V O L U M E 2 , N U M B E R 4 • A P R I L 2 0 0 9
In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
Coming up this summer is the fortieth anniversary of the first moonwalk, undertaken by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (see interview below) while Michael Collins piloted Apollo 11 in orbit above them. What better time for future astronauts to read about space travel and exploration?
Filled with quotations from famed aviators and inventors, Look to the Stars, Buzz Aldrin’s second picture book about space, is an engaging mixture of the history of flight and Aldrin’s personal reminiscences. The gouache watercolor illustrations by Wendell Minor convey the vastness and wonder of space. The final pages ask readers to imagine the possibility of Mars as a second home, riding a space “tour bus,” and the overall future of space discovery. (5–8 years)
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca is a thoroughly researched account of the first trip to the moon. With dramatic watercolor and ink illustrations and prose perfect for reading aloud, Floca imagines the moon landing from multiple perspectives: the astronauts in space, the folks in Mission Control, and the families at home watching history unfold on television. (5–8 years)
Using research, interviews, and an impressive array of historical photographs, Tanya Lee Stone brings attention to the first women who fought to take part in the burgeoning space program. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream is as enlightening as it is well written and is sure to capture the attention of young readers interested in science and space. (9–12 years)
Finally, Jack Prelutsky leaves readers giggling with his collection of space-inspired poetry, The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from Beyond the Solar System. The mixed-media illustrations by Jimmy Pickering heighten the silly rhymes: “The bugs of Gub will bite and chew / Until there’s nothing left of you.” The book ends on a somber note, reminding readers that even as new planets are being explored, we still need to protect planet Earth. (6–9 years)
A payload full of books is being published to mark the anniversary of the first moonwalk, among them Buzz Aldrin’s Look to the Stars, a picture book, expansively illustrated by Wendell Minor, that outlines the history of flight from Copernicus to the Mars rovers. Given the occasion of Aldrin’s second book for children (the first was Reaching for the Moon, also illustrated by Minor), I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to talk with one of the first men on the moon.
1. How does having walked on the moon change how you look at the world?
Being at a great distance and seeing the enormity of the universe changes how you look at things. Having participated in the Apollo 11 mission also put me in a position where people value what I have to say about things, and I need to live up to that. It’s quite a challenge to be that kind of an emissary and quite a change from being an operator of a machine, whether it’s fighter aircraft or a spacecraft.
2. Was being in space ever boring?
There were times when we were not really pressed, so you would kind of gaze around — thinking, what should I be looking at? There was a flight plan, so you could see what was coming up in the next couple of hours, next couple of days. We weren’t the most talkative crew that ever came along; when you’re involved with something of great significance you occasionally brush it off with some light talk or maybe just clam up and stick with your own thoughts.
3. How did you deal with fear?
It just didn’t become a major factor. There was too much to think about. Growing up, I became accustomed to facing things with an optimistic attitude, and flying taught me to be openly alert to anything that might come along. I learned to be very thoughtful in the reactions I took: sometimes you have to be quick, and other times you want to make sure you’re not precipitous in making a decision.
4. What do you say to people who believe that space research is not a priority?
The space program has had so many beneficial effects on our lives — our use of satellites for communication, our understanding of weather or what happens when the sun flares. It’s a lot more than flying a spacecraft. Space is a foreign environment, with foreign things you have to adapt to. That teaches us a lot.
5. And now you go scuba diving?
I was enamored very early on with the freedom you could have underwater. You get to float around freely yet there’s so much to learn about the different fish, and the plants and geology, and the effects of currents. It’s an entirely new world underneath the surface of the water. Your attention is focused on what’s around you right then, and you’re isolated from the problems of the world. Like being in space!
What child hasn’t tried to chase a pigeon in the park, a seagull at the beach, or a hopping robin around the yard? Four new picture books let imagination take flight.
Birds, Kevin Henkes’s latest picture book, features a child narrator musing on birds, their colors and sizes, their movements and mysteries; Laura Dronzek’s acrylic paintings focus and expand the plain, poetic text. Preschoolers who have ever imitated a bird will find a friend in this young birdwatcher, who, in the final pages, “flies” around her yard and joins a robin in song. (3–5 years)
In Antoinette Portis’s A Penguin Story, Edna waddles off in search of something besides the three colors of her penguin world — white ice, black night, and blue sea — and finds it in the bright orange of a scientific expedition’s tents, clothing, and airplane (“WOW!”). The optimistic message of the wonders the world offers is reinforced with humorous illustrations saturated with color. (4–8 years)
Old pals Violet the swan and Winston the duck are different kinds of birds who share much in common, but they encounter some rough patches in their relationship in Violet and Winston, a trio of stories by Sonya Sones and Bennett Tramer. Chris Raschka’s curvy lines and translucent watercolors reflect the gentle humor of these tales of friendship. (4–8 years)
April Pulley Sayre’s Honk, Honk, Goose!: Canada Geese Start a Family takes young nature enthusiasts through the goose reproductive cycle, including a (discreet) treatment of mating, the laying and protection of eggs, and the birth and first days of the baby chicks. The birds’ waddles and flaps are nicely conveyed in Huy Voun Lee’s movement-filled cut-paper collage. (4–8 years)
—Jennifer M. Brabander
I have just finished listening to the audiobook edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, read with consummate skill by Sissy Spacek. You could — people have — make an argument that Harper Lee’s only novel has indelibly marked children’s literature since its publication in 1960. While the book itself was of course intended for adults, kids have been drawn into it for generations, whether by the innocent but forthright Scout Finch or her heroic father Atticus. For kids who want to know more about the story behind the story, Kerry Madden has written an engaging biography of Harper Lee for Viking’s consistently excellent Up Close series (10–12 years); for older kids there is also I Am Scout (12–15 years), a young reader’s edition of Charles J. Shields’s Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.
Scout Finch would likely find a kindred spirit in Susan Patron’s Lucky, heroine of the Newbery Medal–winning The Higher Power of Lucky and now a sequel, Lucky Breaks (both books 9–12 years). As curious and observant as Scout, Lucky gets into trouble, finds a new friend, and keeps the town of Hard Pan, California (pop. 43), humming.
In Kristin Levine’s The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, Dit Sims lives in a small Alabama town much like Scout’s Maycomb, albeit twenty years earlier. And, like Scout, he finds his life change when a stranger comes to town; in his case, it’s Emma, a girl from Boston. Dit is white and Emma is African American, making their (credibly developed) friendship a problem in the Jim Crow South. Dit’s first-person narration is authentic and frequently funny (9–12 years).
Bringing readers back down to earth — deep underground, that is — the following books are great for middle-school Indiana Jones-wannabes-in-training who think that history’s mysteries can best be solved with a trowel and radiocarbon dating.
In 1974 an archaeological team uncovered “arguably the most significant fossil discovery of the century”: the skeleton of early hominid Lucy. Lucy Long Ago by Catherine Thimmesh gives readers an illuminating glimpse into how scientists across disciplines (paleontology, geology, biology, etc.) piece together information from fossil remains. The book culminates in a paleo-artist’s life-size model of Lucy, whose seemingly sentient gaze will give readers pause. (9–12 years)
Sally M. Walker’s Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland approaches American history from the unique perspective of forensic anthropology, the science of interpreting skeletal remains to explore the lives — and deaths — of those who came before us. Shown in vivid photographs, fossils and artifacts from dig sites in Jamestown and Maryland tell fascinating stories about early settlers, and the scientific process is accessibly presented. (10–14 years)
For a fictional look at an archaeological enigma, Siobhan Dowd’s novel Bog Child offers an engrossing tale. Fergus, a teen living in Northern Ireland, stumbles upon the body of a girl from the Iron Age. As archaeologists set up a dig site, he dreams of the girl while political and family troubles swirl around him. A suspenseful and affecting story. (12 years and up)
Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley examine another real-life scientific puzzle involving human remains in The Mysteries of Beethoven’s Hair (based on Martin’s adult book Beethoven’s Hair). The text traces a lock of the composer’s hair from his deathbed to World War II Resistance Denmark to two modern-day collectors seeking the cause of Beethoven’s death — a question answered through forensic DNA testing. The captivating story raises many questions about science, history, and the arts for readers to ponder. (10–14 years)
I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was nine or ten and hadn’t revisited it in forty-some years when Horn Book reviewer Betty Carter told me to listen to the audiobook. What I remembered — the children’s games in the summer streets, the shadowy presence of Boo Radley, the strength of Atticus, and the terrifying Halloween climax — I remembered well, but I realize now that the very theme of the book had eluded me. While having much to say about racism, societal strictures, and justice, what Mockingbird is mostly about is the difference between the way children and adults look at the world. At nine, I felt too allied with Scout to have any distance from her, and what flew over her head flew over mine as well. Does that mean I read the book at the “wrong” age? Nah — it only means that great books speak across time, both our own and the world’s.
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