The Green Book, aka Shine, by Jill Paton Walsh

A long time ago, I read a request on a teacher's blog for recommendations of science fiction stories for the younger reader (which I just tried finding again, to no avail...). I didn't have anything to add at the time that hadn't already been mentioned, but I do now--The Green Book, later reissued as Shine, by Jill Paton Walsh, illustrated with pencil drawings by Lloyd Bloom (1981/1988, 74 pp, 8 year olds and up). If Ursula Le Guin were to write a science fiction story for young readers, it might be something like this, and since I think Le Guin is brilliant, this is high praise.

The book begins thus: "Father said, "We can take very little with us." Only one book each.

Father, Joe, Sarah, and Pattie, and lots of other families, are leaving a dying earth on one of the last escape ships. They are headed for a far planet that they know almost nothing about, hoping it can sustain human life. Pattie is so young that she will not be able to remember the Earth. But being the youngest, she gets to name the new planet--"Shine," she calls it, a planet where all the plant life sparkles like glass.

How will they build with mineral laden wood they cannot saw? How will they survive, when their rabbits die from eating the glassy grass, and their wheat shines like diamonds? How will they build a community--what will be valued, and why? And then, when they meet other living beings, how will they co-exist?

One step they take in building a life together is to share their books. Joe's copy of Robinson Crusoe is not in great demand (there are multiple copies), nor is Sarah's copy of The Pony Club Rides Again. Many people would have swapped things for a chance to read Father's technology book, but he won't let it out of his sight--he clings to it as his passport toward becoming the new elite of their community. But it is Pattie's book, the "green book" of the title, that becomes the most important. Its pages are blank, and her older siblings had mocked her choice. But in the end, this is the book that will tell the new story the colonists are creating. It is no longer empty, but "full of writing, very large and round and shaky."

And Father started to read to the people of Shine. He turned "back and back in the green book to the very first page, and began to read: "Father said we could take very little with us..."

I find new planet exploration questions like this extremely interesting, and Walsh does a great job with them. In her 74 pages, Walsh makes every word count. It's very easy to imagine kids that haven't thought of these things before reading this book with wide eyes and engaged minds, and imagining and daydreaming after it over.

A more detailed post about Shine can be found here at the Inter-Galactic Playground (a very interesting blog whose author, sadly, seems to have decided to more or less give up on it).

Jill Paton Walsh
has written some great books for kids-- particularly A Parcel of Patterns (1984) and A Chance Child (1978). More recently she has turned to writing continuations of Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter series.


  1. I didn't know this was reissued under a different title. I really enjoyed it, and could empathize with the dismay of the others when they first find out that the green book is blank. It brings up the question, "What is the one book YOU would take with you?"

  2. I spent a summer once in northern Kenya, and quickly read the 4 books I had, several times each. So I was actually very glad that I had a blank book with me as well--writing and drawing kept me entertained longer than reading the same number of pages would have...

  3. i read this ook in 5th grade, i remembered it so well. except for the title, of course. i dont know why, but this book really stuck with me, it was so creative, and i think it had alot of influence in my creativity. i'm 21 now, and i actually went back to my 5th grade library and tried to find it, but it was not there. then online, i'm looking for it again, and i stuble across this page! sombody else knew this book like me, someone else needed to know it too, so im not crazy. really though, i was so suprised to find it, i want my son to be able to read the inspiring stories i did.

  4. Thanks so much for leaving your comment! You sound like you were exactly the child I imagined loving this book--I read it for the first time this year, but I, too, look forward to sharing it with my sons!

  5. cool book not bad
    I wonder why the title is called the green book?

    1. its called the green book because the book Pattie brings is a blank,green book(;

    2. Sorry--I thought I had made that clear in my post...

  6. thank you so much.
    this story was read to our class when i was about nine or ten years old.
    for over twenty years the book has stuck with me and this is the first time i have found it in all that time.
    sincerely thank you

  7. I just read this to my own boys, 11 and 8, and they were pretty wonderstruck...it is such a gem of a book, it's no wonder it stuck with you all these years. I'm glad my post was here to help you find it again!

  8. I'm in third grade and this book is awsome Jill

  9. I am wondering how to write a play about your book for a class project any endvice?

  10. I've never written a play from a book, so I'm afraid I can't help!

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