Summer Space Reading Camp Pt. II: The Old Moon

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Image Credit: Berthold Tiedemann, from Peter and the Moon Trip by Hazel Corson

-The New Moon: relatively newer (and available) titles to directly appeal to today’s youth
-The Old Moon: classics from another time
-The New High Frontier: newer tales of the exploration of the Solar system
-The Old High Frontier: classic names which will never be forgotten


Last week we looked at some summer reading from the last two decades or so. This week we’re going to look even further back, to the 1950s and 1960s. These are the stories from the last time generations were being prepared for the idea of traveling to our Moon, and helped shape the unrealized expectations of innumerable people. In my view these unrealized and seemingly unrealizable expectations are part of what underlies much of the cynicism towards space that can be found amongst voters.

A new generation is awakening to the possibility of the United States as a space-faring civilization, one that not only conducts scientific activities beyond the atmosphere, but also security and commercial activities as well. We can lay the groundwork for future activities that bestows a legacy of prosperity from space resources (energy and material) unto our posterity. Or we can continue to squabble over what we find on this particular planet. There are many good reasons to return to our Moon. New stories of human adventure on that shining beacon in our night sky are but another reason in a long list. These are the stories that have come before.

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To start things off we’ll visit what is probably the one book that created more disillusioned Baby Boomers than any other, You Will Go To The Moon by Ira and Mae Freeman from 1959. The story uses the Von Braun architecture of a 3-stage rocket to a rotating space station to transfer to the Moon rocket that was popularized by Collier’s earlier in the decade. The illustrations by Robert Patterson are phenomenal, and convey a compelling Lunar future, as yet unrealized. Space Ship to the Moon, by E.C. Reichert and illustrated by A.K. Bilder is another well-done story. A young girl and boy, second graders, take an atomic rocket to a spherical space station where they meet some of the crew, and then venture to the Moon for a few days, where they even get to visit the uranium mine. This one is much more fantastickal than “You Will Go To The Moon”, but still fun.

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Branding is not something that was recently invented, and these two books are good examples of that fact. I was quite surprised to find there was a Babar book about a Moon Trip, a Pop-Up Book no less. Celesteville unveils their greatest achievement, a rocket to take the King and Queen to the Moon. It’s quite clever and creative and a fun read. Another familiar name from that time is Tom Corbett, who takes A Trip to the Moon with Johnny and Janie on his spaceship the Polaris. From the Moon they get to see the enormous beautiful Earth suspended in the sky.

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Next up are a couple of titles from Benefic Press. From the Air Age Books series we have Peter and the Moon Trip by Hazel Corson and illustrated by Berthold Tiedemann. Young Peter’s father works as an engineer at the rocket proving grounds. On a trip to the facility, he finds out that one of the crew members can’t go. How about Peter? He’s got prior rocket experience… This one was very well done, and Peter provides an excellent model of taking on increasingly greater responsibilities and proving his worth to the team effort. I definitely recommend this one. Our next one is also part of a series, in this instance Moonbeam Finds A Moon Stone by Selma & Jack Wassermann and illustrated by George Rohrer. Moonbeam is a space chimp, and it can probably be said that his behavior is something akin to that of young men of the age appropriate for this book. It is a bit limited by Moonbeam’s annoying vocabulary of Hoons, Heens, and Hons. His lack of discipline brings about quite an adventure on the Moon. Will Moonbeam make it home?

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In the mid-50s there was a reprint of the 1928 book Doctor Dolittle in the Moon by Hugh Lofting. The good Doctor who can speak with the animals and plants, and rides to the Moon on the back of the giant moth Jamaro Bumblelily. He learns to speak with the plants of the Moon, but soon finds himself growing larger and larger in the weaker gravity of the Moon. It seems the Doctor has finished his adventures on Earth. This was supposed to be the last book in the Doctor Dolittle series, but we all know how that goes… Elevator to the Moon by Stanley Widney and illustrated by Earle Goodenow is recent acquisition for the Lunar Library, so I’m not sure how this one goes. It’s about a young elevatorman (they used to have people who operated the elevator for you. A few rare places still have them) named Willie Ploop who ends up operating a rocket by mistake and ends up on the Moon.

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Miss Pickerell on the Moon can perhaps also be regarded as a nascent feminism tale, as well as a Moon story, in that it is one of an unmarried woman of indeterminate middle age who is actually quite competent despite her frumpy appearance, and has a number of scientifical experiences through her series of books. When the animals of her town start succumbing to an unknown disease that defies all terrestrial cures, Miss Pickerell proposes a trip to the Moon to investigate the strange fungus that has been found on the Moon. An excellent read for those of a large-type and intermittent illustration age. While many of the Lunar stories featured convey good values and role-model protagonists, there do exist a few overtly Christian works in the Lunar Library. (Ice, The Unknown Sky, Moon Gate, and A Blood Red Moon come to mind.) For the youngsters is Jim Dunlap and the Long Lunar Walk, written as part of a series of Christian books, where Jim and his friends outsmart the bad guys on the Moon, but more importantly they convince the non-believer Ginger to welcome Jesus into her heart.

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Lester del Rey wrote several Moon stories, including this pair. In Mission to the Moon, Jim Stanley is brought back to the space station to oversee the construction of the Moon vehicles. It looks like the bad guys of the Combine may be making a break for the Moon, and the good guys of the U.S.A have to get there first so that freedom will be the philosophy of the heavens. In Moon of Mutiny, the young man who caused so much trouble in the first book, Fred Halpern, is trying to prove himself as a spaceman after washing out of the Goddard Space Academy for disobeying orders. On an exploratory trip across the Moon’s surface accidents keep happening and it’s getting ever more dangerous. Can Fred find the solution, since everyone seems to think he’s the cause?

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Of all the books targeted specifically to the young ladies found in the Lunar Library, Countdown for Cindy is the one with which I am most impressed. Young Cindy is a fresh-out nurse who gets picked to go to the Moon on an important mission. Largely because of her gamine mass. While there, she learns a few things about men, and more importantly herself. Sigh…If only I could meet a Tess Trueheart like Cindy… Tom Swift in the Race to the Moon is Tom’s first trip to the Moon, in a contraption that looks something like a Rube Goldberg gyroscope. The open hopper for getting around on the Moon’s surface is an idea still around today.

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Mike Mars Around the Moon is another recent addition to the Lunar Library, so I haven’t had a chance to review it. Part of the Mike Mars series of scientifical stories for boys, this one is a desperate race to make the first flight around the Moon before the Russians get there! Prisoners of Space is another offering by Lester del Rey for younger readers, this one about a pair of teenagers born on the Moon who face an unknown fate when budget cuts force the Moon base where they live to shut down. Could Dave and Jane’s mysterious discovery offer a solution?

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Dr. Wernher Von Braun was a well-known popularizer of space flight and planetary voyages from the 1950s into the 1970s, sort of the Carl Sagan of his day. (oh,and also the genius behind the Saturn V rockets that took us to the Moon) First Men to the Moon is one of the many books he wrote or contributed to to help popularize the idea of a space-faring civilization. This one is easily the most technically accurate of all the books featured, with lots of detailed illustrations that explain the underlying concepts. I can see this one being updated in a reprint. Moon Ahead was apparently used in British schools back in the early 1950s as a reader. Understandable, given that this one also hews to scientific fidelity and offers several explanatory diagrams. It’s certainly a gripping boy’s adventure tale.

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Rocket Ship Galileo is the Heinlein story that was ostensibly turned into the science fiction film Destination: Moon. In the book, young Art, Ross and Maurice get to help build a rocket, and then fly it to the Moon where they make a horrifying discovery, three words you never want to hear in the same sentence: Nazis, atomics, and Moon. The Trouble With Tycho is a boy’s adventure tale set in a ‘haunted’ crater. Chris and Amelia and Brill go chasing treasure in Tycho. Three other prospecting missions have failed to return, but Chris thinks he has what it takes to succeed where others have failed.

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These are the bridge books from the 70s, post-Apollo. Stowaway to the Moon was apparently turned into a TV movie. It is the story of EJ, who is far too clever for his own good, and manages to stow away on an Apollo expedition to the Moon. One of the astronauts brings a bug on board and becomes severely ill. Luckily EJ is there to help out and the mission is saved. Earthdark is a Canadian offering. Young Kepler is fresh back from a trip to Earth, and finds the Moon dull in comparison. Making off with a crawler and his girlfriend Ann, he soon finds himself in an insidious trap beyond the range of contact with Earth.

That’s this week’s edition for the Summer Space Reading Camp. Over a score of Moon stories from a time of innocence, before Apollo. Next week will be some newer tales set in the high frontier of our solar system – adventure tales set in the asteroids and interplanetary space that await us as we climb out of the cradle.

2 thoughts on “Summer Space Reading Camp Pt. II: The Old Moon

  1. One series that I’d recommend would be the Chris Godfrey of UNEXA series by Hugh Walters. The first couple involved a sub-orbital flight to try and determine the presence of alien objects on the Moon, then a flight to the Moon to destroy the control center of the objects and a mission to the Moon to try and get samples. The third ended with West-East cooperation way ahead of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Other volumes in the series were set on the Moon, at least in part.

    There are a whole bunch of Moon tales that are lost in the mists of memory, alas. But one that I’ve been able to locate is Ludek Pesek’s “Log of a Moon Expedition”, a “children’s book” because that is where it was shelved…but not much of a kid’s book otherwise. Illustrated, it is literally the log of a multi-ship expedition to the Moon that runs into trouble and turns from a mission of exploration to a mission of survival. Published in the US in 1969 by Knopf, you can find copies on ABEBooks.com and eBay and such places. Hunt down a copy, you won’t be sorry!

  2. Thanks Fred!

    I do have ‘First on the Moon’ in the Lunar Library, but wasn’t aware it was part of a series. I’ll have to look for the other Moon titles he published.

    Hadn’t heard of ‘Log of a Moon Expedition’, but I’ll put it on the ‘to acquire’ list for the LL. Please let me know of any other titles you can secure from the mists. That’s what the Lunar Library is all about – providing a centralized location for all things Moon.

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