10 September 2010

To the Moon and Back

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, by Brian Floca, is an excellent nonfiction picture book retelling the history of the first human mission to the Moon.

The prose is tight and poetic, its tone a mix of matter-of-fact and awestruck. Pages jump between the astronauts in space, mission control back on Earth, and a family watching the action on their living room TV. This history doesn’t dig back into the geopolitics of the space race, or ahead to the end of lunar missions; it focuses on that human achievement of July 1969.

I enjoyed watching how Floca used his art and design to pace his story. The first illustration after the text starts is a landscape on Earth with the Moon as a distant crescent in the sky. Floca frames this round image in the blank white page, both opening the book slowly and symbolizing how this life is limited to Earth.

Later that image’s blue, green, and white colors make a visual rhyme for the image of a round Earth in the black sky that we finally see at the end of the astronauts' visit to the Moon. And as a coda, the book’s final illustration is also a round landscape, blue and green. But now there’s a full Moon overhead, and the family we’ve seen throughout the book is running across the grass.

Floca breaks down the rocket countdown into six rectangular panels on one spread, ticking off the seconds. Turn the page, and the liftoff is the first full page spread of the book.

Even the endpapers in Moonshot get put to use, in different ways. The front set shows the stages of the lunar rocket while the back set retells the history in more detailed prose suitable for school-report research.

Of course, this is a journey many books have taken before. There’s a lot of source material about the lunar missions, and a built-in market. Moonshot even got published on the fortieth anniversary of the landing. Last year’s Cybils Non-Fiction Picture Book winner, The Day-Glo Brothers, got points from us judges for being the very first book on its topic. But Moonshot is also terrific, and deserves the other awards it’s brought home.

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