Kidlit in Space — ranked by level of preposterousness

It’s about time I returned to making incredibly valuable lists, so here’s one to fit a vital need.
Here are 5 kidlit trips to space, ranked by the outrageousness of the space flight from least to most. (We will presume it is not implausible that worms and bears, for example, to go to space.)
1. Lowly Worm’s moon shot in “The Air Book.”
Scarry obviously paid a lot of attention to how the real moonshot was done. He does stretch things a bit when the door latch breaks and Lowly holds it shut during re-entry.
Ridiculousness rating: 2
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2. Miss Pickerel On the Moon
Unlike some characters, Miss Pickerel doesn’t suddenly become an astro-pilot. And there’s actual discussion of navigation.
Excerpt:
“The gravity of the moon is one-sixth of the earth’s gravity.”
“Bravo!” Mr. Williston exclaimed. “Have some applesauce.”
Ridiculousness rating: 3 (I have to admit I have not read the whole book, at least not lately.)
—–
3. The Berenstain Bears On The Moon
The versimilitude is getting a little shaky.
Brother and Sister Bear climb a rickity ladder up to get into their rocket. And although their dog has a helmet, he doesn’t have a spacesuit.
BUT … here’s a nice touch, when they fly the Bear Country flag, Sister Bear holds up a corner because flags need a little help on the moon after all..
Ridiculousness rating: 5
—-
4. Space Witch by Don Freeman
A glued together rocket ship fueled by jet-black magic takes a witch and her cat on a wild ride!
excerpt:
“Oh fiddlesticks, we’re way off our course.”
Ridiculousness rating: 9 (but it’s supposed to be ridiculous, of course.)
——
5. Voyage to the Mushroom Planet
(Or whatever it was called)
As you know I just reread this and … c’mon … A rocket made out of scraps. No spacesuits. No language barrier with aliens. A planet between us and the moon which somehow no one has ever noticed. And so many, many more.
Ridiculousness rating: 299792.458 km/s
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Great Jumping Kadiddle Fish, I just reread Mushroom Planet!

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Cover note: The whole point to the book is that the Mushroom people are NOT GREEN.
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet is a book that seems to have stuck with people if somewhat vaguely.
But I stumbled across a copy and reread it, so let me describe it before it goes vague again.
1) Plot: Kids fly their homemade rocket to an invisible moon between the Earth and the Moon.
2) Oddly, fairly little of the book actually takes place on the Mushroom Planet.  They blast off from Earth on page 67 and then head back to earth on page 118, with more than 50 pages left to go.
3) Written in 1954 by Eleanor Cameron, the book reminded me of …. Gail Gauthier’s wacky alien books. Why? Because Eleanor very lovingly wrote this book for her son to enjoy. He’s the star, gets his wishes fulfilled, saves an entire race from extinction, etc…, but she’s a character, too, and it’s all very domestic. In the same way, Gauthier wrote a book about her boys, but made herself a character, too. (Battle of the moms: I’ve got to go with Gauthier, she can build a rope ladder after all.)
4) This book is, perhaps, more fantasy than science-fiction. Kids building a rocket ship out of scraps and flying it could maybe, maybe be sci-fi. But she has certain fantasy elements, such as the ship being almost magically built and seeming to magically grow bigger. And then there’s the magical Mr. Bass who puts the kids up to it because he seems to magically know that the mushroom people are in trouble. And then there are the many, many times when she ignores science all-together.
As one of her main characters says:
“It was all too … too unbelievable.”
5) My theory: Cameron was more familiar with the Wizard of Oz, Dr. Doolittle and such than sci-fi. (A sub-plot involving a chicken really reminded me of OZ.)
6) Reading this book shows one how far science, science fiction, zoning laws, parenting and snack foods have come in the last 54 years.  Can you imagine a kid of 2008 who’s taking off in a home-made rocket ship thinking, “I’ll take along some hard-boiled eggs.”

Story mechanics – better late than never…

This crazy time-travel book of ours has been through a ton of revisions, based on input from various sources as well as my co-author and myself.
But after all this time, our new editor threw us for a loop by requiring an explanation of how it all worked. That is, how the time travel stuff worked. (She also pointed out a few glitches in the system.)
It was kind of like when Dr. Seuss asked the Berenstains what kind of tobacco Papa Bear smoked in his pipe. (In that case the answer was that Papa Bear was a non-smoker.)
But for us, it exposed the fact that we had never really thought the mechanics through all the way.
How could we have thought the reader wouldn’t want to know the rules of the game?
It turned out that sitting down and hammering it all out was frustrating, but kind of fun. And, for me at least, has added a new layer of depth to the story.

Reading Club Earth: I’m not just an alien, I’m also a member!

What a weird, only in the blog-o-verse day. First I hear from Robert’s Snow Snowflake Illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba that she won a copy of Qwikpick from Fuse #8.

Then the mail lady brings me a copy of Club Earth that I won direct from author Gail Gauthier.

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 This is a sequel sort of deal to “My Life Among the Aliens” which I read recently and totally dug. This time around we’ve got an alien who gave himself the earth name “Saliva.” Sounds like this book is going to r-o-c-k the m-i-c-rophone in a lot of good ways!

John Christopher Week – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

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This is just too good to be true, folks, an interview with John Christopher, actually Sam Youd, the author of so many books that I loved as a kid and still do: The Tripod Trilogy, The Sword of the Spirits Trilogy, The Lotus Caves, Empty World and more.

Read the previous John Christopher Week posts for information about these and other books.

Interview with Sam Youd / John Christopher, November, 2007

Samuel Youd

It seems like the great theme of your work is freedom, which unfortunately is rarely in the proper amount. Sometimes there’s too little, like in the moon Bubble or a Wild Jack city, and sometimes there’s too much, like in The Ragged Edge where anarchy brings terrible suffering. If that‘s right, can you tell me why?

As with the overwhelming majority of writers I don’t have a moral programme to enforce, and I feel it should fall to someone else to analyse any preoccupations that crop up. But I also feel that the main one is not freedom but responsibility. The apple tempting my characters (in The Lotus Caves especially) is not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil but its sinister twin, the Tree of Ignorance. See also The Guardians: wouldn’t it be nice to accept the good life and not worry? Or would it?

Of course, the other great theme is the civilization-destroying catastrophe. Can you remember the first time you were exposed to this idea? Why has it fascinated you so much?

I can’t recall any particular exposure though I did find those ancient ruined cities of Mars in the early days of SF compelling. In writing I think I’ve been more attracted by the thought of what happens after the catastrophe. The Sword trilogy exemplifies this, and also goes back to my answer to the preceding question: do we want development with all its complications, or primitive simplicities? (Simplicities for the sake of argument).

When I list my favorite authors, it seems that a common factor among most of them, including yourself, is service in WWII. Do you have any idea what it was about that experience that led to so much great writing? (Oddly, those I’m thinking of have all straddled or blurred the lines between childrens books and adult literature.)

I was in the Army (Royal Signals) for nearly five years, over three of those overseas in the Mediterranean sector. I wrote a couple of non-Christopher novels with that background (out of close on seventy) but don’t think I was much affected by the experience as far as writing went.

You mentioned [in a previous e-mail] that “Dom and Va” drew a lot of criticism. I did find it disturbing, but I also think it was probably accurate. Once again, there was a lot of freedom then and no rules. What do you think about that now, looking back on it?

Dom and Va was originally written in an English-as-a-foreign-language and much shorter version, entitled In the Beginning. It stemmed from a theory, advanced by Robert Ardrey in The Territorial Imperative, that our human evolution has been from a race of killer apes who wiped out a race of less belligerent but more civilized anthropoids. My suggestion was that the two could probably still interbreed and that what may have happened was absorption rather than annihilation.

The story told of a boy from the killer apes (Dom/Adam) who first rescued then mated with a girl (Va/Eve) from the more cultured apes, and suggested that between them they founded our mixed and chaotic humanity. The book was fiercely attacked by feminists and never got into paperback. Years later a fellow writer who regarded herself as a champion of women’s rights told me she could not understand why: after all, I had given Va all the best lines and she wound up in control of the relationship and their joint future. I pointed out that I had also had her acknowledge, when she and her baby were threatened by killer apes, the usefulness of a strong right arm in helping to defend them both. My fellow writer, herself married and a mother, said that was obvious and plainly valid. But not, I pointed out, to those particular feminists, who did not value the sustaining bond between the sexes but rather anathematized it.

Your books do lean a little toward male characters. Who’s your favorite female character?

 I think my adult novels have enough female characters, and quite strong ones. (See The Ragged Edge/A Wrinkle in the Skin, and the three books written as Hilary Ford).In the early stages of writing children’s books, an experienced lady editor said that while girls read boys’ books the converse was not true, and I may have been influenced by that.

I suppose my own favourite character was April in The Ragged Edge but I have a soft spot for the heroine of A Bride for Bedivere who introduces herself: “I cried the day my father died — from joy.”

What do you think about the Boys Life and BBC adaptations of your work?

I’m not really a cartoon person so can’t comment on Boys Life. The BBC version started well, but then went so far away from what I’d written that I lost interest.

The best adaptation was a German version of The Guardians (Die Waechter) in six parts by Bavaria (who made Das Boot). I’m probably influenced by the fact that they stayed very close to my story line. One of the production team apologized to me over a passage in which the hero watches a squirrel cross what he’d thought was an electrified fence and realizes he can too. “We had to make that a cat, Mr Christopher — we are short of trained squirrels in Germany”. Who said the Germans have no sense of humour?

You also had the experience of “No Blade of Grass” being turned into a movie. So, knowing how movie-making works, how do you feel about plans for a Tripods movie?

I never actually got round to viewing the No Blade of Grass movie, switching off at the first commercial break when it was shown on television.

The situation with the Tripods is currently fluid, but there are exciting hopes of the project being taken over by a new team with better ideas. Writers of screenplays command huge fees: nothing wrong with that except that it encourages — maybe requires — them to produce an input to justify the money. One script for the Tripods apparently had the White Mountains topped not with snow but beryllium dust, sprayed out from the factories in which human slaves were building Tripods …..

On a similar subject … do you have a favorite book cover?

None in particular, but I do recall a particularly striking one for an edition of The Death of Grass — a simple photograph of an ear of corn dripping blood.

I thought I had read a lot of your books, until I found the bibliography on Wikipedia. I have a long way to go, especially with books written under your other pseudonyms. Where should I start? What book or books do you really want people to read most?

My personal favourites are the books of the Sword trilogy, but I have a special affection for The Gull’s Kiss by Peter Graaf. It only appeared in England, only sold about 600 copies, and did not make paperback, so it’s just about unobtainable.

John Christopher Week – The Lotus Caves

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Oh, man, how many times did John Christopher blow my mind as a kid?

Many times and here’s one of the big ones!

The Lotus Caves

This book appears to be out of print.

Of course, that may be because it’s not titled “MoonZoomers in Peril: Cave Spawn of the Lotii.”

Likewise the jacket copy describes an “insidiously solicitous interstellar superintelligence.”

This is a perfect description, but it may not have made books fly off the shelves.

Luckily, there’s no sentence in the book that’s anywhere that difficult to read. Once again, Christopher introduces BIG ideas through an adventure story, this one involving a stolen lunar crawler, a clue to the disappearance of an early astronaut and an unforgettable cave.

In an attempt to hook the reluctant, I’m going to divulge a little more of the plot. No ending spoilers, but if you already want to read the book skip this part and discover it for yourself:

The two boys, who are already in big trouble  for breaking lunar colony rules, take an unauthorized, but kind of boring, ride hundreds of miles across the barren lunar surface to visit the original, abandoned lunar station. There they find a notebook, overlooked for 70 tears, written by an astronaut who went missing. They learn that he had become obsessed with the idea that he had seen a giant flower during a lunar exploration.

They follow his trail to find that … the astronaut had been right. In fact there’s a lot more than a flower. There are all sorts of Strange with a capital S things. But by the time they discover this, they’re trapped in the cave with the flower, the Strange things and something even Stranger which I won’t even tell you about here.

Folks, I recommend you read this book yourselves and urge you to encourage bright mid-grade/YA readers to read it, too. A little bit of mind-blowing can do a lot for a kid. AND a book this good it can help him/her become a voracious reader for life. (Though they may be disappointed that not every book can do what this one does.)

Nearly 40 years after it was written — and despite a zillion space books and movies since — this book is amazing.

I said this at the beginning of John Christopher Week and I’ll say it again:

The Lotus Caves (and more)  should be in print, on library shelves and in the hands of kids.