Friday, September 16, 2016

Childhood Flashback: Mushroom Planet #1 by Eleanor Cameron

    • The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
    • Published in 1954
    • Other books by author include 4 more Mushroom Planet sequels, the 5-book Julia Redfern series and several more.
    • The Eleanor Cameron Award for Middle Grades is given annually for excellence in Children's science fiction.

    • David's father shows him an ad in the newspaper placed by a Mr. Bass who is looking for a boy or two between the ages of 8 and 11 who can build him a spaceship.
    • David and his best friend Chuck build a spaceship and are tasked by Mr. Bass to fly to Basidium-X, a small planet invisible to the naked eye located in Earth's orbit. The boys need to find out what's wrong with the inhabitants of Basidium-X and help solve their problem, whatever it may be.
    • Spoiler alert: they succeed. 

    • I first read this book as a child, most likely a Scholastic Books version. 
      • Scholastic Books is a great thing for a kid. You go through the flier and make a wish list of all the things you want to read and then ask your parents if you can order anything.
      • My parents were great: we could order almost everything we wanted!
        • It was almost embarrassing on the day the book order arrived because only a small handful of kids would have ordered books and would usually get a single book or maybe two. My pile was 10 or 12 books!
        • By the time my son was in school in the late 1990s and 2000s there was too much emphasis on computer games and trinkets but I also let him order whatever he wanted in the way of books.
    • I loved this book as a child. As an adult I still like it. It's sweet and captures the imagination of children who believe in the impossible.
      • The author wrote it at the request of her 8-year-old son David who wanted her to write a story with him in it. Thus I think the target audience are kids between 8 and 11. Today it might even skew a bit younger, perhaps 5 to 10.
    • Except for David's mother there are no other females of note in the story with the exception of the chicken, Mrs. Pennyfeather. Her rooster husband is named John. Heaven forfend that Mrs. Pennyfeather has a name of her own!
      • As a girl I would have taken this in stride: girls weren't astronauts! Even chickens were only defined by their husbands' names! (It's called casual sexism and was rampant until...oh wait, it's STILL rampant.)
      • But I loved --- and still love --- science fiction at least as much as my two brothers did! Who were my female role models in science fiction in the 1960s? Judy and Penny Robinson in "Lost in Space"? (Yes, definitely, but their little brother Will got all the focus.) Uhura in "Star Trek"? (Also yes as Uhura is awesome.) Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time? (Yep.)
    • Eleanor Cameron died 20 years ago. She was born in 1912 and died at the age of 84. I am not truly coming down on her in particular for the lack of female protagonists; it was the way of the world in science fiction.
      • It's funny to realize this as an adult, that almost every science fiction book I ever read and loved as a kid is male-centric.
    • For whatever reason I never read the 4 sequels but they are on their way via inter-library loan as I type. Stay tuned!
    • I never read or even knew about the author's Julia Redfern books, a series about a young girl who wants to be a writer. Apparently they are semi-autobiographical but they aren't science fiction. My library has all 5 so I will request those too. 
    • I would recommend this book to young children, ages 5 to 10, who like adventure stories that take place in space.

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