It’s hard not to like a book whose text begins with “Hey, kids!” As if the titular extraterrestrials on the cover weren’t enough of a tipoff, author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy sets the tone early in this picture book (Knopf, 2/06) about Orson Welles’ famously panic-inducing radio play.
Part of this month’s U.S. history reading, Aliens Are Coming! combines a smattering of the original script, a matter-of-fact description of the aftermath (“One man thought he saw a Martian spaceship”), and illustrations that offer the old-fashioned kick of cheesy sci-fi. But just when a reader could be expected to ask of Welles and his crew, “Did they get in trouble?” the narrative abruptly ends.
The “Author’s Note” that follows is misleadingly named, as it’s much more integral to the story than the average back-of-the-book elaboration. McCarthy’s fish-eyed characters and sparse text make way for a detailed description of how Welles’ version of War of the Worlds came to be, the extent of the public’s freakout, and subsequent productions (complete with hysteria) in Chile, Ecuador, and Rhode Island.
A full appreciation of Aliens Are Coming! begs not only for a reading of the Author’s Note, but also for a visit to the book’s jam-packed companion site, which includes the complete script and directions to Grovers Mill, New Jersey (site of the alien “landing”), among other goodies. Considering the bevy of back matter, one would hope that McCarthy’s readers will come away a lot less gullible than their great-grandparents’ generation. If they don’t — well, that would be truly scary.
Other blog posts on Aliens Are Coming!: