Racing the Moon

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Overview

An adventurous new work from Newbery Honor-Winning author, Alan Armstrong.

In the spring of 1947, outer space was an unexplored realm. But eleven year-old Alexis (Alex) Heart and her impulsive brother, Chuck, believe that the stars are within reach. In the midst of building their own rocket, Alex befriends Captain Ebbs, and an army scientist who is working to create food for future space travelers, and who is also a descendent of Captain John Smith. Alex soon introduces Chuck to...

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Racing the Moon

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Overview

An adventurous new work from Newbery Honor-Winning author, Alan Armstrong.

In the spring of 1947, outer space was an unexplored realm. But eleven year-old Alexis (Alex) Heart and her impulsive brother, Chuck, believe that the stars are within reach. In the midst of building their own rocket, Alex befriends Captain Ebbs, and an army scientist who is working to create food for future space travelers, and who is also a descendent of Captain John Smith. Alex soon introduces Chuck to her new friend, and the trio's shared interest in space travel sets off a series of adventures that the three will never forget. From meeting pioneering German rocket scientist Dr. Wenher von Braun, and a thrilling sailing trip down the Potomac to an island on the Chesapeake where a top secret rocket launch is about to take place, Alex and Chuck are about to have their lives forever changed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
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.

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, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375858901
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 6/11/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,004,627
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 5.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

ALAN ARMSTRONG liked to read books such as Captains Courageous, Kim, and Treasure Island. As an adult he has worked as a lawyer, a traveling bookseller, and an author of books about children who are put to the test. Moon Girl is his fourth book for children. His first, Whittington, was awarded a Newberry Honor in 2006. He live in Massachusetts with his wife, Martha, a painter.

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Read an Excerpt

1

The New Neighbor

Early Sunday morning, Alex headed up the hill. The weight she was carrying was heavy on her shoulder, but she was unaware of it. “Hi, Amelia,” she called to a blue dragonfly darting by. There were grass flowers in the warm breeze, a sweet scent that was almost dizzying. Then the sharp smell of fresh asphalt from the new road hit her with the thrill of a slap.

She stopped in front of one of the new houses. The ground around it was raw red clay. A large woman was on her knees, planting a bush. Her back was to the road.

“Hi!” the girl called as her dog’s tail began waving in expectation.

No response.

She cleared her throat to get the woman’s attention.

Nothing.

Finally Alex hollered, “Lady! Would you like to buy some plants?”

The dog barked, thinking it was some sort of game.

“Huh? What?” the woman called out, almost falling over as she jerked around, her trowel flying.

“Sorry,” Alex muttered, starting to turn away. “I’m selling plants.”

“Oh!” the woman exclaimed, her face clearing a little. “Well, hold on,” she called in a friendlier voice as she stood up slowly like you’d fold out a pocketknife.

The woman was tall and square-­shouldered, in jeans and a dark red shirt. She had dark curly hair and strong-­looking hands. Her face was long. She looked like she’d been out in the sun a lot.

Alex was an eleven-­year-­old in a not-­too-­clean T-­shirt and dirt-­stained jeans. She’d just cut her hair herself for summer. The plants she was selling were in two baskets hung on the notched broomstick she carried across a shoulder like a coolie. The large brown dog wagged happily beside her.

The woman’s face softened as she studied Alex. “Let’s see what you’ve got. I like plants, and I sure do need something around here.”

Alex figured the woman felt bad about getting angry. She pointed to her left basket. “These are azaleas, reds and whites,” she said in a professional voice. “They’re a dime each. In this other basket there’s hollyhocks and foxgloves. They’re two for a nickel. The foxgloves’ official name is digitalis. You get heart medicine from the leaves.”

The woman looked closely, then nodded. “Right! I’ll take ’em all if you’ll show me where they should go.”

“Sure,” said the girl as she lifted off her carrying pole and started emptying the baskets, delighted to have made such a big sale.

“First tell me your name,” the woman said, wiping her big hands on her jeans. “Tell me about yourself and how you got into the plants business. Tell me inside. I haven’t got my money on me. I’ve got milk, and I can give you a bomber bar I invented for the high-­altitude pilots.”

“A bomber bar? What’s that?”

“Come on in; I’ll show you.”

Alex hesitated. She’d been warned about going alone into a stranger’s house, but there was something intriguing about this woman. Alex imagined herself a spy, read all the spy stories in the magazines, figured she was pretty good at telling who was dangerous. She decided to risk it.

“Can Jeep come in too?” she asked. “He won’t do anything.”

She didn’t say so, but Jeep was her protection. If she said “Sic!” he’d attack.

The woman understood. “OK.”

“Got something for him?” Alex asked.

“I reckon,” the woman said, smiling and sticking out her hand. “I’m Captain Ebbs. Call me Ebbs.” She had a nice smile.

Alex rubbed her hand clean and shook Ebbs’s. It was rough and twice as big as hers. Ebbs didn’t paint her nails like Alex’s mother did.

“I’m Alexis Hart,” she said. “I live down the hill, last house above the creek. You can call me Alex.”

Ebbs’s house was a small white clapboard box like the others in the development, but inside it looked strange. The floors were bare and it was almost empty, except tacked to the walls were photographs of fighter planes, bombers, different-­sized rockets, and a big balloon with a gondola underneath. In one corner there was a dark painting.

Alex stared at the photographs, the rockets especially. They were bigger, much bigger, than the ones in her book. Ebbs was in one picture standing with some officers and a tall man in a suit. She wore a military uniform with a narrow slant hat.

Alex’s house was filled with rugs, stuffed chairs, and little tables with photographs of old people in polished silver frames.

“You waiting for the rest of your stuff?” she asked as Ebbs pointed her to one of the two kitchen chairs and plunked down a glass of milk and a plate with a grainy-­looking brown bar on it.

Ebbs shook her head. “Nope, this is it,” she said, motioning around. “I move a lot because of my work, so I can’t keep much, and anyway, things slow you down. Do you bicycle?”

“Sure,” said Alex, taking a tentative bite of the bar, then putting it down. It tasted bitter.

Ebbs noticed but kept talking. “I sail a small boat. You don’t want anything extra on a sailboat either. It took me a while, but now I live like I’m sailing, everything essential and shipshape. Do you like to sail?”

“Never done it.”

“If you want, I’ll teach you.”

“Thanks,” said Alex. Then she asked in a polite voice, “Is there a Mr. Ebbs?”

Ebbs’s eyebrows went up a little. “My older brothers,” she said. “But they don’t live here. It’s just me,” she added quietly. “No family.”

“Oh.”

The dog whined.

“Right, I forgot!” Ebbs said. “Does he like cheese? I’ve got some old cheddar I can give him, but it’s pretty hard.”

“He’ll eat anything!”

As Ebbs sat down with a yellow chunk in her hand, the dog waved his big forward-­curling tail. He was short-­haired but his tail was bushy. He came up to Ebbs slowly, stiff-­legged and formal, sniffed, then took the cheese delicately and settled down to gnaw.

“Very dignified,” Ebbs said. “What’s his name, again?”

“Jeep. He’s my brother’s dog, but he sticks with me.” Alex paused, then added, “Folks usually want to know why he’s called that.”

Ebbs waited for her to say, but she didn’t. Alex remembered her mother warning her about “going on,” talking too much.

“So tell me,” Ebbs demanded.

Alex relaxed. She liked to talk, and since Ebbs had bought her out, she didn’t have to hurry on.

“Chuck named him that because he’s the same color as his war surplus jeep,” she began. “The garbageman found him hurt by the road and left him with us. He said he was a Chesapeake Bay retriever, but he hates water and he doesn’t look like the ones in the book, so Mother says he’s a mutt. He sleeps on my bed even though he’s not supposed to. Mother says he makes my room smell like a caveman’s cave because of what he rolls in. He rolls in everything!” She didn’t tell how she pulled him close at night and buried her head in his chest, breathing in his damp warm dog scent.

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