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Racing the Moon Hardcover – June 26, 2012
From School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-World War II is over and, like many American kids, 11-year-old Alex and her 17-year-old brother, Chuck, are fascinated with space science. They build model rockets, read and study about radio codes, and even have a tree house equipped as a Moon Station. They are excited to discover that their new neighbor, Captain Ebbs, is actually part of the space research program, and that she works with pioneer space scientist Wernher von Braun. Ebbs is impressed by the kids' research, but not at all happy with Chuck's tendency to "liberate" materials for his experiments from local stores. Hoping to encourage a more acceptable lifestyle, she invites the children to join her on a sailing expedition down the Potomac to observe a top-secret rocket launch. In many ways, their trip will resemble a space voyage. The travelers will be on their own "out there," Ebbs says. Success will require cooperation and self-reliance and a readiness to adapt. However, while the captain plans to watch the blastoff from a safe-and legal-distance, Chuck insists on a closer view. Despite armed guards, the FBI, and the presence of von Braun himself, the siblings resolve to sneak onto the restricted island. The quiet, leisurely pacing of the action recalls the generally peaceful atmosphere of rural America in the postwar years. However, there are subtle reminders of the conflicts that lie just below the surface and that will shortly erupt onto the national scene-communism, xenophobia, militarism. With realistic dialogue, authentic period details, and references to historical figures and events, this novel brings to life an important, but often overlooked, era in American and scientific history.-Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, ILα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2012:
Inspired by the real Joan Cotton Ebbs, this chronicle of sibling aeronautical aspiration and misadventure provides a peek at the post-World War II U.S. space program. High-flying adventure grounded in reality.
Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2012:
Newbery Honor author Armstrong (Whittington) works a good deal of scientific and historical information into his story without affecting its pace, energy, or style. A lively historical adventure with ready appeal to space enthusiasts and those with an appetite for adventure.
Booklist, June 1, 2012:
Armstrong (with the help of Jessell’s spot art) captures the essence of youthful pluck, and Chuck’s determination to learn at all costs is something that readers can admire.
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Top Customer Reviews
Well, this ended up being kind of a weird read for me. There were a lot of threads and things I thought would be explored more but then weren't and things that were oddly brought in. For example, I had expected a story about young Alex following her dreams to learn about space travel in the year 1947. Instead it seemed to be more about her older brother Chuck, straightening out his life and receiving an amazing opportunity to join the space program after much talk about being adopted, actions made out of spite towards other, and multiple endangerments of Alex's life (more about that later). Then there is the exciting Captain Ebbs, who helped feed Europe after World War II and is working to create new space food for the astronauts. Her interest in the kids gives them the amazing opportunities they experience, including meeting the brilliant Wernher von Braun, a Nazi-scientist who defected to the US to continue his pursuit of knowledge. She also is a descendant of John Smith (he of Pocahontas fame to us Disney fans) and shares his journal about exploration with parallels to the work of the day's rocket scientists.
First things first, Alex clearly adored her older brother but I was frequently appalled by his behavior and what he modeled for her. He encouraged thievery, looking before you leap, and trespassing on federal grounds where they could easily have been shot! I can see where Alex sought adventure but I just wanted to shake some sense in to that boy. Additionally Captain Ebbs offered them friendship and guidance and they went behind her back as Chuck doggedly pursued only what he wanted. I could not believe the way he repaid her hospitality.
There wasn't much about von Braun, whose membership in the Nazi Party has been debated as well as his feelings about the slave labor utilized under that regime for his work. Did he join under coercion? Could he have done something to end the slave labor without sacrificing his own life? These questions aren't really debated but they are something I'm thinking about as I do my own research after the book. Similarly the excerpts from John Smith have inspired me to look for more since, as stated earlier, I am most familiar with him from the Disney film despite its questionable relationship to reality. I wish there had been an author's note talking more about these figures although some suggested reading is provided in the acknowledgements.
As I read back over what I have written, I see that expectations played a big role in my dissatisfaction. I thought there would be more of a focus on a young girl instead of an almost adult male. Alex was a sweet inquisitive kid so to see her do her own exploring instead of being Chuck's shadow would have been more to my taste. Furthermore, the book seemed a bit overpacked with both von Braun and Smith, whose sections did nothing for me. I feel like the story I got wanted to be a YA tale focusing exclusively on Chuck and bringing in more historical detail.
Overall: Expectations not met but could still be a great read for a more prepared reader as there is lots of adventure and excitement.
Cover: It definitely looks middle-grade to me, something about the close-up on the face.