Sunday, June 28, 2020

MMGM: We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

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.


  1. The Challenger explosion happened on my birthday. I had been to lunch with a good friend and when we left, the radio broadcast the news. My 4th grade daughter was worried about the news because shecwas trying to balance the joy of my birthday and the sadness of the tragedy. We all were emotional about Christa McAuliffe! Thanks for sharing a great review. I have to read Kelly's newest book as I am struggling with writing realistic conflicts for MG children in my own writing.

  2. This sounds like an excellent book! I'm intrigued by how the lives of Cash, Bird, and Fitch are intertwined with the pain of the Challenger launch. Thanks for the great review!

  3. I heard the news on the car radio that day. Such a tragic end to many dreams. I like how this new book is set up with the three very different siblings. Their personalities and the impending event has this one high on my list to read. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  4. I was in a meeting and came out to the discovery. A very upsetting and unsettling time for our country. Very frightening for young kids watching. What sold me on your review of Kelly's novel was your comment "space is a wonderfully fitting metaphor for what the Nelson Thomas kids are seeking - the space for their dreams to be valued and realized." That intrigues me! Excellent review!

  5. I've had my eyes out for this book but haven't had time to check it out from the library. You're inspiring me to reserve it. Thanks.

  6. I was on a business trip to Seattle and was in the hotel restaurant having breakfast when I saw the explosion on TV. It must have been awful for the school children watching. This book sounds interesting. I'll try to check it out. Thanks for the review.

  7. Erin Entrada Kelly's emphasis on the phrase "best-laid plans" is so appropriate for these times, right? The idea that catastrophes happen and turn our worlds upside-down will really resonate with kids. Which makes this thought even more powerful: "People are full of surprises." And I LOVE the lines: "[E]ach of us should strive to change every single day. To be better explorers. To be better teachers and students. To be better humans. To just be better."

  8. This looks like a good book! I love books about space, although the story of the Challenger is not a particularly happy ending. And yes, I remember seeing the disaster on the TV screen at home (we were home-schooled; I don't remember if we were watching in real time or if this would have been on the news later that day). It's definitely an image that sears itself into the brain.

    Thanks for sharing about this book.


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