Space Odysseys: Catch a Falling Star & Moonwalkers
This timely picture book blasts into life from the opening end pages. Suffused with Denton’s trademark, light-hearted line drawings, we are immediately introduced to the Apollo 11 astronauts who crewed the first spaceflight to the moon in July 1969, a feat never done before.
As they soared into space aboard the rocket launcher, Saturn V, half a planet away, Billy and his family watched in awe thanks to live beams from ‘The Dish’, one of the largest telescopes on Earth located in the town of Parkes, NSW Australia.
Inspired by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’s, daring space mission, Billy and his motley crew of space explorers, Buzz and Mickey, embark on their own ambitious moon mission, replicating the Command and Lunar Modules and undergoing a rigorous training regime including the consumption of authentic space food – chocolate pudding.
Greenwood’s playful parallels between Billy’s moon visitation and the actual events as they unfolded - the Eagle’s landing at Tranquillity Base on the moon and Armstrong’s climb down the ladder onto the moon’ surface for instance - allow even very young readers to embrace all the excitement and wonder of this truly memorable event. For slightly older readers, a step-by-step breakdown of the Apollo 11 Mission to the Moon features at the end of the book, which neatly summarises events before the inclusion of a few more scientific astronomical facts.
Coupled with Denton’s irrepressible comic stylings, Moonwalkers is both informative, factual and galaxies of fun! Highly recommended to ignite discussions of space exploration and the moon landing whilst fitting snuggly into the early primary curriculum.
Author: Mark Greenwood
Illustrator: Terry Denton
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia, $19.99
Publication Date: 7 May 2019
For ages: 4 - 8
Type: Picture Book
Buy the Book: Penguin Books, Boomerang Books
For something from a slightly different galaxy, explore this stellar middle grade novel, Catch a Falling Star. Neatly entwined around the episodes of the orbital workshop named, Skylab and its spectacular re-entry event over Western Australia in the late 70s, this coming-of-age story is a hundred per cent heart. Interestingly, the same rocket, Saturn V propelled Skylab into low orbit around Earth. However, McKinlay does not dwell on these rudimentary details rather they provide a subtle meaningful backdrop to Frankie Avery’s story of grief and acceptance.
Frankie is a tween grappling with loss and her assumed responsibilities of care for her younger brother, Newt. Her stoic attitude conflicts with the child within as she also yearns for her remaining parent's presence (her overworked mother), as much as that of her dead father's.
As Frankie questions things that ‘fall from the sky’ in an attempt to make sense of her family’s situation – life without Dad – she begins an odyssey of discovery, realisation and healing that is both heart tugging and humorous.
Joining her are her ingenious younger brother, Newt, her charismatic best friend, Kat and a mother, who is desperately trying to deal with their altering universe. Each of these characters contribute colour and texture to Frankie's life, painting her story with humility and hope.
This is more than a story about the crashing decent of Skylab in July 1979. It is not just an historic tale laced with loss and grief and the tragically poignant way young children have of dealing with it. It provides so much more than just a satisfying foray into the late 70s and 80s - Sonnyboys and phones with cords – although I personally revelled in this journey back in time. There is a touch of the surreal about this novel, a mingling of magic and science that distills into hope. McKinlay's portrayal of this life essence is unflinching and spot on.
Catch a Falling Star is about friendship and family and ties to the universe so strong you'll be convinced you can fly in space, too. It's about closure and our intense need to find reason in order to make sense of tragedy. And yes, it's about Storm Boy and the messy bits in life and unhappy endings, which might sound cheesy and maudlin but are two things this superbly crafted novel is not.
More brilliant than the Milky Way. A must read.
Title: Catch a Falling Star
Author: Meg McKinlay
Publisher: Walker Books Australia, $17.99
Publication Date: March 2019
For ages: 9+
Type: Middle Grade Novel
Buy the Book: Boomerang Books