Branley, Franklyn Mansfield. Is There Life in Outer Space? Harper Collins, 1999. ISBN 97978-0064451925 40 pp. $
By relating famous hoaxes such as the radio broadcast of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds and discussing recent space probes to Mars, Mercury and Venus, Branley comes to the conclusion that there might be life beyond Earth… but not in our solar system. While he admits there may be possibilities of life in other galaxies, he claims there most likely isn’t life in our solar system except for what exists on Earth. This is an outdated and inaccurate view.
The goal of the series is to introduce basic science concepts to young children, but the only concept I came away with was very Earth-centric–none of our species could live on Mars, ergo, there is no life on Mars. Branley never defines life. In truth, we cannot assume “life” to be carbon based, requiring warm temperatures and sunlight. In fact, on our very own planet we have found species that do not require these things. Instead of writing “there is no life on Mars,” Branley might have written, “There is no life as we know it today on Mars.” If this idea is too scary for young children, perhaps there isn’t a need for a low-level book on this topic.
At the very least, the book serves as a jumping off point for an interesting discussion. The authorial intrusion in the book (“People also say it’s silly to believe there is life on them [other planets:]. I don’t think so.”) is annoying and condescending. The writing is too simplified; children could handle more details than are given about the planets, the space program, and the various ways alien life has been envisioned in our culture.
The illustrations are a bizarre mix of simple brightly colored collage style pictures and photographs. The diagram of the solar system is great, and whimsical aliens decorate the end papers and many pages. A page of further activities concludes the book. No works are cited, no resources for more information are listed. A glossary, index and timeline would have been appropriate inclusions. This book was originally published in 1984; it needs much more overhaul than it received.