Blast Off with Author Suzanne Slade and her new Space Book

I am so excited to be interviewing author Suzanne Slade about her new book


Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon (Peachtree Publishers)


           Powerful free verse and stunning illustrations tell the true story of the American effort to land the first man on the Moon. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would try to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. During the two thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine days following his speech, eighteen astronauts climbed into spaceships; three of them died before even leaving the ground. Eight rockets soared into space. And four hundred thousand people―engineers, technicians, scientists, mathematicians, and machinists―joined Project Apollo in hopes of making the dream a reality.
Award-winning author and mechanical engineer Suzanne Slade joins up with New York Times best-selling illustrator Thomas Gonzalez to tell the powerful story of the successes, failures, triumphs, tragedies, and lessons from Apollos 1 through 10 that led to the first Moon landing.


Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Review Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal


Thanks so much for joining us, Suzanne.


  What first drew you to this story? Why did you feel it needed to be told? 


The Apollo moon missions are of great personal interest to me — probably because I have a mechanical engineering degree and worked on rockets in an earlier career.
I decided to write COUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON because I wanted to convey the struggles, successes, and surprises of the early Apollo missions that led to the first moon landing. The book covers the details of 2979 incredible days: from President Kennedy’s announcement that America should land on the moon (May 25, 1961), to Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon (July 20, 1969.) 


COUNTDOWN shares notable events including Apollo 1’s deadly fire and Apollo 8’s first glimpse of the far side of the moon, as well as lesser-known details such as why Apollo 7 staged a mutiny and refused to wear helmets, and how Jim Lovell made chocolate pudding in space.  


Is there a reason why you think this story is so pertinent now?


The 50th anniversary of the first moon landing is approaching soon — July 2019. I hope this true story of courage, ingenuity, and perseverance inspires readers as they join in the celebration.
Although the Apollo missions were decades ago, their discoveries are still relevant today and important for our future.
These missions helped us to learn about the moon (it’s history, geography, how it was formed, etc.), and they continue to help scientists today learn about space, space travel, Earth, other planets, and much more. 
(Fyi – Check out the Air and Space Museum’s   “Top Ten” Apollo discoveries  list. #2 is my favorite.)


 I understand that it took you 8 years to complete all of the research for this book. Can you speak to how you felt during that time?


With any nonfiction project, I expect the research to be comprehensive and time-consuming. Since COUNTDOWN is a middle grade (I usually write picture books) about a technical topic, the research was particularly tedious and intense.
My engineering degree, and experiences at McDonnell Douglas Space Systems working on rockets for NASA, provided a technical background which helped me understand the basics of the Apollo spacecraft (Saturn V rocket, command module, service module, lunar module), but I still had a  lot  to learn. 


To your question, during my research for the book I felt inspired, discouraged, curious, frustrated, overwhelmed, exhilarated, and many other things. But the overriding emotion was excitement. It was thrilling to delve into the details of this amazing time and discover fascinating facts about the missions and astronauts that I’d never heard before. It was especially rewarding to write this amazing story for curious readers. I think they’ll be blown away by the astounding Apollo missions.


Can you give a few insights into how you found your sources?  


Of course, I focused on primary sources — NASA transcripts*,  Apollo photo archives, NASA websites, and astronaut biographies. 
Email inquiries to astronauts resulted in interviews with Alan Bean (4th man on the moon) and correspondence with astronaut Walt Cunningham.  I was unable to find contact info. for some astronauts, and  a few didn’t reply to my emails . But I was very grateful for the many reliable sources I found, and to the experts who enthusiastically helped with the accuracy of the project.
[*NASA Transcripts are public domain. Discussions between astronauts in flight and mission control are found in the   Apollo Flight Journal.  Dialogue after landing on the moon is in the  Apollo Lunar Surface Journal .]
I also visited museums where I studied Apollo spacecraft and space suits first-hand.  After the manuscript was complete, I asked several experts to vet the story. Thankfully, Dr. Dave Williams (PhD from NASA), and three others lent their expertise to the project.  My “Sources Doc,” which contains all the sources for the facts in the story, ended up 51 pages long.


This book is in verse. Do you write all of your books in verse? And if not, why did you choose to do that for this one?


Only a few of my books are in verse.  Actually, I didn’t choose this format for COUNTDOWN, the story did. 
Here’s how it happened. After years of research it was finally time to start writing, so I sat down to pen Chapter 1. To my surprise, the words came out in short, energetic lines. The text felt powerful, tense, and urgent, just like the events they described. So I kept writing in free verse. With some books, it seems the story knows how it wants to be told and the author has to go with it.


 Do you have a particular passion for writing STEAM/STEM books? 


Science and math were my favorite subjects all through school. In my free time now, I find myself reading about new science discoveries, watching science documentaries, or asking my son about his latest research projects, so science seems to be one of my favorite topics to write about.


Why do you think young readers would find this book interesting? Important?


It’s been nearly 50 years since the first moon landing. This incredible event is often summarized in history books  with a few lines or paragraphs   that discuss the Apollo 11 landing and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. 

I think readers will be fascinated to discover more about the details and determination it took to get to the moon. The accomplishment of the  Apollo team, who made countless sacrifices to put the first human on the moon,  is nothing short of a miracle!

I hope COUNTDOWN allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the the inspiring 2979 days that led to the moon landing. Also, Thomas Gonzales’ illustrations are simply stunning!  His glorious art is detailed, powerful, and emotional — just like the missions.


 COUNTDOWN recently released on Sept. 1. How has the book been received?


COUNTDOWN is a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection, and has received Starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. I was invited to present the book at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC (which happened to be the day it released,) so that was exciting. 


 Any new works on the horizon that you can discuss? 


I have two more “space” picture books releasing March 2019, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing:   A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon  (Little, Brown) and  Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon (Charlesbridge).


Those books sound fabulous, too. Congratulations on all your successes!
Suzanne is generously offering to giveaway a  COUNTDOWN book mark which contains an authentic moon rock!! To take advantage of this amazing opportunity, please leave a comment below.
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Jennifer Swanson
Science ROCKS! And so do Jennifer Swanson's books. She is the award-winning author of over 40 nonfiction books for kids. Jennifer Swanson’s love of science began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, you can find Jennifer at her favorite place to explore the world around her.
Jennifer is also the creator and administrator of #STEMTuesday and #STEAMTeam2020
  1. I hope this will be an upcoming selection for my school library via Junior Library Guild!

  2. This sounds like something that would hook some of the homeschoolers here looking for something besides formulaic books about space.