I'm finally getting around to reviewing this because Neil Armstrong passed away this week. I'd made a stab at this a while back, but for some reason my ipad freaks and looses anything in a text box if I leave it too long or something. Thanks, technology.
I consider myself a medium crier. I won't cry at just anything, and in some instances I sit dry-eyed in a sea of bawlers because of certain contrarian tendencies in my personality and tear ducts. But space makes me weep, often embarrassingly so. I went to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on one of those family adventures with the kiddies, and I wept openly during the cheesy reenactment of the first lunar take-off. The short film at the Science Museum detailing the successful landing of the first Mars rover had me running my fingers under my eyes. I mean, check this footage from the space station detailing the Earth's auroras
and tell me the Earth's fragile beauty and the airless wonder of watching our dusty orb in motion doesn't deserve a tear or two. It does. Sniff.
This book details the first moon mission, and it does so in a durn fine manner. Moonshot
isn't romantic, in a way; it relays the scientific details of the suits and the rockets, the numbers and the physical experience of being weightless. Which is so perfect - you can feel the weight of the suits, the cramped closeness of the interior of the vessel, the rattling push of the engines, they themselves controlled bombs which could kill as easy as push you out of the atmosphere. Our (American) visits to the moon were Cold War ventures, a nationalistic visit even as we stood for mankind (because I'm pretty sure humankind hadn't been invented yet) and even though this is a kiddie book with its adroit watercolors - better than many watercolors I've seen; not mushy, not pale - I felt the edges of the danger. Or remembered. I dig when children's book give me something that the kiddies won't get, while not talking down to the kiddies.
My only reservations are stupid, personal gripes, things probably no one but me would be bothered by. There are certain aspects of the way that this is written that make me think this is intended as Poetry - capital P - certain calls and refrains, some parallelisms of form. I really watched, trying to decide if this was intended as free verse: if it was just laid out with weird line breaks because of the constriction of the illustrations, or because the weird line breaks were intentional. I never came to any conclusions. I kinda hope the weird breaks weren't intentional, because if they were, they were dumb.
When I was in the 7th grade, I was forced to memorize a poem by my English teacher, "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee Jr., a Canadian Air Force pilot.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
This poem embarrasses older me a lot - the almost painful hat-tips to skylarks
, the ellipses, the crunchy use of the sonnet form, and good gravy, that last line. Stop it! Omg! But dang if it doesn't work on some level, the level that has me weeping at our blue orb, our wooden O, our lit world blazing out into the nothing that surrounds us.
My kids have close to zero tolerance for my flights of fancy about how large this universe is, and how small we are in contrast - Mum's being weird again - so this book was a nice split difference, running that beauty and strangeness through a series of worldly details that kept them grounded in the experience. But I could slip my tethers and fly. And cry, not that I was.