A little less than two weeks ago, I finally bought and received A Smile as Big as the Moon. I read it quite quickly! I’m certain not every Space Camp fan has gotten around to it yet, so here’s my review, in which I’ve cited some very good reasons why you should go buy and read this book. Now!
Enjoy the review, then go and enjoy the book!
Though I’ve known about A Smile as Big as the Moon for almost as long as it’s been available for purchase (It was released in Feb. 2002), I kept delaying the purchase. For a while, I just hadn’t assigned reading it the priority I should have. Then I delayed purchasing it when I heard that Coach, as the author is known, would be signing copies at Space Camp’s 20th Anniversary. But he was a no-show, and I put-off buying this book further still. I really shouldn’t have.
So I just recently, finally purchased a copy. It arrived on a Saturday. By Sunday, I had finished the book. It was simply so good I didn’t particularly want to put it down. And this was at a time I was supposed to be studying for a Calculus test I’d have the next day! But my grade was of less concern than was taking another trip to Space Camp. But instead of going down there again myself, I got to take it through the eyes of Mr. Kersjes and his group of especially unique students. This is the biggest reason why this book is so wonderful; It actually took me on a trip to Space Camp! Better still, this trip only cost me about 15 bucks!
If you don’t know exactly what the book’s about, allow me to bring you up to speed. Way back in 1987, Mike Kerjes, a special education teacher in Michigan, first discovered Space Camp in a magazine article. At the time, Space Camp probably had more of a stigma attached to it then it does now. A stigma of it being a place of, for, and by the mentally elite, and certainly no place for children of anything but the highest caliber. Little did the Space & Rocket Center realize at the time that the highest caliber people don’t necessarily come exclusively in the form of the most intellectually gifted. To prove to them they were wrong about his kids, Mike Kerjes began a crusade that took him from the Space & Rocket Center to NASA and back, all in the hopes of getting his special ed students a shot at attending Space Camp. He eventually was granted an audience with Ed Buckbee, then the Rocket Center’s Director. Kerjes and his teaching partner, Robynn McKinney, managed the seemingly impossible task of convincing Ed Buckbee that special education students could hold their own at Space Camp. This book details exactly what it took to give these kids a shot at the stars, as well as the events that transpired during the week when the students, against great odds, made it down to Space Camp.
Now, this book is not without it’s faults, but they are minor compared to its strengths. For one, he claims his kids were going through the Advanced Space Academy (then called Space Academy Level II) but all accounts of the students’ week at Camp sounds more like they were going through Space Academy (then called Space Academy Level I). In fact, I am sure of this. Also, and perhaps this was just to play up some of the drama in the story, but Kersjes makes Camp out to be more of a competitive, sport-like game then I’ve ever felt it was. His other job was that of a football coach, so maybe things just naturally seem to be more of a competition, more win-or-lose, to him. For all of the fuss he makes about the Best Mission award, for instance, half of the time I went to Camp, they didn’t even give it out! But for all of its minor faults (and they are minor), this book is simply fantastic. And, though I did find myself getting involved in each of the students’ stories as I read, what really made this book truly great to me is purely selfish; this book took me back to Space Camp! While I have wonderful, vivid memories of my time spent at Camp, I hadn’t realized how many of the finer-grained details of my experiences had faded somewhat. This book brought them back! While I could always remember, for instance, making a space station and giving a presentation on the Training Center Floor, details of it came flooding back to me, as did taking the “entrance exam” at Camp, and many other wonderful memories. This was simply a fantastic read!
So, again, I can do nothing but whole-heartedly recommend this book. If you’ve ever been to Space Camp, it’ll magically transport you there in an instant. If you’ve never been to Camp, the book acts as an excellent primer before you go. And if you just want a great, heartwarming story about a group of unlikely kids that make good, you’ll get that too!
And for you Space Camp movie fans out there pining for a SpaceCamp 2 (aren’t we all?!), you may just get it! The very last thing I read in this book was the inside jacket cover. I was quite thrilled when my eyes came across a sentence that read, “The film rights for [Mike Kersjes’] book have been sold to Jerry Bruckheimer for Walt Disney Pictures.” I have only one question regarding this: can I be an extra in it?!