Friday, July 07, 2006


TEAM MOON: HOW 400,000 PEOPLE LANDED APOLLO 11 ON THE MOON by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin)
If it takes a village to raise a child, it apparently takes a city to raise a spaceship. Who will sew the space suits? Who will transmit the broadcast from two hundred fourty thousand miles away so everyone can watch it on television? Who will decontaminate the film that the astronauts bring back from the moon? Who will engineer the parachute system? Who will determine the cause of that infernal beeping as the lunar module approaches the moon's surface with less than sixty seconds' worth of fuel? Via a variety of real-life voices as well as Thimmesh's own breathless narration, we see the precious baby of thousands of parents take its first steps in this appreciative account of man's first walk on the moon. This is an extraordinary non-fiction read-aloud, if you can manage with a catch in your throat and a tear in your eye. The book begins with the astronauts' obituary that thankfully never needed to be used, but that underscores the risks from the get-go. Divided into "challenges" instead of chapters and brought into even greater focus through a generous amount of photographs (many in color), the "Apollo spirit" of cooperation is stirring and inspirational history that bears repeating. In the words of NASA chief engineer Charlie Mars, "I think one of the things we had was a common goal; and we all realized that we were into something that was one of the few things in history that was going to stand out over the years. We're going to the moon! We're putting a man on the moon!" Go, team!!! (8 and up)

Also of interest:
It wouldn't be fair to mention this new book without suggesting other older ones that really belong in the collection of every child who dreams of adventure in the great blue beyond:
THE MAN WHO WENT TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON: THE STORY OF APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT MICHAEL COLLINS by Bea Uusma Schyffert (Chronicle). While Team Moon casts a wide net, this beautifully packaged little rocket of a book allows readers to travel along in the company of one man, Michael Collins, who went with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, but had to stay in the ship while the others made footprints on the moon in 1969. Unique and eclectic scrapbook-style photographs and notes give this book a very intimate feel ("When you stand on the moon, you can cover the entire earth with your hand"), and includes forms, charts, lots and lots of drawings of buttons, really bringing readers along for every step of this interstellar ride. This foil-wrapped volume has as much "gimme that!" appeal to kids as those cool freeze-dried ice cream samples they sell in museum gift stores. Extremely accessible for independent reading as well as read-aloud. It contains all the excitement of space travel, as the Apollo did so many years ago .
(7 and up)

IF YOU DECIDE TO GO TO THE MOON by Faith Mcnulty, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (Scholastic) is your ticket to ride, as the first page suggests: "If you decide to go to the moon in your own rocket ship, read this book before you start." In an engaging second person voice, this book prepares the hopeful space explorer for the trip of a lifetime, from measuring deistance to the exciting countdown, to the feelings you will have as you shoot through the void, to the wightlessness in the cabin of your ship to the crater-filled landscape you will encounter upon landing. Kellogg is in the top of his form, his illustrations that make knowing use of poistive and negative space, sometimes busy and other times conveying the stillness and vastness of space. This book also subtly conveys the grace, fragility and richness of earth, our home, as seen from a distance. besides being a great non-fiction read-aloud, the reason you must have this book in your collection is because any child who reads it will feel as close as they can come to visiting the moon…at least, for a few years. (6 and up)

And for those still stuck on Earth, SPACE STATION MARS by Daniel Sans Souci (Tricycle)is a warm and funny picture book inspired by the author's boyhood attempts with his friends to contact aliens and the scientific explanation of the contact they do manage to make. Sure to inspire an industrious attempt from young readers. (6 and up)

In case the testosterone in these space books is running a little high, read BEYOND JUPITER: THE STORY OF PLANETARY ASTRONOMER HEIDI HAMMEL by Fred Bortz (Franklin Watts), a chance to vicariously meet one of the most exciting female planetary astronomers of our time. Full of color photographs attractively laid out, a timeline, glossary and further resources, this book is out of this world in every sense and a must-have for any girl with her head in the clouds and science in her future. (10 and up) See the amazing telescope on Hawaii that the author looked through as part of his research at the author's website!

Hope these picks give your collections a rocket-boost. Start a storytime by putting on your helmet and tell the kids to fasten your seat're going to the moon!

On a personal note
It was very interesting to read Team Moon so soon after finishing a re-read of Judith Kerr's WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT (Putnam) and being in the middle of Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF (which, incidentally, my instincts were was originally published as a novel for adults in Australia). Such juxtapositions really makes a person wonder at the broadness of our collective imagination and curiosity, choices humankind makes can make as to where it devotes its energy. It's a marvel to consider and not to be underestimated, all of our potential to work together, for beauty and inspiration or for destruction, not just in 1939 or 1969, but right now, this very minute. Huh. What's it going to be?

On another personal note
Thanks to Heidi Estern for being so gentle with me during my very first interview for my upcoming book VIVE LA PARIS, about an African-American girl's friendship with a Holocaust survivor. The interview will be aired on the "Book of Life" podcast sometime this fall, but you really shouldn't wait that long to check out this wonderful show that you'll likely find every bit as pleasant and interesting as anything on NPR. The theme of this month's program is Jewish Life in America, but you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy it! Famous librarian (and action figure) Nancy Pearl is featured.

Furthermore, I'm feverish since I heard that also this fall, this podcast will be airing an interview with superb new author Brenda Ferber, pictured below at the PlanetEsme Bookroom signing copies of her extraordinary debut novel JULIA'S KITCHEN (for ages 10 and up) at our lovely "Great Women of Fiction" event. Once you start her story of a girl coming to terms with her loss after a tragic house fire, it will stick to your hand like glue, you simply won't be able to put it down; and trust me, you will always make sure your toaster is unplugged forevermore. Aspiring authors should definitely put it on their "must read" list; I learned so much about story arc just by her example. Though I love this picture of Brenda patiently signing books for a loooong line of admirers, you can see a much more fetching photograph on her website.

And one more personal note
Big thanks to all for the wonderful comments. Though I have trouble finding the time to respond individually, please know I really enjoy them and am encouraged by them, and that your expertise and experiences add so much to this blog.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

1 comment:

Tessa said...

I wouldn't mind going to the moon one day. In counterpoint then, perhaps you should consider CAT AND FISH GO TO SEE (see: for more information). As a way of diving into the beautifully simple linoprint illustrations.

Hope you received my package! Let me know what you think?
Love Tessa xo


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