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Out of the Past: Astronomy Books for the Young, Then and Now

Mercury Fall 2007 Table of Contents

artist's depiction of Earth and Moon

by Wayne Wood

The day that Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon, 20 July 1969, was a big one for two reasons: humans were landing on the Moon, and I got to stay up late. The whole extended family gathered around the black-and-white console set in my grandparents' living room and quietly watched as the grainy figure of Armstrong made its way down the ladder from the lunar module and onto the Moon's surface.

Being eleven years old at that moment meant that I had been almost three years old when Yuri Gagarin became the first man to fly into space and orbit Earth in April 1961. I can not remember a time when the current events of those days didn't include a regular diet of space shots and near-deification of astronauts.

There was a time in the summer and fall of 1969 when it was almost impossible to pick up a magazine or newspaper without seeing something about the astronauts who had landed on the moon. Their faces looked down from a million bedroom walls of young dreamers who thought they were going to follow their trail to the stars. I was one of those dreamers, fueled in part by the books on astronomy that I was devouring at the school and public libraries.

What did those books say, and how is that different from the content of children's books on astronomy published now? The differences chiefly fall into three categories: advances in knowledge; cultural changes in depiction; and a less tangible attribute best described as a change in the "sense of wonder."

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