As a kid I was a big fan of a series of books about a kid who lived on the moon. I had trouble tracking them down without the author’s name or the titles — googling wasn’t much help. I finally realized that Worldcat.org is a great tool to find out of print titles with specific topics, since you can search for books matching LLC subject terms and they don’t have to be current as long as they are in a library somewhere.
And so, after thirty-odd years, was I reunited with the Moonster space traveler, Matthew Looney. The books are much as I remember them, with breezy and fast-moving prose and whimsical illustrations by Gahan Wilson (Does anybody do the pencil sketch/cartoon style of illustration anymore? I’ve always liked it.) Today I read the first two. Both involve voyages to earth as the Moonsters try to find life on Earth. The world is cleverly imagined and, written in the 1960s, they are representative of an era where interest in the moon was high.
What I liked best in these books is a serious respect for science while making scientific discussion fun and novel. Even though some of the actual scenario is a stretch (a people who have mastered space travel but are mystified by water, and the pert explanation that people of the Moon simply can understand every language in the universe for no reason), it’s a great way to get kids thinking critically about things — what life would be like on the moon, how a person from the moon would see things — and I particularly like the message that science isn’t about knowledge, but inquiry. Matthew is the hero of the first book not because he learns anything, but because he asks the right questions. In the second book we see the exhausting stubbornness of scientists who insist on making facts fit their paradigm, but they do eventually face the facts. So Jerome Beatty must have had a background in science, enough to be both respectful of the tenants but able to lampoon (warmly, I think) the culture.
Why haven’t these books stood the test of time? Why are they out of print? I see few books as nicely imagined and as accessible as these. They are quick reads but have great discussion fodder. I just don’t see many kids books like these any more, that are both scientific and whimsical. It’s true the books have a 1950s mentality about family life and women (the mothers cook and complain, the men have all the fun). It’s also true that having mastered the moon (which happened mid-series and is the subject of the third book), perhaps readers lost fanciful interest in the subject.
But for a few hours, I was a kid again. I miss books like these. I wish I could write them.