A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) feature

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Brian Floca
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009
Sibert Honor Book, ALA Notable Book

This book is great on so, so many levels. I keep finding ways to include it on various lists, such as our recent RedeemedReader Science Book Favorites and my RedeemedReader post on notable science picture book creators. It’s applied science, after all. So, what makes this book so great? Let’s take a closer look.

Cartoon style is not one we usually think of for outstanding information/nonfiction picture books, is it? Sure, cartoon illustrations can be helpful (i.e. Gail Gibbons or Joanna Cole’s Magic Schoolbus books), but I think most folks think photography (such as Nic Bishop’s usual offerings) are more “accurate” or “scientific.” Well, Floca’s Moonshot is just the book to prove that assumption wrong.

Cover: I love this cover. It’s simple and bold and yet still has an amazing amount of detail when seen up close. It’s more effective without those award stickers, but that does happen frequently to great books….

Endpapers: Now, these are endpapers to study. The front endpapers contain detailed drawings of various parts and stages of space shuttles. Drawings are clear, text is concise, and a whopping amount of information is presented. The back endpapers provide a detailed note on the history and events covered in brief in the book. This is also an excellent example of smart book design. This summer, Julie (of Seven Imp., and my professor this summer) had Robin Smith (of Calling Caldecott) come share about her experience on the Caldecott Committee and Robin’s husband Dean share about his experience on the Sibert Committee. And you know what they told us?! The endpapers can make or break a close race in these award committees: if the endpapers feature valuable information that ends up being covered up by a library dustjacket, then the book is deemed poorly designed. Wow. Who knew? Well, these Moonshot endpapers are clearly well designed, clearly planned with a library dustjacket in mind! Good job, book designers!

Opening/Closing Pages: We start on the ground looking up at the moon…far, far away in the sky. And we end playing firmly on planet earth, the moon a faint shape in the sky. And in the middle, Floca wows the reader with all the intricacies of planning a trip to that far away moon.

Perspective: One of the things that stands out to me in this book is Floca’s use of perspective. Whether the moon (or earth!) is far away and distant, whether the astronauts are floating around right in front of us, whether we have a front seat to the lift off or are looking at the shuttle flying through space, he nails it every time. The double spread when the shuttle lifts off right after the last sequential art scene with the astronauts’ faces close up: perfect.

Details: Floca knows how to capture details, both in illustration and in text. And not just any ol’ details, but details that are truly worth knowing and which are interesting. We learn about the food astronauts eat, how they use the bathroom in space, what their training is like. We see all the cars at the blastoff! site, the control center with all the computers, the inside of the shuttle up close. We see an earth-bound family cheering on the mission as the footage comes back from their journey. It’s all here.

As usual, a short blog post will only scratch the surface of a book like this. I highly recommend getting your hands on this one and looking through it with your children. It’s a great example of a picture book that works for older kids, too–those 2nd-5th graders who might think they’ve put picture books behind now that they can “read.” Well, this one will still have lots of appeal (in fact, it’s going to be above most preschoolers’ heads). Floca’s Racecar Alphabet is another great “applied science” book for this age group as is his latest Locomotive. (which I hope to review here soon…)

If you’ve read it, what did you think? What do you like about this one? What did I miss?

Next up: Take Me Out to the Yakyu (a 2013 publication that should be in libraries by now)

Book from local library; cover image from publisher