Marianne J. Dyson

Review of First Graders from Mars Episode 4: Tera, Star Student

Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, June 29, 2003

This science fiction book's main character is an alien female named Tera. As the subtitle says, she is a star student. Her class is making models of the planets. Tera's group, called a pod, chooses to build a model Earth. The other pod members complain about Tera ignoring their ideas, to which Tera replies, "I am not being bossy, I am being right." The subsequent argument leads to a broken model, and Tera in time out. She spends recess alone and doesn't get a reward star at the end of the day. That night, she reads her favorite book which is about how team work saves the day. She returns to school, apologizes to her friends, and they are all rewarded with stars for their model.

The only thing that makes this book science fiction is that the characters are aliens. The illustrations are a joy to the eyes, but not consistent with a scientific view (excuse the pun!). What is strange is that a small class of alien schoolchildren could have such differing anatomies. Coloring and size variations are expected among members of a species. However, these children had different numbers and placements of basic organs such as eyes, noses, ears, fingers, and mouths. If it weren't for the book title saying they are from Mars, I would assume these very unique individuals came from other worlds where these anatomies provided survival advantages. Even then, I can't imagine an environment (except maybe Hollywood) where being blue with orange polka dots would help!

The only hint they are on Mars, besides the title, is that the sky is pink outdoors. None of the other characteristics of Mars are even indirectly included. The children did not require spacesuits or even coats and hats to go outside in the below zero temperatures and near vacuum conditions, though the school is shown as a dome in the background during recess. Do they use domes just to keep the dust out and clothes because they are modest? Could be, but Earth children may get the mistaken impression that Martian conditions are similar to those on Earth when in fact they are much more extreme.

I realize the main purpose of the book is a lesson on the advantage of working with others, but I think some science could have easily been added without interfering with the story. For example, Tera's father calls her "moonbeam." Children will not know that Mars has two tiny moons, and that their names are Phobos and Deimos. The father might have called her "twinmoons" or something more indicative of Mars. Instead of all the made-up expressions such as "Laba" and "Nobo," she could have said, "Phobos" or "Dimlit Deimos." The children's model of Earth includes its moon with no indication of how huge it is in comparison to Phobos or that it is the only moon of our planet. This information could have been included by changing "She watched Group Earth make a moon..." to "...make ONE HUGE moon..." Also, the final illustration showing all the models could have included the moons of Mars.

I give this book 1 point for readability, 1 point for plot (the story moves along nicely), 1 point for an interesting alien character (the illustrations show lots of emotion), and 1 point for the concept of intelligent aliens in school on Mars. It loses one point for using a real planet but not being consistent with its characteristics, and 1 point for using made-up terms instead of using the opportunity to include some real science. Total: 4 points. First Graders from Mars is a lesson about team work with no real science content for children. Rating: Okay.

Title: First Graders from Mars Episode 4: Tera, Star Student
Author: Shana Corey
Illustrator: Mark Teague
Ages: 4-8
Number of Pages: 32
Format: hardback
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date: 2003
Retail Price:$15.95
ISBN: 0430266343

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