The Final Frontier

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission prompted the publication of a slew of books about the moon landing. Here are a few of my favorites and a couple of other notable titles about the space race.

  • Laika Abadzis, Nick. Laika. First Second/Roaring Brook, 2007. 978-1-59643-101-0 $17.95
  • The launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 began the space race between the Soviet Union and United States. For a dramatic sequel, Soviet Premier Khrushchev called for a living creature to be sent into space. Laika is a down-and-out, plucky stray caught by local officials and sent to the canine lab at the Institute of Aviation Medicine. The dog’s special ability to withstand g-force and consume the special gel food given to the test subjects make her the obvious choice to be the sole passenger on Sputnik II. The plan is only to monitor her in her few hours of life in space, though, not to bring her home. Abadzis’s heartbreaking and solidly researched graphic novel treatment of Laika’s poignantly tragic story is a standout, not just for its sympathetic point of view but for its refusal to anthropomorphize what is an undeniably cute dog whose life was full of suffering.
  • MoonshotFloca, Brian. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11. Atheneum, 2009. 978-1-4169-5046-2 $17.99
  • Of all the books published about the moon landing this year, this is unquestionably the best for younger readers. Floca’s gloriously illustrated, stirring account retraces Apollo 11’s historic mission in brief but precise detail, and also brilliantly  captures the mighty scope and drama of the achievement. Intelligent and stunning.
  • T MinusOttaviani, Jim. Illus. Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon. T-Minus: The Race to the Moon. Aladdin, 2009. 978-1-4169-8682-9 $21.99 
  • Beginning with dreamers and visionaries from as far back as the 1880s and moving through the scientists and astronauts of later years, T-Minus is a fictionalized graphic-format examination of the race to reach the moon. Historical and technical details abound, but the book succeeds as both a human drama and a recollection of a bygone era, when the world was mesmerized listening to Sputnik’s beeping signal on the radio and caught up in President Kennedy’s challenge to overcome the Soviets in the space race. The bulk of the narrative focuses on the dedicated American and Russian scientists, and the early Soviet victories provide fascinating contrast into the wo cultures’ differing ambitions, work ethics, and notions of heroism. The precise black-and-white art and page compositions invoke an appropriate nostalgic look.
  • Almost AstronautsStone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Candlewick, 2009. 978-0-7636-3611-1 $24.99
  • Stone tells the fascinating, dramatic true story of the “Mercury 13,” a group of women aviators who proved to be as courageous, intelligent, and fit as any man, but were nonetheless barred from NASA’s astronaut program because of their gender. When NASA was created in 1958 and the astronaut training program established, visionaries like Randolph Lovelace, the physician who tested the Mercury 7 astronauts, were determined to prove women as capable as men to meet the demands of space travel. At the center of the story is Jerrie Cobb, a veteran pilot who successfully completed every test given to male astronauts. Through the tests of Cobb and others, Lovelace proved women had the “right stuff,” but these findings were not enough to overcome the prevailing prejudices of the time. It took 20 years before NASA admitted women into the astronaut program. Stone poignantly chronicles how the efforts of Cobb and her colleagues were ridiculed and thwarted by everyone from Vice-President Lyndon Johnson to Mercury astronauts Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. In a bitter irony, their campaign was also sabotaged out of jealousy and spite by Jackie Cochran, a highly respected, trailblazing female pilot. Stone offers great insight into how deeply ingrained sexism was in American society and its institutions. Handsomely illustrated with photographs, this empowering story will leave readers inspired.
  • Team MoonThimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 978-0-618-50757-3 $19.95
  • There is no better nonfiction account of the Apollo 11 mission than this behind-the-scenes look that has an almost cinematic quality in its breadth and detail. Opening with several photographs of people huddled around televisions to view the event, Thimmesh then delves into the back story of the organizations and hundreds of thousands of people who made the 1969 mission possible. Readers meet 24-year-old “computer whiz kid Jack Garman,” who helped work through worrisome computer glitches during the Eagle’s landing, as well as one of the seamstresses who sewed the spacesuits. The narrative flows chronologically and seamlessly, from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech to Apollo 11’s splashdown. This fascinating, engrossing account was showered with honors, incluing the 2007 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award.
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Published in: on August 31, 2009 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment