Extra-Terrestrials and Empathy: Visitors from Space in Picture Books

Posted by Sara Grochowski

An UFO is an unidentified flying object, which could mean many things other than a vessel carrying visitors from space, but we still plan to spend World UFO Day imagining not-quite-human possibilities with the little readers in our lives. When you hear alien, your mind might automatically imagine stereotypical “little green men,” but these picture books show that extraterrestrial life comes in all shapes, sizes, and circumstances – science fiction, but with undeniable timely relevance. In each selection, you’ll find aliens with much in common with humans, from a love of cupcakes to homesickness. Imagination sparked, craft your own alien and spacecraft (handy tutorial linked below)!


I Thought This Was a Bear Book by Tara Lazar, illus. by Benji Davies

When an alien appears in the wrong story, it'll take help from three bears and YOU to get him back to the correct book in time for a happily ever after. Lazar presents readers with a fun premise and action-filled text, while Benji Davies provides great illustrations. The interactive elements, especially points at which characters reach out to the reader, add an engaging element to the plot.


Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! Ahhh-Choo! by Katy S. Duffield; illus. by K.G. Campbell

Sometimes aliens and humans are more alike than you might have guessed… sometimes, aliens get the sniffles, too! This funny story about an alien child plagued by a cold and his loyal canine companion provides a relatable tale of the woes of illness filled with sneezing, coughing, and scratchy throats, while also serving as a reminder that it could be worse. After all, you could have two scratchy throats, five ears that hurt, and three runny noses!


Life on Mars by Jon Agee

This deceptively simple Mars adventure makes a fantastic read aloud! A young boy determined to prove there’s life on Mars and bearing a gift of cupcakes, traverses the planet, seeing nothing and no one. Initially dejected, he happens upon a flower and, adapting, decides this will serve as proof of life. Readers will delight in spotting the hiding Martian, appearing in multiple spreads, but alluding the boy, who only realizes he wasn’t alone on Mars when, on his way back to Earth, he discovers the cupcakes are mysteriously missing. The use of text here is minimal, the story relying heavily on the engaging illustrations.


Your Alien by Tammi Sauer, illus. by Goro Fujita

When a young boy meets a small alien child, a friendship is born. The two are quick friends, learning and exploring in equal measure, but, as the day ends, things are less than charmed. The alien misses home (and family!), even surrounded by friendship and fun. The second person narration adds a twist to this familiarly comforting tale of the importance of connection and belonging.


E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Classic Illustrated Book illus. by Kim Smith

Everything you love about the blockbuster film E.T. is cleverly translated to this picture book adaptation, making it the perfect format to introduce a new generation to this story of friendship and imagination. Kim Smith’s illustrations are cartoonish and welcoming, which helps to soften the elements of the story that were, in the film, darker in tone. This adaptation is ideal for the youngest, most sensitive readers to the life-long fans of E.T.!


Alien Spaceship Craft!

After exploring an author and illustrator’s interpretation of what an alien might look like, this simple craft is a fun, creative way to share your unique take on an alien! Full directions here.

Sara Grochowski

Sara Grochowski is an unapologetic book pusher, whether she’s in the library stacks or bookstore. She also writes for Publisher’s Weekly and speaks at conferences about great books and best practices for booksellers and librarians. You can find her on Twitter @thehidingspot and her blog, The Hiding Spot.