Review of I Spy A Rocket Ship
Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, February 29, 2004
Spyler and CeCe must find some numbers to finish a countdown of their rocket ship. They "spy" a black 5 and then look for other black things in the photo. This is repeated with a blue 8, and a car with a 1 on it. They then do their countdown, blast off to space, and come home in time for dinner.
I was confused by the very first sentence: "One day, Spyler and CeCe made a really cool rocket ship." I didn't know who Spyler and CeCe were. From the photo, one of them is a tennis-ball-headed character, and the other a dog, but nowhere in the book does it tell me which one is which!
CeCe says ?he/she can't wait to blast into space, but when Spyler says they need to check out their countdown machine first, CeCe says they can go to the moon only if they are home in time for dinner. This statement made me not care if CeCe made it to the moon or not. He/She is the kind of character who is not willing to take a risk - even delaying dinner - to accomplish anything. That's not the kind of attitude I associate with astronauts.
In the real space business, we use countdown CLOCKS. A clock is a machine, but the illustration shows a Rube Goldberg machine. While this might be fun to build, it has nothing to do with rockets or launches. I think that countdown machine is an improper use of terminology, and may leave kids with the impression that when a real launch is delayed (and countdowns are often put on hold), it is because of a problem with the countdown clock instead of a problem with the rocket.
The story's problem is that their countdown machine is missing three numbers. To solve the problem, they play the "I Spy" game. Obviously, this is a "counting" and "look-and-find" book for preschoolers. As such, it works well. The sets are interesting and colorful, encouraging kids to continue looking at them and finding more and more details. Observational skills are important for future rocket scientists, and I applaud the photographer and set designer for creating such alluring images.
My prime disappointment is that the selections are not tied into the theme of rockets and space. Kids are asked to spy a black knight, a crow, and a bowling ball as examples of other black things besides the 5 of clubs. Why not use a black boot or a space shuttle tire? This is also true of things that rhyme with 8. Why not choose some space-related words to rhyme with it (though I can't think of any offhand)? The beach scene could easily have been of people in Florida waiting for a rocket launch, and the car-race scene could have been model rockets or a museum with different kinds of spaceships on display.
Once the numbers are found, the characters put on space helmets and do their countdown. The scene of them in space is adorable with various balls looking like planets. But then instead of having the kids do some space "exploring," they are sent back to find "hidden" objects in the book - a spoon, a domino, and a shovel. The shovel is okay - something you might use on the moon. A spoon would be fine if it were the kind used in space - not a wooden spoon, and a domino has no association with space. I would have preferred the kids had to find 3 things useful on a space journey such as a screwdriver, a bottle of water, a pen, socks, toothbrush, etc.
The last scene shows them dancing and CeCe exclaiming that they made it back in time for dinner, as if that is more important than their accomplishment of building a rocket in one day, fixing the countdown machine, and going into space! It doesn't show them ever reaching the moon, though that was the stated goal at the beginning. It is impossible to fly to the moon and back in one day without "warp" drive. I think it is a disservice to the kids to leave them with this wrong impression. Also, I would have much preferred to show them on the moon, saying they were going to be late for dinner, but it was worth it!
I give this book a half point for consistency with real facts - the math was fine, but the one-day to build a rocket and take a trip to the moon is misleading. It gets no points for clarity of terms because there is no such thing as a countdown machine, the focus of the book. It gets a half point for a new perspective on a launch, that being the countdown part. It earns 1 point for readability, and one point for basing the plot on math. The characters were interesting to look at, so I'll give it a half point there also. Total points: 3.5. I Spy A Rocket Ship is basically a counting book for preschoolers that has almost nothing to do with rockets and space, but will help with observational and math skills. Rating: Maybe/Okay.
Title: I Spy A Rocket Ship
Author: Dan Marzollo
Photos: Ward Yoshimoto, Set Design: Michael Lokengaard
Number of Pages: 24 (253 words)
Publisher: Scholastic Cartwheel Books
Retail Price: $3.50