It’s January 1986 and the nation was being geared up for the launch of the space shuttle Challenger, a more than average historical event since it would include schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe as part of the crew. It is an exciting time for Ms. Salonga, science teacher at Park Middle School in Park, Delaware and on January 2, she begins a month long unit called Space Month. This is met with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the three Nelson Thomas siblings, Cash, 13, and twins Bird and Fitch, 12, all of whom have Ms. Salonga’s class, though not together.
At home, each of the Nelson Thomas siblings have learned to navigate around and out of the dysfunction the exists there. Parents Tammy and Mike constantly bicker with each other. When not doing that, Tammy escapes into a book and Mike continuously watches television.
Bird, who is interested in science and engineering, loves to take things apart and put them back together again, carefully writing and illustrating her own manual for each item. She is also obsessed with Space Month and the impending launch and hopes to become an astronaut someday.
Fitch is obsessed with playing video games at the local arcade and couldn’t care less about the space launch. When an unpopular girl from his class invades his space at the arcade, he loses his temper at school and ends up suspended for a few days.
Cash has already been dropped from the basketball team he loved because of low grades and is repeating 7th grade, a fact best friend Brant never stops reminding him about. He breaks his wrist January 1st and spends the month angry and frustrated by the limitations wearing a cast causes.
As the lives of the Nelson Thomas siblings begin to spin out of control, and they begin to behave and think more like their parents, Kelly literally builds up the tension day by day in anticipation of the day of the space launch (January 28). Each day is told from the perspective of each sibling, so readers learn about them, their thoughts and activities first hand. Knowing what happened to the Challenger only adds to the feeling of apprehension readers may feel for Bird, Fitch, and Cash. Is their story leading to an explosive end, like the Challenger, an end to Bird’s dreams of becoming an astronaut, Cash’s desire to be good at something, or Fitch’s ability to control his temper? Or will these three siblings discover that they could form the family they have been wanting all along by themselves?
*Possible Spoiler Alert* I have never been disappointed with a book by Erin Entrada Kelly. She can craft a story that is compelling from beginning to end, with characters that are realistic and relatable. In We Dream of Space, space is a wonderfully fitting metaphor for what the Nelson Thomas kids are seeking – the space for their dreams to be valued and realized. Readers are not left with a nice tidy ending, but with the ambiguity of possibility. What Bird, Fitch, and Cash will do in the future is entirely up to them and each other.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the Queens Public Library
Where were you at 11:39 AM on January 28, 1986? I was at the Clinique counter in Saks Fifth Avenue with a friend, where there was a television mounted on the wall and I looked up just as the Challenger exploded. I have to say, it was traumatic to see. I’ve thought about it so often ever since. I can only imagine how the schoolchildren who watched this tragedy happen must have felt. I don’t watch space launches anymore.
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.