A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, though the publisher lists this book for ages 8 and up, and the story certainly seems meant for that age, there are numerous sexual references, and more swearing than you'd expect in a book aimed at middle elementary-aged kids. Also, a boy is encouraged and aided in lying to his mother by his father and by government agents, including the president.
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What's the story?
In the late '60s, Scott's father is an Air Force flight trainer in Texas. He teaches Scott to fly in a private plane, but then, against the rules, also teaches him to fly fighter jets. When Scott's father is knocked out in an in-flight accident and Scott lands the plane, NASA takes notice. They have a secret program that precedes each of the manned rocket launches with a scaled down test flight using chimps. Before the moon landing, one of their highly trained chimps wigs out, and they enlist Scott to train to fly to the moon and back with two other chimps. Includes Author's Note.
Is it any good?
OK, granted, there's a huge suspension of disbelief to get over with this book. NASA secretly sending a boy and two chimps to land on the moon before Apollo 11 has to be one of the most absurd premises ever. The author compounds this with references to possible UFOs, a mystical encounter in the last part of the story, and an Author's Note that claims much of the Apollo program is "still shrouded in secrecy" and that no one really knows when the chimp program was discontinued. Even fans of Tom Swift may have to take a deep breath before swallowing all of that.
And yet ... take the leap, and you'll find an immensely enjoyable, exciting, engrossing story, the stuff of hours of childhood fantasy. Scott and the chimps are appealing characters, and the details are as grounded in scientific and historical reality as the premise is not. Scott is a boy's boy in the '50s series-book mold: stalwart, vastly competent and levelheaded, openhearted, and calmly willing to defy adult authority to do things his way, outwitting them at every turn. This is nearly perfect summer reading -- ridiculous escapism at its purest.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the mysteries about the space program raised in the Author's Note. The premise of the book seems ridiculous, but the secrets encourage speculation. Why might the government still be keeping secrets so many years later? What do you think really happened? What could they be hiding? Do you think anything like this story is even remotely possible?