In the classic picture book Guess How Much I Love You, Big Nutbrown Hare says that he loves Little Nutbrown Hare “all the way to the moon … and back.” Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first Earthlings to really understand what it would mean to love somebody “to the moon and back”—the Apollo 11 moon landing took place 50 years ago, on July 20, 1969.
To celebrate, we’re sharing a lot of different posts about the 50th anniversary here at Geek Family Network. Today’s Stack Overflow is all about the moon and space travel—some fiction, some non-fiction, but all about the wonders out there.
Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World written by James Gladstone, illustrated by Christy Lundy
About a year before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon and return to Earth. Astronaut Bill Anders captured a photo of the Earth above the moon’s horizon: Earthrise. That famous photo inspired the first Earth Day, and showed that all of humanity still shares this one planet, which looks small and vulnerable in the image. This picture book captures the story of that photo, and the moments leading up to it: the astronauts getting ready, the launch, orbiting the moon and seeing the Earth rising in the distance. I also liked the way that this book sets the story against the backdrop of unrest, with protests against the Vietnam War, and hints of the Civil Rights movement. Many of the images include a young Black girl with her family watching and observing, and it’s a cool way to frame the events from her perspective.
Papa Put a Man on the Moon written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Sarah Green
Dempsey’s grandparents and other relatives worked at the J.P. Stevens textile mill, weaving the Beta cloth used in the Apollo spacesuits. This picture book shares a story about a young girl experiencing the moon landing, knowing that her father’s work contributed to the vast work needed to make it possible. GeekDad Michael J. shared a little more about this book earlier this month.
The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Rubin
Alan Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 12 mission. When he returned to Earth, he was dissatisfied with the way that his photos didn’t capture the magic and mystery of being there. So he picked up his paints, and created paintings based on those photographs, but with unreal colors. He wanted to show what it felt like, not just what it looked like. This picture book starts with a little bit about Bean’s background (both his training to be an astronaut and his start in painting), before showing the launch and a bit of his time in space and on the moon, and then the various techniques he used to create his paintings. I particularly liked the fact that he created models based on the photos so that he could get the lighting and angles just right in his paintings. The book is wonderfully illustrated, and helps to capture some of the vibrancy and fun of Bean’s paintings.
Big Ideas That Changed the World: Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown
I mentioned this one briefly back in my “Pick Your Poison” column, but it’s a perfect fit for today’s theme. Big Ideas is a series of comic books that celebrates, well, big ideas. This issue is about rocket science, from Chinese fireworks to European weapons to missiles to the space race, culminating in the Apollo 11 mission. The book continues with brief mentions of the other Apollo missions, which ended in 1974. The book is narrated by Rodman Law, a stunt parachuter who, in 1913, attempted to launch himself in a rocket for a stunt. (It didn’t go well.) It’s a great, quick jaunt through the history of rockets, with the bulk of the book devoted to the Apollo 11 mission and how it worked.
Science Comics: Rockets by Anne Drozd and Jerzy Drozd
The Rocket to the Moon! book pairs very nicely with this one, from First Second’s Science Comics line. This one is less specifically about the moon landing (in fact, Apollo 11 mostly takes place in a single panel) and much more about the development of rockets. It begins with some basic lessons on physics and Newton’s laws of motion. Then we learn about rockets as entertainment, rockets in warfare (both as weapons and for flying), and then rockets in the space race. The whole thing is narrated by a series of animals who tag-team throughout the book, adding a lot of goofy humor while remaining scientifically accurate. The book concludes with a bit about the future of rockets, with an encouragement for the kids reading the book to create the next generation of rockets.
Apollo by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker, and Mike Collins
This graphic novel about the Apollo 11 mission focuses a little less on the science (though there is some of that) and more on the human drama surrounding the mission. What was it like to be an astronaut? Or an astronaut’s family? Or ground control? While the story depicts a lot of the events we know about, the creators also used the medium to dig into what’s going on inside the minds of the astronauts as well—what it was like for Michael Collins to sit and wait in the command module for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to return from their moment of fame. There’s a conversation between Buzz Aldrin and Alan Bean about the order that the astronauts should exit onto the moon. Richard Nixon laments that if the astronauts die on the moon, he’ll be remembered, but if they make it make, people will just remember John F. Kennedy.
There are a lot of dream-like sequences interspersed throughout the book, as imaginative ways to show the emotional impact, and they’re very effective. I do wish there were some more endnotes that delved into where all these stories were from—it’s not made clear how much is based on firsthand accounts and how much is speculation. However, it’s still a compelling read, and I really enjoyed it.
I’ll round out this list with a couple of non-fiction books that I actually haven’t gotten a chance to read yet myself, but I thought they would be good for further reading on the topic.
Flying to the Moon by Michael Collins
This is an updated and revised edition of Michael Collins’ own story about participating in Apollo 11. It’s based on his memoir, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey, so it’s an autobiography and will have more of a focus on him, but he ends with some speculation about the future, and the hope that humanity will take to the skies once again.
Destination Moon: The Remarkable and Improbable Voyage of Apollo 11 by Richard Maurer
Destination Moon is a much bigger volume, and it’s a more comprehensive look at the various pieces that were needed to put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. The book actually begins on a submarine during WWII, tying the sub’s compactness and strength to a vessel that might travel in space. It focuses more on the people who made space travel possible, listing even the astronauts themselves as “supporting cast.” The book is peppered with photographs and diagrams, and looks like a deep dive into the history and making of Apollo 11.
Moon Rush: The New Space Race by Leonard David
This book includes a little about the moon landing, but it’s really focused primarily on the future: it’s about the science and technology that will be needed to get back to the moon and explore it and inhabit it, and the people who are involved in those plans. With a Foreword by Buzz Aldrin, this slim volume seems like a good read for those who are excited for the next era of space exploration.
The Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction edited by Neil Clarke
This book just landed on my doorstep as I was wrapping up this column: a collection of two dozen sci-fi stories inspired by the moon landing. The stories span several decades of writing, with the earliest story from 1976 and the latest from last year, but what they have in common is the moon. I’m excited to dig into this one!
Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.