In Growing Up With …, Jenn features picture books, middle reader, and teen books linked together by concept or theme.
When the Prometheus trailers first made the rounds, it reminded me just how much time I spent in my childhood peering up at the sky, watching for UFOs, and then hiding under the covers for fear of actual aliens. John Christopher’s Tripod books gave me a deep-seated fear of enslaving aliens that require brushing, and The X-Files assured me that they were indeed Out There. Body Snatchers convinced me never to take a bath with headphones on, and Alien(s) that if I were ever to go to outer space, I should stay as close as physically possible to Sigourney Weaver.
Despite my fond memories of E.T. (who among us has not widened their eyes, pointed a finger, and pleaded to “phone home?”), it’s only as a grown-up that I’ve made the acquaintance of other aliens that have less desire to insert uncomfortable probes and more interest in making friends — or at least live and let live. But they are also out there! Here are three recommendations from the top of my list.
Even Aliens Need Snacks, Matthew McElligott
Ostensible Age Range: 4 and up
These aliens have come from all over the galaxy, and boy are they hungry! Luckily, an entrepreneurial youngster has a business plan and a snack stand to fix that. His eccentric creations may be a little too adventurous for mere humans, but his extraterrestrial customers are all happy to try them out. The young chef’s piece de resistance, however, may prove a little too much even for alien tastebuds… With a sneaky sense of humor and a true talent for illustrative detail, McElligott depicts harmony between Earth and the outer reaches as inspired by experimental cuisine. Bourdain would be so proud!
The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex
Ostensible Age Range: 8 – 12
Smekday gets you two alien races for the price of one! I think J.Lo the Boov may be my favorite alien of all time (yes that really is his name). He can rebuild a car (with hovering improvements!), is charmingly misspoken, and doesn’t actually seem to want to take over Smekland — excuse him, Earth — and destroy all humans. He’s not even sure about this whole Human Preserve plan for Florida, and certainly did not mean to accidentally signal the other aliens, the evil Gorg. He’s just a nice Boov in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luckily for him, Gratuity Tucci, the intrepid twelve-year-old hero of Smekday, knows a loyal friend when she sees one, and can come up with a plan in a pinch — whether it’s to drive across the country without a license, or save the planet from yet another alien takeover. If you are not yet convinced, go watch the video on this page. (Boovember, Humanuary, and Mitch!)
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, Book One), Patrick Ness
Ostensible Age Range: 13 and up
Todd Hewitt was born on New World, so he doesn’t understand exactly how strange the planet is. He grew up with the Noise — every living thing, from people to pets to crickets, broadcasts its feelings and thoughts all the time. It’s like social media, only without the “close tab” option — horrifying, in other words — and it’s infected all the settlers. Well, all the men, anyway. Todd thinks he knows the real story of the settling of the planet and of his town, but he couldn’t be more wrong. There are sinister forces at work, and the worst part is that they’re nothing to do with the aliens on the planet; the real monsters are the humans. There’s a war coming, and he’s unwittingly set it in motion. Fair warning to readers: I found this one very similar to The Walking Dead, in that lots of people die (often ones you wish had not) and you need a strong stomach to keep up with the plot, but it’s worth every cringe and sniffle.