Middle Grade Review: Rocket to the Moon!

Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown

Series: Big Ideas that Changed the World
Genres: Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Graphic Novel
Maturity Level: 1
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when the Apollo 11 landed on the moon. But it wasn’t just one man who got us to the moon. Rocket to the Moon! explores the people and technology that made the moon landing possible. Instead of examining one person’s life, it focuses on the moon landing itself, showing the events leading up to it and how it changed the world. The book takes readers through the history of rocket building: from ancient Chinese rockets, to “bombs bursting in air” during the War of 1812, to Russia’s Sputnik program, to the moon landing.

For kids who enjoyed learning about science from The Magic School Bus, learning about history from Big Ideas might be a great fit. But ultimately I found that graphic novel was maybe not the best medium for a non-fiction title.

The problem with a graphic novel as an informational text was that the beautiful pictures left little room for information. There’s maybe 4-6 sentences on each page (sometimes less) which just wasn’t enough information for me to feel like I was retaining anything. But, as my husband pointed out, the intention here may be to capture kids’ interest. If so, I think it might succeed, but maybe pair it with a more detailed text.

Part of what contributed to the feeling that I wasn’t retaining much is that the first half of the book covers such a big period of time. Brown really wants kids to get the entire history of rocketry, but since that’s not the main point of the book he really zooms through it. At one point I was getting a new concept every time I turned the page. I wonder if the book could have been a bit longer without losing kids’ interest?

But I don’t want to sell this book short. It is BEAUTIFUL. The illustrations are lovely, and they are in large frames that show them off to their best effect. The mixed-medium art style was different, but I found that it really worked. And unlike Magic School Bus, the page isn’t jammed full of text and dialogue boxes, so the illustrations really get to shine.

I also appreciated that Brown acknowledged that the book is both very white and very male, and it outright stated the unfairness of NASA’s original policies. The Hidden Figures are mentioned, but I would have liked to see the Mercury 13 mentioned as well.

Obviously inspired by Nathan Hale, the narrator is a vaguely adjacent daredevil with a good sense of humor. Many of the tidbits are things that are going to really appeal to ten year olds like potty humor, GIANT buildings, and of course lots of explosions. While space exploration has fallen out of popularity, it is still inexplicably fascinating to kids, and with the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing this book is very timely. I think kids might enjoy this graphic novel more than the traditional non-fiction titles.

Recommended, especially for school and public libraries, but best paired with a title like Team Moon.

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