Review: Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade

Countdown 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (9781682630136)

This nonfiction uses free verse and evocative images to convey the history of the Apollo missions to the moon. The book begins with John F. Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon in ten years. Over the next 2979 days, starting in 1961, over 400,000 people worked to make his vision become reality. The book shares the tragedy of Apollo 1, where three men died on the launchpad due to a fire. It shows the triumphs and set backs of the space program as they tested unmanned rockets. Then Apollo 7, 8, 9 and 10 return to manned flights with their silence, splendor and drama. Until finally, Apollo 11 reaches the moon and man takes their first steps on its surface.

Slade’s free verse is spare and lovely, capturing the essence of each of the dramatic moments in the quest to reach the moon. With the death of the first lunar astronauts, she allows the doubts about the program’s future to hang in the air, so that readers will understand how brave the choice was to continue forward. Throughout, her writing allows readers to feel and experience those moments, to count the minutes on the dark side of the moon, to feel the tension of piloting the lunar module to the surface, to all of the risks, the moments that could have gone differently.

Gonzalez’s illustrations add to that drama, depicting the astronauts themselves, the glory of space and the splendor of rockets and flight. He uses space on the page beautifully, showing scale and size. His glimpses of earth in space are realistic enough that one almost sees them spin in the blackness.

A glorious look at the Apollo missions. This belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Peachtree Publishers.

Review: Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker

Counting on Katherine How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (9781250137524)

Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She worked on the Mercury missions and the Apollo missions, doing the math that allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to return safely.

Filled with the determination and resilience it took for Johnson to become a NASA mathematician, this picture book shows the barriers that were and are in place for scientists and mathematicians who are women and people of color. Make sure to check out the note at the end that provides even more information on this incredible mathematician. The art in the book is incredibly appealing with mathematics adding complexity to the simple style.

A picture book biography that soars to great heights. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 All-Natural Nonfiction Books

Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong (9781580898119)

Alvin is a deep-sea submersible that seats just three people. In this picture book, readers take a journey with Alvin’s crew down into the sea to collect specimens, survey the site and look for life. Light dims and temperatures drop as Alvin descends. At nearly two miles down, they reach the seafloor. There are small crabs, glassy rocks and vent chimneys. Pompeii worms sway in the current and clams nestle in the rocks. There are other surprises too! Soon the specimens are stored and it’s time to slowly ascend to the surface once more.

There is a gorgeous natural drama to this nonfiction picture book that simply shows what scientists encounter as they explore the depths of the sea. Refreshingly, there is no artificial accidents or incidents used, just the depth itself and the sights to be seen. The book contains information about Alvin, a glossary of terms and a list of organisms with information on each. The illustrations are dramatic and use the play of darkness, beams of light and the different light at various depths very effectively.

Immensely readable, this would make a grand nonfiction addition to a story time. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Fur, Feather, Fin All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang

Fur, Feather, Fin – All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (9781481447096)

Exploring the classes of animals, this nonfiction picture book is written in rhyming text. The book looks at mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, fish, water dwellers, and detritivores. Each class of animal is explained, including their unique attributes and how they are similar to other animals as well. The focus is on the web of creatures around the world, celebrating the varied nature of life.

The book is filled with facts, including a section at the back that offers even deeper information on each class of animal. Far more than just basic types of animals are explored here and young readers will learn new terms for animals like worms, crabs and insects. This very readable book is accompanied by illustrations that show how different these creatures are, from those under the sea to creatures who mature through various stages to those that fly.

An approachable book that offers lots of information in a very flexible and light way. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (9781626722446)

This book is a dynamic mix of graphic novel, nonfiction and picture book. It’s the story of the Big Bang and how earth came to be and how life started here. From the initial explosion, the book quickly moves to life on earth, using comic panels to great effect to show various lifeform stages. Dinosaurs emerge and life flourishes until the meteor strike. Still, some life survives and mammals and evolution lead to humans. The book has many answers but still ends with the ultimate question of where that first dot came from.

A great look at the science of the Big Bang and evolution for small children, this is a cleverly designed book. The book remains firmly nonfiction, nicely describing what is happening in short texts. The book also offers a timeline at the end that shows the Big Bang through current day. The illustrations have a gentle whimsy to them that makes the book inviting. A bright color palette of yellows, greens and oranges adds to the dynamic subject. A winner of a read. Appropriate for ages 4-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by First Second.)

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins.jpg

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley (9780399551857, Amazon)

This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Margaret Hamilton and her work on computers. When Margaret was a girl in the 1930s and 1940s, she wondered why girls weren’t studying science and math, so she did. She went to MIT and started working on computers back when they required handwriting code and the computers filled entire rooms. She eventually went to NASA where she programmed computers to help astronauts travel to the moon and connect to one another in space. When Apollo 11 came and astronauts were going to land on the moon, Margaret wrote the programs to get them there and back safely. In fact, when disaster struck it was Margaret’s programming that kept everyone safe and accomplished the goal.

Robbins writes with a celebratory tone in this biographical picture book. His appreciation for Margaret’s ability to ask tough questions and figure out answers is clear. Throughout, he keeps the tone playful and light, showing the hard work behind the accomplishments, and her inquisitive nature as the keys to her success.

It is great to see graphic novelist Knisley illustrating children’s books. Her illustrations match the tone of Robbins’ writing, keeping the entire book light and celebratory. The amount of work done by Margaret is staggering and is shown by Margaret next to a pile of papers that showed the length of her code. That same image is repeated as a photograph at the end of the book.

A wonderful example of women in STEM, this picture book speaks to the power of brains and determination. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Life on Mars by Jon Agee (9780399538520, Amazon)

A child astronaut heads to Mars because he just knows that there is life there. He travels all alone, exploring the barren landscape of rocks and mountains. He even brings a wrapped gift of cupcakes with him for the creature he encounters. He does find a yellow flower blooming, proof that he was right all along. But along the way, he completely misses the huge martian following him around. That is until he gets ready to return to Earth and discovers the cupcakes have been eaten.

Agee is a master of riotous yet understated humor. Readers are in on the joke throughout the entire book, easily seeing the huge orange creature on the page. They will wonder if the astronaut will ever spot him. The use of the flower as proof of life on Mars is cleverly done, offering proof of life without the astronaut ever seeing the larger find right near him. As always, the illustrations by Agee are simple and friendly. His use of thick lines works well with the alien landscape of Mars, creating a dramatic feel.

A winner of a book that combines the joy of a mystery, a secret, aliens, space and cupcakes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

lowriders in space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars.  They dream of one day having their own garage.  Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics.  El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms.  Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars.  Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders.  So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter.  Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do.  This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.

Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture.  Her characters are clever done.  The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too.  The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space.  The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.

The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all.  Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging. 

This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Gravity by Jason Chin

gravity

Gravity by Jason Chin

In his latest book, Chin examines the theory of gravity and how it works on our planet and in the universe.  As with his previous books about redwoods and coral reefs, Chin takes a complicated subject and reduces it neatly to a child-appropriate level.  He also adds a touch of magic and whimsy.  The book begins with the book falling out of the sky and right in front of a boy on a beach, playing with his toy astronaut and rocket.  Then gravity goes away and his toys, bucket, shovel and banana head out into space.  From there, the effect of gravity on the earth is explained and eventually gravity returns and the objects fall back to earth.  But not exactly where you’d expect them to.

Told in very brief sentences, the book will work for even the youngest scientifically-inclined children to enjoy.  More information on gravity in a wordier format is provided at the end of the book.  Chin keeps the body of the book light-hearted and still scientific even as toys float right past the reader in the vastness of space. 

As with any book by Chin, his art is exceptional.  He manages on a still page to capture the effect of items floating in space, weightless and free from gravitational pull.  He also succeeds in conveying clearly when gravity is turned off and when it is returned, something not easily done in illustrations.  The beauty of what he captures is magnificent.  He shows the sun from space, the earth, and it is all vast and lovely.

Another winner of a title from Chin, get this into the hands of little ones who dream of science and space.  This is a very readable science book that would make a great addition for sharing aloud in a story time or unit.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

planet kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore

Told in the first person by a little boy, this picture book mixes science fiction, space exploration and Kindergarten into one awesome picture book.  The boy has been training for this day for some time.  He has gotten supplies, been checked by a doctor, and the countdown to lift off has begun.  He arrives at the Kindergarten door and his parents leave, returning to their own planet.  He joins a classroom filled with aliens from across the galaxies.  The commander gives them the day’s flight plan and then they start activities in the capsule, get to explore the planet’s surface for a bit, and even eat space food.  By the end of the day, it is Mission Accomplished!  And then time to get ready to do it all again.

Ganz-Schmitt nicely ties in science fiction touches throughout the book.  The boy’s parents say goodbye with a Vulcan salute!  She also focuses on NASA and space flight, pulling these two related but distinct subjects together seamlessly.  Children who are fans of either will be right at home here, giggling along with the puns and the idea of school being a space capsule.  Her humor is right on, offering just enough to be funny but not too much to lose the concept of it being a Kindergarten book.

Prigmore’s illustrations have a great zany quality that suits the subject matter.  I love the other little boy with the hood so that you only see his nose and mouth as well as the other children who look like aliens but you can also see the person in there too.  He plays along the line of making it about space but also allowing readers to see the human school underneath too.

Funny and filled with action and adventure, this book will get even the most nervous Kindergarten astronaut giggling about their new mission.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot

three little aliens

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara and Mark Fearing

The story of the Three Little Pigs heads to outer space in this fractured fairy tale.  Here there are three little aliens, who must find a new planet to live on.  Their mother advises them to stick together, but two of the little aliens don’t listen.  When Bork sees the space rover on the red planet, she just can’t resist living there.  Gork is drawn in by the satellite circling around a planet surrounded by rings.  Nklxwcyz went deep into space until he found a planet that he thought was perfect.  It was blue with nice breezes.  When the Big Bad Robot arrived in the galaxy, there is no where for Bork and Gork to hide, because they had been too busy playing with their new toys to build homes.  So both of them fled to Nlkxwcyz’s house deep in space.  And you will just have to read the book to see how the Big Bad Robot is defeated.

While this is a light-hearted fiction book, it is also one that has some science mixed in.  The planets that the three aliens travel to are the planets in our galaxy.  They start out at home at Mercury.  Bork settles on Mars, Gork on Saturn and Nlkxwcyz on Neptune. This adds a nice dimension to the book. 

McNamara’s prose is a pleasure to read aloud.  The noises of the Big Bad Robot add much to the book’s fun and build the tension up.  The illustrations by Fearing are quirky and fun.  The backdrop of stars and the familiar planets make for a winning setting for the pictures. 

A fun, fractured fairy tale, this book will be popular with children who enjoy space and robots.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.

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