Friday, August 4, 2017

NONFICTION MONDAY: Lost in Outer Space/Lost in the Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olson

With the growth of the Common Core and the increased focus on the reading of nonfiction, it's become more important than ever for good nonfiction for children to be available.  And I have been delighted to see that such nonfiction is becoming more and more common.  One thing I've been looking for is chapter book nonfiction.  So much nonfiction for elementary age readers is less than 100 pages.  For young nonfiction readers this can make it hard to keep up with class requirements.  So I'm delighted to share my reviews of these two fabulous narrative nonfiction chapter books for upper elementary readers.



World War II, October 21, 1942. A B-17 bomber drones high over the Pacific Ocean, sending a desperate SOS into the air. The crew is carrying America's greatest living war hero on a secret mission deep into the battle zone. But the plane is lost, burning through its final gallons of fuel.

At 1:30 p.m., there is only one choice left: an emergency landing at sea. If the crew survives the impact, they will be left stranded without food or water hundreds of miles from civilization.

Eight men. Three inflatable rafts. Sixty-eight million square miles of ocean. What will it take to make it back alive?


World War II is a topic of perennial interest to me as are survival stories.  This book happens to be both. This is the story of a group of U.S. soldiers on assignment to deliver a special passenger to the Pacific theater.  While everything started normally, several things happened that lead to the crew and plane getting lost over the Pacific.  They did everything in their power to find the island they were supposed to land on, but despite contact with the island and numerous efforts to discover their location, the plane eventually ran out of fuel and had to be set down on the ocean.  Preparations for ditching the plane had been made, but in the rush to get out of the plane, most supplies, including all available drinking water and extra food were left behind on the plane.  Using photographs, quotes, and first hand accounts, the author takes the reader on a remarkable journey with the eight individuals who suffered on the ocean on tiny rafts for three weeks.  I appreciated the compelling story, but also the author's honesty.  As the circumstances worsened, the eight men did not get along which is not surprising considering the stress of the situation.  And even when they (all but one) survived they didn't all of a sudden have a close bond with each other.  Unfortunately, the special passenger was famous, but not known for his tact or kindness.  Eddie Rickenbacker rather bullied the others into surviving.  Was that the best method? I can't say, I wasn't there, but it's something to think about and it's something that the author brings up in his author's note at the end of the book..  I really appreciated the author's note because Olson explains the problems with writing accounts of historical events based on the flawed memories of participants.  This would be a great thing to share with students when discussing writing nonfiction.  Overall,, Olson has created a very readable, compelling account of a little known event.  He also does a nice job of placing the event in context of the numbers of men dying in the war at the time.


April 13, 1970: Two hundred thousand miles from Earth and counting, an explosion rips through Jim Lovell's spacecraft. The crippled ship hurtles toward the moon at three times the speed of sound, losing power and leaking oxygen into space.

Lovell and his crew were two days from the dream of a lifetime - walking on the surface of moon. Now, they will count themselves lucky to set foot on Earth again.

From "Houston, we've had a problem" to the final tense moments at Mission Control, Lost in Outer Space takes readers on the unbelievable journey of Apollo 13 and inside the minds of its famous and heroic astronauts. Complete with photographs of the crew and diagrams of the spacecraft, this is an up-close-and-personal look at one of the most thrilling survival stories of all time.


I've read other books about the Apollo 13 disaster as well as the movie so I had some background when I picked up this story.  Once again, Olson does a great job of telling the story.  It can be difficult sometimes telling a complicated story like this one in such a way that children can understand it.  The Apollo 13 disaster makes a fascinating, compelling account, but it can also be very technical.  It would have been easy to fall into that problem, but Olson does not, he explains things correctly without getting lost in technical jargon.  I also appreciated the inclusion of some of the experiences of Barbara Lovell, the eldest daughter of one of the three astronauts, this gives someone for the younger readers to especially connect with as they read.

The book begins with the beginning of the disaster then returns to introduce the astronauts, their families, and what lead up to the situation, including a brief introduction to the creation of NASA and the space program.  All of this is done quickly and doesn't bog down the story in the least.  I enjoyed reading this account of the events and the people involved.  I was left was admiration for the efforts of those involved.  It's clear that the astronauts made it back safely because of the efforts of these people.  At the same time, and the author points this out, while so many were waiting with baited breath to find out if the astronauts were going to make it back safely, conflict on a much larger scale continued to rage around the world (including the Vietnam War).  It's ironic to realize the way Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jim Swigert were turned into heroes for surviving the Apollo 13 disaster, while those who made it possible for them to return safely were not.  Society can be remarkably fickle about who it identifies as heroes.  In any case, this is a great narrative nonfiction book that middle grade nonfiction lovers are bound to enjoy.

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