Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Class Post - Review - "The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon"

There are some stories that we know so well, it takes a truly distinctive book to do them the proper justice.  The Moon Landing might well be one of those stories.  We remember the grainy footage, the crackle of the audio link and Neil Armstrong’s immortal words.  But for children who are just learning about this monumental feat of human achievement, this is often as far as the story goes.  Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, picked up some moon rocks and came home.  The end.  Bea Uusma Schyffert’s The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins is a unique approach to the story of man’s quest for the moon that gives readers a backstage glimpse of this historical milestone.

Schyffert uses primary sources, including Collins’ own scribbled notes during the Apollo 11 mission, photos, lists and charts to illustrate and advance the narrative.  Readers are given context for all three men on the mission (Collins, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin), but it is Collins who is the emotional center of this book.  Never setting foot on the moon himself, Collins orbits the moon the in the Columbia spacecraft, confined to a small space and isolated for 14 revolutions, over twenty-five hours.  Schyffert gives readers a taste of Collins’ thoughts during this time, half of which is spent without radio communication, on the dark side of the moon.

The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon was a Batchelder honor book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award honor book in 2004.  It received very good reviews from professional publications.  Booklist said, “More than a trip to the Smithsonian, even more than viewing the film Apollo 13, this excellent book--illustrated scrapbook-style with a cleverly presented mix of photographs, illustrations, and charts--communicates the excitement of space travel” (Nov. 1st, 2003). Children’s Literature also took note of the book’s visual appeal, saying, “Photos, drawings, diagrams, a reproduction of Collins' checklist, and his own handwritten observations are filled with fascinating details” (2003).

The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon is an excellent book to start readers with who are interested in exploring the literature of space travel.  It is light and readable, but jammed with information.  Readers can then go into some other fantastic titles about the Moon Landing, include Brian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 and other space exploration books, like Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream and Ian Graham’s You Wouldn’t Want to Be on Apollo 13!: A Mission You’d Rather Not Go On (The “You Wouldn’t Want…” series is a great series for reluctant readers, as the authors present historical facts with cartoonish accompaniment and relish dealing with things that might be icky, such as Aztec sacrifice).

Apollo 11 was an American aerospace endeavor, but the accomplishment belongs to the world.  It was a global achievement, one that was witnessed on television by one-fifth of the Earth's population.  Schyffert’s book, originally published in Sweden, illustrates this fact.  The appreciation and admiration of Armstrong, Aldrin and especially Collins is evident, but the book never stoops to glorifying them, in a way that might be present in an American-produced publication.  Schyffert seems to be saying that Collins was a hero, not because he was super-human, but because he was human, an ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing.

Schyffer, Bea Uusma.  The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.  ISBN: 9780811840071

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