Monday, April 13, 2009

MOONSHOT: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

MOONSHOT: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Gr. K-4 Ages 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 44 pages Atheneum, 2009

In the end, what started out as a fierce race between the two fiercest enemy nations on Earth—the U.S. and the Soviets—became a ride with three guys locked in two containers they’d nicknamed Charlie Brown and Snoopy with most of the world watching from 238,00 miles awa.—Apollo 11.

With all the technology and politics involved in the first moon landing, the simple beauty of the event is easily overlooked. And since the astronauts were equipped with the most advanced camera technology in the world, what could an illustrator’s pen and brush bring to the story that hadn’t already been captured “for real” by their cameras? In celebration of that historic event’s 40th anniversary, artist-writer Brian Floca brings his considerable talents to the roundtrip ride and gives us a beautiful bird’s eye view from both outside and inside.

As the image top-right shows, he sometimes gives us a simultaneous view, from the spectators on the beach at Cape Canaveral to inside the space capsule with the astronauts as the blastoff-countdown progresses. His text is not only uncomplicated, but poetically informative. Take, for example, his description of the crew’s first taste of weightlessness (image right, bottom):

Onboard Columbia and Eagle,
Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin
unclick gloves,
unclick helmets,
unclick the straps
that hold them down,
and float inside their small ships,
their home for a week.

Here there is no up or down;
an astronaut can spin in air and
turn a floor into a wall
or a ceiling to a floor . . .

. . . There are food and clothes
packed into corners.
There are flight plans, flashlights,
pens, and cameras—and they float too.
They drift from hands and pockets.
That’s why there’s Velcro everywhere:
for holding things so they stay put.

All the facts a young child would wish to know about this trip are here, never crammed, but floating beside the illustrations. And in those pieces of art, Floca demonstrates what great art can offer that cameras cannot: every camera must have a lens and each lens has its edges and limits beyond which it cannot focus. What the artist has instead of a lens is an imagination that is limitless. When Armstrong and Aldrin walked the surface of the moon with Collins looking on from above in the orbiting Columbia, there was no camera to give us the perspective of both the men, their landing craft, the moon, and mother Earth. Floca gives us exactly that. Artist over technology.

For those who want more, Floca’s endnotes and sources will take you there.

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