Crashing into the New Year

posted in: Brian Floca | 8

Hello everyone!

I love New Year – it’s always a hopeful time for me and although our computer problems are still not resolved, I’m brimming with enthusiasm for this little blog of mine and have so many wonderful books and activities lined up that I just can’t wait to get going again so here I am with Playing by the book‘s first post of 2010. And this first (proper) post is one I’ve had SO much fun preparing – I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

For Christmas this year we gave M and J a great deal of lego that used to be my husband’s when he was a child. Although slightly dusty from 25 (ahem!) years in the loft, it is nevertheless in great condition and has clearly lost none of its appeal (for my husband that is 😉 ) This was M and J’s first experience of lego, and we’ve been amazed and delighted at the hours they’ve already spent playing with it, creating little spaces, buildings, stories.


A lot of the lego is space lego and when we decided, back last Autumn, that this would be the girls’ big Christmas gift I really wanted to find a stellar (pun-not-quite-intended) book about space or the moon to go with all the little astronauts and satellite dishes and moon buggy parts. When I came across this review over at The Miss Rumphius Effect I knew my search was over.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca is a tremendous book that I would urge you to get hold of one way or another as soon as you can!

Although nominally a non-fiction book, the prose in Moonshot is poetic and breathtaking. The process of actually reading the book out loud is just *so* enjoyable. The magical use of language works brilliantly in this book jam-packed with information about the flight to the moon; it is all the more effective at engaging the reader/listener, precisely because the text is like poetry, alive rather than dry and dull, and not at all what one was expecting from a non-fiction, science book.


The illustrations are fantastic. Many are full of detail (without ever being cluttered) that you’ll find yourself pouring over. Others capture the majesty of space and the sense of awe Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin must have felt when they looked out over the lunar landscape or towards the earth. At all times the illustrations remind you of the people at the heart of this mission – yes, the astronauts are surrounded by technology, mission control is full of screens and monitors, but the astronauts as people, and humankind back on earth are never lost in this story of science and exploration.


Although the main body of text and illustrations are worthy of the cover price alone, there is some exceptional bonus information inside the covers of this first-class book. The story is prefaced with two pages of illustrated technical information (great for returning to when curious kids want more detail on a particular event or process), and then sealed with another double spread, but this time full of historical information.

This book is perfect – an astonishing story, told exquisitely, illustrated with panache and definitely one you should treat your kids (big or small) to.

Just has we had hoped this book has inspired lots of play with M and J’s space lego. It also inspired us to create a lunar landscape of our own, pockmarked with craters. Taking these guidelines for a crater making activity from NASA as our starting point this is what we did:

1. We filled a large, deep container with flour to the depth of about 8 cm. Using a sieve we added top layer of a dusting of cocoa powder. Although not strictly speaking necessary, if you have a deep container I would certainly recommend it – this will contain some of the mess that will be made later 🙂 Cocoa powder was used because it contrasts very clearly with flour, making it easy to see any patterns made by the impact of “meteorites” hitting the “lunar surface”.

2. We set up a viewing platform populated by interested astronauts keen to view multiple meteorite impacts.


3. M dropped various spheres (marbles, plastic oranges, bouncy balls etc) into the cocoa-covered lunar landscape.


4. We observed the impacts!



5. Our eager astronauts went exploring the newly cratered lunar landscape and lots of fun was had by all!




If your kids are older there is plenty of advice in the NASA activity sheet on how to turn this into a science experiment exploring the role of size and velocity on crater creation. Additional tips I would add include:

  • making sure you do this either outside or with a plastic sheet underneath the container of your lunar landscape – the mess isn’t overwhelming, but there is “spray”, especially if you use heavy “meteorites” ie marbles and golf balls rather than light ones like plastic oranges.
  • Large, light meteorites will be easier to extract from your lunar landscape without damaging the crater. If you want to extract the heavier meteorites (we left most of ours in situ) you might need to have a pair of tweezers or something similar.
  • You can recycle your flour to make playdough 🙂

  • moonshot_frontcover2Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11: 3star

    Whilst creating craters we’ve been listening to:

  • The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys
  • Walking on the Moon by the Police
  • Blue Moon, sung here by the one and only Ella (though I always hear my Mum playing this on the piano in my head)
  • and even if the lyrics are rather apocalyptic we also had on Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revivial because it is *so* good to dance to!

  • For more moon and space activities your first point of call has to be NASA – there are loads of brilliant looking activities for kids at

    For an art project we’re going to try this one at Art Projects for Kids, all about learning how to turn a circle into a sphere using shading, to create planets in space.

    nonfiction.monday Today’s post is part of Non Fiction Monday – do head on over to today’s host Picture Book of the Day and see what other goodies have been reviewed.

    This post is dedicated to my maternal Grandpa. After the return of Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin, 12 researchers in the UK were amongst the scientists loaned moon rock to investigate what it was composed of, and my Grandpa was one of these amazing men.

    My Grandpa holding his sample of moonrock
    My Grandpa holding his sample of moonrock

    8 Responses

    1. Roberta

      Oh, I love this post. Your experiments with craters are fabulous. I wish every young child would have this sort of opportunity to do hands on experiments that tie into the books they read. Awesome!

    2. Kellyi

      Mine would eat the cocoa powder!

      I love that you gave your children your partners lego. My children all received second hand playmobil and lego for Christmas which they adore.

    3. Louise

      Thanks for pointing me towards this post!We have NO space lego either at kinder or at my place…but I want some astronauts….I will try for the book .

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