Science Fiction. It’s a popular genre and topic. Who doesn’t love rockets blasting off, robots saving the world, and aliens coming to Earth? And yet, there are very few classic children’s science fiction titles. Some of that is because technology has developed so quickly in the past decades, so stories that seemed cutting edge when they were written are now dated. Part of it is because science is always evolving, and books stay in the time they were written. Part of it is because science fiction is mostly looking forward, not looking back.
And yet, there is one science fiction book that still is on almost every library’s shelves. Even though the science is a little behind the current times, and the aliens aren’t carrying death rays or covered in fur, it’s still a well-loved reading experience. What is that book? The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron.
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David was planning for an uneventful summer when his father pointed out a small advertisement in the evening paper:
Wanted: A small space ship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two boys, between the ages of eight and eleven. The ship should be sturdy and well made, and should be of materials found at hand. Nothing need be bought. No adult should be consulted as to its plan or method of construction. An adventure and a chance to do a good deed await the boys who build the best space ship. Please bring your ship as soon as possible to Mr. Tyco M. Bass, 5 Thallo Street, Pacific Grove, California.
David’s father is convinced that the ad is some kind of joke, but David wants to believe it’s true. He spends the next day working on plans, and designs a slender, pointed rocket, with one window in the front and a door on the side, with flukes to keep it running straight. It’s beautiful, and he thinks it should be fairly easy to make.
Across town on a street that (according to David’s father) doesn’t exist, Mr. Bass is also working on plans. Plans for rocket fuel and an invisible skin to protect a rocket from space. Between the planning, he keeps consulting his notebook entitled A Few Facts Concerning the Hiterto Undiscovered Satellite, Basidium-X as he’s researching. He’s also worrying. Is there enough time? Was the advertisement seen by the right boy?
David runs into a few problems building the rocket, so he brings in his friend Chuck to help. They spend hours in David’s backyard, collecting materials from both their houses, revising David’s plans and adding some of Chuck’s suggestions. Measuring and building and, once they find out about other boys working on their own rockets, trying to be the first to finish. Their final result is a rocket to be proud of. And they need to get it to Thallo Street, as soon as possible!
When David and Chuck bring the spaceship to Mr. Bass, things get really exciting. Because Mr. Bass shows them his telescope, and shares his findings: Mr. Bass has seen another planet in our solar system! Looking through a special filter on the telescope, David and Chuck are the second and third Earth dwellers to see Basidium X, a small green planet only 50,000 miles away. Then Mr. Bass reveals why he wanted a spaceship– he wants to send David and Chuck in their homemade ship to Basidium-X, to assess the planet and (if they can) assist its inhabitants.
Will David and Chuck get permission to go? If they do go, will they meet any residents of Basidium? Will they succeed in their mission? It’s possible. But Mr. Bass holds all the secrets, and he’s not sharing everything…
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Today is the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, and it seemed like an excellent day to share this great science fiction book for all ages. Written in 1954 (and if you do your math, you’ll realize that was BEFORE the first human spaceflight), it is fondly remembered by almost everyone who read it.
David and Chuck are resourceful, brave and quick on their feet. They not only manage to star in The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, but are featured in a few more titles about Mr. Bass and his friends: Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, Mr. Bass’s Planetoid, A Mystery for Mr. Bass, and Time and Mr. Bass. The later volumes are difficult to find, but not impossible. The first two books are aimed at readers in grades three, four and five, but are also excellent read-alouds, to kids as young as first or second grade. The boys age as the series goes on, so the last volumes are probably more enjoyable for fifth and sixth grades.
If you like science fiction, aliens and mysteries, you’ll like the Mushroom Planet series. Pick up a copy today, and read about the two boys who were space travelers before spaceflight even happened!