To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyses reviews to verify trustworthiness.
There are 3 angles in this book - Family, Being a Teenager and Space Exploration. I loved all of them - it's written in a very subtle yet impactful way.
Family Angle - The Nelson Thomas family is dysfunctional. 'Bird' (the daughter) who loves the internal workings of machines and draws their schematics, compares her family to a broken/barely functioning machine. The parents are constantly fighting with each other and the children draw into themselves. At an age where children need support and advice, these 3 siblings are pushed into even more confusion. The parents also (maybe unintentionally) give mixed advice - like Mrs Nelson Thomas wants her daughter to 'not feel the need to do all the house work' and be equal in that aspect, but at the same time she tells her to not eat junk food although she doesn't mind her sons eating the same.
Being a Teenager Angle - 'Bird' doesn't 'feel pretty' and that bothers her and doesn't bother her at the same time. 'Fitch' her twin brother spends all his time at the arcade and is not interested in girls especially the one who is being 'nice' to him. 'Cash' their older brother has failed and is now in the seventh grade with them. He idolizes a sports star but can't get on his school basketball team and feels like he is not good at anything.
Space Exploration Angle - Ms. Salonga (the teacher) gets her students excited about the Challenger Launch. (And 'Bird' really starts to dream of space.) Ms. Salonga arranges various space themed activities for the students and makes them think about the reasons why space should be explored. And this book asks the question - Is space exploration with all it's cost and risks worth it?
Towards the end when the Challenger explodes, 'Bird' feels the need to go into her friend's house to feel at home. I found it so sad that she couldn't get that feeling in her own house. This is one of the books where everything doesn't fall magically into place at the end but the book takes a direction that hints at a change in the characters for the better. I really like such endings as they seem more real.
For those who like unrelieved bleak ending in tragedy, this is the book for you.
The author has fashioned a colorless January of ennui endured by yet another dysfunctional family. They should have been wearing body cameras so you could see the blank expressions on their faces.
Surprisingly, the book has vacuumed up a number of writing prizes including recent selection as a Newbery Honor Book. Perhaps this is so because in this age of pandemic, insurrection, power outages, and vanishing jobs “We Dream of Space” is the closest thing to Mary Poppins in the New Normal.
The parents in the book are petty, frustrated, bickering and likely two high school graduation days away from divorce. Of the three siblings, one son lives on the edge of volcanic anger. The other son has the academic dynamism of a doorknob. The daughter at the center of the tale, is an emotionally frail dreamer skipping toward catastrophe.
As for the book’s structure, a few gratuitous vignettes add nothing to the story. For example, the author plops down a diversion about interracial marriage, then just leaves it there. In another throwaway, she has the young girl open the door of a classmate’s empty house and nap with the cat. Full stop.
The book also has factual polyps. On page 90, the middle school teacher tells the class to imagine themselves strapped to a rocket ready to launch from Houston. It would have to be imaginary since rockets are not launched from Houston.
Worse, on page 205 is a piece of dialogue where one sibling asks who Sally Ride is. The other sibling says: “The first woman in space.” That answer is wrong. The first woman in space is Valentina Tereshkova.
If after looking in on this hangdog collection of undistinguished characters (possibly excepting the teacher), a reader says “nothing happened,” that would be a more suitable title for this book.
First sentence: The pinball machine didn’t steal Fitch Thomas’s quarter. Not really. But when one of the flippers is broken, there’s no point in playing.
Premise/plot: We Dream of Space is a middle grade coming of age novel set in January 1986 starring three siblings: Fitch, Bird, and Cash. The book is told from the perspective of all three siblings. Fitch is struggling with anger issues and feelings of shame. Bird is a big, big dreamer but is haunted by insecurity and anxiety. Cash, well, Cash also struggles with finding his place to belong, finding something he is good at; he struggles with worthlessness. The three siblings have so much in common--so so much--but they also share this a feeling of isolation and alone-ness. They seem unaware that their siblings are also struggling and just barely coping. Another thing all three have in common is their parents who always, always, always, always seems to be arguing, fighting, fussing, bickering, spatting, raging. The Nelson-Thomas home is not comfortable, cozy, safe. It's very much a Jekyl-and-Hyde home. (That's how Bird refers to her home).
The book deals with their lives at home and at school. The three siblings share one teacher--Ms. Salonga--though not all at the same time period. She is a science teacher, I believe, who is dedicating the whole month of January to space and space exploration. Bird, in particular, is thrilled with this focus. And she daydreams conversations with one of the astronauts, Judith Resnik.
It touches on issues of family dysfunction (in particular spousal verbal abuse, and perhaps a bit of neglect), bullying, self-esteem, body image, and friendship. (Not all friends are *good* or *good-for-you* friends. Some relationships are toxic.)
My thoughts: We Dream of Space won't satisfy every reader. It ends roughly around the first week of February 1986. There are no pretty little bows tied neatly. Cash hasn't transformed his grades or made the track team...yet. Fitch hasn't figured out how to make amends and reform his outbursts...yet. Bird hasn't made peace with the tragedy of the Challenger and "gotten over" her funk...yet. The parents' relationship hasn't miraculously improved 1010%. There have been no promises to change or acknowledgement that they are hurting each other and the children. But despite the lack of neatness in the bow-tying department, it stays true to life. Problems never resolve quickly and neatly. Not really.
It also won't satisfying the nit-pickiest of readers who will notice that the teacher talks of the shuttle launching from HOUSTON, TEXAS. (It should be Cape Canaveral, Florida). If that is the biggest issue you have with the book--that could perhaps be fixed before it goes into paperback or reprinting of a hardcover if this one should win awards.
The book offers an emotional roller coaster. The narrative is getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the EXPLOSION which provides its own tension. But that isn't the only tension--far from it. All the relationships in the book are a bit of a mess. This family needs help--an intervention. The home life is toxic and damaging.
For those that have--in the past--lived through this it could potentially be a trigger and hit a little too close to home. For those that have never lived through this, I would love to see this book trigger empathy and compassion. The truth is you never know what may be going on in the lives of your classmates. Teachers, you may not know what is going on in the lives of your students.
For those that are currently living through this--perhaps this book will help you feel not-alone, perhaps it will help you feel SEEN and HEARD.
The three kids--despite being in middle school--desperately needed DAILY TIME with Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood.
I was reading this book and enjoying it until the teacher character instructs her students to imagine themselves strapped to the Space Shuttle Challenger getting ready to launch.... from Houston, Texas. Ugh, no please.
It is 1986. Bird Nelson Thomas is dreaming of being the first woman space shuttle commander. Her science teacher has them studying the space program and everyone is anticipating the launch of the Challenger in a few weeks.
Bird is in the seventh grade as is her twin brother Fitch and her older brother Cash who failed seventh grade last year. Bird loves space and figuring out how machines work. Fitch loves arcade games and spends every quarter he can get his hands on at the local arcade. Cash loves basketball but can't make a basket to save his soul. He hasn't figured out exactly what he is good at yet.
One thing the three siblings can agree on is that their parents argue and fight all the time. The house is always a mess and everyone eats dinner anywhere but at the table. Bird wishes things were different, but her excitement about the Challenger launch is enough to keep her mind off the disappointments of home.
When the day finally arrives for the launch, Bird is in the auditorium with a select group of students whose winning essays have earned them a chance to watch the televised launch. Of course, things don't go the way Bird has imagined and her world is turned upside down. All her anticipation evaporates along with the space shuttle leaving Bird to rethink her hopes and dreams and how she will carry on.
WE DREAM OF SPACE by Erin Entrada Kelly explores the emotional impact of the loss of the Challenger on a school child eager to witness an exciting moment in the space program. Bird, Fitch and Cash are making the best of their often challenging family life as they discover what it means to be there for one another.
I remember the day vividly. As a teacher I had followed with excitement the fact that a teacher would be aboard the shuttle. Attending an education workshop, I watched the launch on television with a group of fellow teachers and will never forget the stunned silence that followed the explosion. Reading about Bird brought tears to my eyes as I imagined what it was like for millions of school children with dreams of being in space as they watched the tragedy.
I think this story was a clever concept, but I did not enjoy reading it as much as the other 2021 Newbery books. There were attempts at detailing the misogyny vs feminism of the time period that I wish had either had greater attention placed on them or had been taken out of the book because it came off as a quick throw -in instead of thoughtful.
Thanks, Erin Entrada Kelly, for writing We Dream of Space. I am not a young reader. I’m a 47 year old mom and I read a ton of middle grade and write it, too, because I like the hope. But I’m writing this to thank the author as my young self. Young me would have loved this. You have a gift creating real characters, and placing them in situations that make me feel, and in some small way, help to heal me.
I recommend this book to readers young and old who enjoy spending time with fully developed characters who are struggling with loneliness. For me, as a child of the 80s whose heart was broken by the Challenger disaster, the tie-in to that moment in history drew me close to Bird and has inspired me to add this character and this novel to my list of favorites. I love Bird, the bright, even-tempered rock of this troubled family who fights to keep her dreams alive.
And I’m going to read all the Erin Entrada Kelly books I’ve been meaning to read!
Purchased for my 11 yo Christmas - he loved that it read like day to day life. The story has three kids, like us, and they have real problems - set in the time of the Challenger. He polished it off and Everything Sad Is Untrue and loved them both.
This author did it again! Kept my daughter opening a book!! We have every book by Erin Entrada Kelly and this one got our approval as well. My daughter is 11 and is a gifted reader. This book was an easy, but fun, read for her. It’s difficult to find books with appropriate content on her reading level. Cool read.