Title: We Dream of Space
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 2020
Chances are, if you’re around my age (early 40’s), you’ll have a memory etched in your mind like I have: the image of the Challenger exploding shortly after take-off. You might even remember where you were when you saw it. I was in my living room, home on a snow day. I remember my mother being speechless. I remember having lots of questions. I remember being sad.
Naturally, picking up any Newbery Honor title is of interest to us, but We Dream of Space was of particular interest, as it follows three siblings in the month or so leading up to the Challenger launch in 1986. Once I got over the fact it had a “historical fiction” label on the side of the book (My childhood is now considered “historical!”), I immediately started LOVING all of the 80’s pop culture references, from the banana clip Ms. Salonga, the science teacher wears, to Tab soda to Dr. J. to Rocky.
The Nelson-Thomas family dynamic is simple for readers to understand on the surface, but the beauty of the book resides in the slow reveal of how an emotionally distant family creates adolescents who have to dig really deep in order to navigate life. The parents argue all the time and barely interact with their children. The siblings, 7th grade twins Bird (female) and Fitch (male), plus older brother Cash (retained for poor grades, also a 7th grader) also barely interact with each other. Each revolves in their own orbit, until the Challenger explosion creates an opportunity for them to realize none of them will be able to reach their potential without the support of each other.
Structurally, the book takes turns telling the story from the perspective of the three kids. I think this format works REALLY well for kids that are reluctant to read books with primary characters of the opposite sex since male and females tell the story. The book is long, nearly 400 pages, although the font seems slightly larger than usual and the short chapters told from alternating viewpoints make for a faster-than-expected experience.
The author, Erin Entrada Kelly is no stranger to the awards spotlight. Her novel Hello, Universe won the Newbery Medal in 2018. We Dream of Space is a 2020 Newbery Honor book as well as a Goodreads Choice 2020 Nominee. It has many, many starred reviews. Kelly includes several pages of additional research at the end on the Challenger and the astronauts that perished that will be of interest to many kids.
“We Dream of Space offers an exceptional portrayal of the endless ways in which parental dysfunction affects every member of a family. It’s also a celebration of the need for optimism, compassion and teamwork in the face of disasters both individual and communal.” — BookPage.com (starred review)
The suggested ages for this book are 8-12, or grades 3-7, but may be a good pick for older readers who are reading below grade level. Despite the Nelson Thomas kids being in 7th grade, they are very independent and mature.
For kids that are interested in more information about the Challenger, I recommend these titles:
Kelly, Erin Entrada. We Dream of Space. Greenwillow Books, 2020.
BookPage.com, Best Books of 2020: https://bookpage.com/features/25734-best-books-2020-middle-grade#.YDmhhmhKhPY