Category: Children’s Books
Reviewed by: Susan Raizer
Title: Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon
Author: Suzanne Slade
Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
NSS Amazon link for this book
Format: Hardcover (10 x 11 inches)
Pages: 144
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta, GA
Date: September 2018
Retail Price: $22.95
ISBN: 978-1682630136

There is a definite excitement in the air as we approach the 2019 50th Anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, with museums, schools, private and public organizations, including NASA, all preparing for this momentous event. Children of all ages are learning about the landing on the Moon in many ways. Having a book of their own that explains the entire process in a way that is understandable and informative makes learning about these landings so much more enjoyable.

As a docent at an aerospace museum, I find that many elementary school children are not aware of this seminal event or the subsequent missions that followed, allowing 12 very lucky and brave astronauts to set foot on our satellite. Many elementary schools in my area view the Apollo program as ‘ancient history.’ However, it is a history that children need to know about, not just because of the great achievements that the program realized but also for the cost in lives lost and commitment from so many dedicated people involved in the program.

Suzanne Slade, a former engineer at McDonnell Douglas Space Systems, worked on various rockets and spacecraft. She was fortunate to also work with the engineers who built the third stage of the Saturn V rocket that took our astronauts on their epic journeys. In preparing for the book she performed extensive research and interviewed several Apollo astronauts including Walt Cunningham and the late Alan Bean.

This book is beautiful. It is both informative and visually pleasing, due to the illustrations of New York Times bestselling illustrator, Thomas Gonzalez, an illustrator of children’s books who immigrated to the United States from Cuba when he was a child. His illustrations in the book capture the essence of the various missions and the people involved as much as the included photographs do.

The book’s unusual title is reference to the time that elapsed from President John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1961 to the actual landing on the Moon eight years later. It pays homage to the more than 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo program, including the astronauts who gave their lives in pursuit of this goal.

The book is written mostly in verse to capture the imagination of the targeted audience, with both illustrations and actual photographs, and has a bibliography for the reader to continue study into the Apollo program. The book is easy to read with technical discussions easily understood by the young readers.

Each chapter is devoted to a mission or several missions, with the first chapter presenting the challenges and triumphs necessary to achieve the President’s goal, even though he was killed before we landed on the Moon.

For Apollo 1, the book presents the training of the astronauts and their individual skills, with illustrations to memorialize these three men. It discusses the fire that killed them, the investigation and the belief that they would have wanted the United State to keep going. After the story (which is set in verse), the chapter (as do all subsequent chapters) provides actual photographs of the crew as they prepare for their mission. The next chapter describes the investigation into the fire and the redesign to make the command module safe for subsequent flights.

Each succeeding chapter is presented in the author’s free form verse which enables the reader to follow the historical facts very easily. The illustrations also capture the essence of the astronauts themselves, the craft and the various processes needed to get to the Moon through missions in Earth’s orbit, then in lunar orbit, and then to the dress rehearsal mission of Apollo 10.

By the time of the mission of Apollo 11, the reader is eager to see the three astronauts arrive at the Moon, two of whom will be the first humans to walk on the Moon. The book captures the drama of the mission and the final exhilarating feeling that we had accomplished President Kennedy’s goal. The next chapter is devoted to bringing the crew home and is presented in prose not verse, with actual photographs to support the writing.

The book is a good first place for the targeted audience to start an investigation of the entire Apollo program. The writing is easy to follow and is beautifully enhanced with the illustrations and the actual photographs. This reader feels that the book will be interesting and informative to older children as well as adults and even younger children who have an interest in space exploration. With the upcoming events next year, I believe that NSS members would enjoy the book for themselves and their families.

© 2018 Susan Raizer

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