Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Education
Publisher: Catalyst Press
Publication Date: August 2, 2010
Authors Website: Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson
Book Website: Star Challengers.com
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June Scobee Rodgers presents Star Challengers: Moonbase Crisis , the first in a limited trilogy (though easily available as an ebook) released as a supplement to the Challenger Centers for Space Education. Written by husband and wife team Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson, the short novel relates the story of four very special high school students.
When on a school field trip to the Challenger Center, Jenny June “JJ” Wren and her disabled younger brother Dylan are introduced to the mysterious Commander Zota. Both children love their time in the mission simulator at the center, so they are extremely pleased when a special invitation arrives from Commander Zota for an advanced weekend mission. Upon arriving, the brother and sister meet Song-Ye, the daughter of a Korean diplomat and King, a poor African-American boy fascinated by astronomy. The four companions think they are just at the Challenger Center for a simulation, but they are in for a surprise when the step through a previously unseen door and find themselves on a moonbase years in the future. It is then up to the four companions to help the undermanned moonbase to survive in the harsh lack of climate on the moon’s surface, along the way learning all the skills of astronauts by (sometimes scary, always exciting) experience.
The story moves quickly (its only 180 pages) and does and excellent job of making the science of space travel real. Though there are the obvious plugs for the Challenger Center included in the text, they do not distract from the narrative, and the excitement the four protagonists feel on finding themselves on a real moonbase is palpable.
At times, the dialogue can be a little corny, not really fitting into the mouths of a group of high schoolers; sounding more like a fourth or fifth grader, which is likely the target audience. This is the primary issue I had for the novel, because while using high-schoolers for the protagonists makes sense scientifically, it does not work as well if the target audience is 3-6 grade students. The differential between the age of the characters and the age of their dialogue creates disconnect. However, to young reader, I find it unlikely they will even notice.
Though the novel is science fiction, Moesta and Anderson make the science as real as possible. The intent of the novel is to get kids excited about space science and reaching for the stars. Moesta and Anderson do this by explaining the reasons and scientific motivations behind the actions of the characters grounded in real research about what hosting a moonbase might be like. They are sure to highlight the companion’s excitement about the various aspects of the science, and their own joy at seeing the theory they learned in school applied to the real world. One key theme of the novel is the idea that people cannot support an expensive task like the moonbase operation, not seeing a real value in it. Moesta and Anderson want to engender the same excitement for reaching the stars as was common during the “Space Race” of the 1950s, 60s and 70s . The novel fulfills this goal admirably.
The book ends with a challenge for students who read the novel to learn more (in the form of a challenge to the protagonists) but sadly does not include a list of resources for students to move from the novel to the history and facts of space science. The lack of a list of resources is slightly alleviated by mentioning that more information can be found at the Challenger Center and its websites, but I would have liked for students to have a page of resources to help.
The novel is entirely self-contained, though it is part of a trilogy of novels about these characters, so students will be able to read more exciting science fiction adventures filled with real science. Even I, an adult, really enjoyed the book, and I think it would make for a great supplement to any science curricula during a space science unit. Perhaps a chapter or section could be read to open each class? Its length makes it ideal for a 3 or 4 week unit. Normally, books written especially to promote an agenda lack a real story, becoming nothing more than various plugs for a company or organization. Star Challengers: Moonbase Crisis is different. It’s an exciting space adventure that extols the virtues of science, and is great reading for kids in grades 3-6.