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The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:
May's Big Picture

The Big Picture is a monthly in-depth look at selected new titles and trends.

Floating Home written by David Getz; illus. by Michael Rex. Holt, 1997. [33p]
ISBN 00-8050-4497-3 $15.95
5-8 years

Maxine's homework assignment is to look at and draw her home in a "new way," and in this wish-fulfillment picture book she does just that. She suits up and takes a shuttle ride to view her home from a completely new perspective--outer space. The scene shifts from Maxine's neighborhood to the Kennedy Space Center, where Maxine is preparing to be the youngest astronaut ever to ride on the space shuttle. The book follows the intrepid eight-year-old as she takes her last shower for two weeks ("You don't shower in a space shuttle. Water does not fall from the nozzle. Nothing falls inside a shuttle in space"), breakfasts on cereal and milk, and is interviewed by the press ("Maxine, why are you doing it?" 'Art,' Maxine told them. 'I'm doing it for art;'").

Getz (who interviewed NASA officials and astronauts for background on this book) does a fine job combining Everykid's space fantasy with the realities of astronaut life, including the concrete specifics that rivet young readers. Maxine suits up: the first layer is a huge diaper ('"You gotta wear it,' a woman from NASA told her. 'You could be sitting in your seat waiting to launch for hours. You can't raise your hand and ask to go'"), followed by thermal underwear so she won't get too cold, and a cooling suit so she won't get too hot ("The cooling suit had little tubes of water sewn in the bottom and top. It looked like a Spider-Man costume"). Finally, "feeling like a hundred pound duck in a diaper, Maxine waddled over to the van that would take her to the launch pad...And then she saw the shuttle. It was alive. Suspended above the pad, the vehicle was lit by dazzlingly bright xenon lights, as if it were an actor, stage center, ready for his big speech. And it was breathing. Exhaling steam from its top and bottom, it reminded Maxine of a dragon."

The text gives a blow-by-blow description of Maxine's physical responses to the space launch from the feeling of immense pressure as the shuttle blasts off that increases until it's hard to breathe and impossible to move to the weightlessness when she escapes the earth's atmosphere that makes her a little sick. And the view is spectacular: "There in her window was Earth. It was dazzling, sitting like a royal-blue gem on black velvet. At its curved edge, on the horizon, was a thin, bright fluorescent blue band. The atmosphere. She was looking down at the air she had breathed." Maxine is ready to draw her picture. "But where was her home? Where was her town, her city, her state?...Someone had forgotten to draw in the lines! Where were the lines that divided up the continents into countries?...There were no lines. It was just one Earth. It was her home."

Rex's acrylic paintings have a cartoony appeal as the bright-eyed Maxine cheerfully takes on NASA, the media, and outer space, all with the graceful aplomb of a very self-possessed grade schooler. The compositions are varied as full-page illustrations alternate with three-quarter and half-page pictures, with the occasional vignette to break up large text blocks. The illustrations, like the text, contain those details that enrich and add depth to what could be a much less substantial story, from the planetary endpapers to all the items floating around the gravity-free shuttle cabin. The palette is heavy on the blues: blue sky, blue earth, blue water, all offset by Maxine in her orange suit floating in the white shuttle craft. Maxine's is the eyecatching, dominant figure in nearly every spread: stocky, purposeful, and cheerful as all get out. The final double-page illustration of Maxine floating in the cabin, drawing the Earth on her sketch pad as her colored pencils and globe pencil sharpener float around her, is remarkably satisfying.

More detailed and exact than Byron Barton's I Want to Be an Astronaut (BCCB 10/99) and with a fantasy element missing from Baird's Space Camp (6/92), this title serves those early readers who are too old for the former and too young for the latter. It's a you-are-there, kid's-eye view of a shuttle flight, told simply and directly in rich language young readers will relish. Getz moves easily between the different demands of fiction and nonfiction, resulting in an unusually involving story. The underlying message that there are no borders when you view earth from space is drawn gently and , within the context of Maxine's story, logically. And it doesn't hurt that the youngest astronaut in space is a girl.

--Janice Del Negro, Editor

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This page was last updated on May 1, 1997.