delivers messages about pursuing your dreams in the face of challenges, and it's all delivered with humor.

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What's the story?

In LIFE ON MARS, a boy astronaut lands on Mars, determined to find life on the planet. He sets off from his spaceship with a box of cupcakes, a gift for any alien he might encounter. The reader sees a tall, looming martian in the background watching him, but the boy is unaware. Disheartened at finding no life on Mars, he drops his cupcake box. But then -- aha! -- he spies a pretty yellow flower poking out of the otherwise barren landscape. Hooray! There's life on Mars after all! Searching for his spaceship to head home, he unwittingly scales the martian's belly and picks up his cupcake box, wondering, "How did it get there?" He takes off for home happy with his flower, never realizing he had a close encounter with an actual martian.

Is it any good?

There's heart and humor in this tale of a little kid astronaut who travels to Mars with the gift of a box of chocolate cupcakes and the big tubby martian he somehow never actually meets. Author-illustrator Jon Agee has a way with fun books for young kids, and though Life on Mars convincingly depicts a desolate Mars scape, it also manages to be sweet and funny. The boy astronaut tells the story, and his first-person voice is kid-like and appealing. Would it have been more adventurous if Agee had cast the little astronaut as someone other than a Caucasian boy? Yes, but the boy's face is sweetly expressive, making it easy for us to like him. The same goes for the big, huggable martian, who looks more shy than threatening and seems to also hope for a friend.

Kids love to feel in on the joke and will find it hysterically funny that they can see the martian looming in the background closely following the main character, while the boy himself remains clueless. The text is conversational and inviting, and there's much to search for in the art. This one should be a bedtime/story-time crowd pleaser.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between what the reader and the narrator see in Life on Mars. What do you know that the boy in the story doesn't?

  • Do you think the martian looks scary or friendly? Why?

  • What are the funniest parts of the story to you? Are they in the art, the text, or both?

Book details

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For kids who love space travel and adventure

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