Welcome to Mars: making a home on the red planet
National Geographic Kids, Washington DC, 2015
96 pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm.
Interest Level: grades 3-6; Reading Level: 5.6
Lexile measure: 900
2.5 out of 5 stars
Recently, I have seen several magazines that have covers featuring “Mission to Mars” and the National Geographic Channel has a special airing soon as well. As I began to read Welcome to Mars I wondered if I had missed some recent announcement from NASA that dealt with sending a manned mission to Mars. From the tone of the book it really seems that this travel and colonization is imminent. I actually did some research and found that while there is a goal to send a human to Mars in the 2030s, there are no concrete space programs planned beyond further exploratory rover missions.
So while I am still not sure about the glut of recent Mars literature, I will speculate that it has something to do with increasing the PR for the space program and encouraging young people to still be fascinated with space travel. With that thought in mind, I tried to look at this book as it relates to building excitement and inquiry in a younger generation of potential astronauts and space travelers.
On the positive side, many elementary schools use National Geographic in classroom reading programs, so kids will be familiar and comfortable with the layout and style of the book. Here is the magazine:
As you can see, the colors and format are very similar to what can be found in the book (below):
There are lots of photographs included in the book, and the text blocks are kept to shorter lengths. These are appealing features to elementary age readers.
Overall though, I felt the book was confusing in its flow and intent. This is one of those books that I would question about placing in the nonfiction section of the library. The parts of the book that directly suggest you are a space traveler colonizing Mars, are clearly made up, and it wasn’t really clear from formatting or transitions which parts of the book were made up and which were informational. For example, on page 55 is a section titled “The Interplanetary Spaceport.” This section begins in the fictional realm by stating, “The two previous missions identified the best place to put our first spaceport,” however immediately following this there is factual information about the topography of Mars and areas that would be more habitable than others. Then we switch to fiction and read, “The spaceport we’re landing at will be located near the Martian equator,” and then more factual information.
As an adult, I struggled with the movement back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. On page 32 the text says “when you observe Mars through our telescope here on the cycler,” and I couldn’t remember if the cycler was real or imaginary. I had to flip back to page 20 to remind myself that it was a concept presented by Aldrin.
Welcome to Mars wouldn’t be one of the “must-have” books that I would recommend for an elementary school library. I feel that the purpose of the book is not clearly defined from the beginning for young readers and therefore gives them incorrect messages about the current state of the United State’s space program as it relates to exploring Mars.
An interesting side note is that the National Geographic Kids Magazine that features “Mission to Mars” is very well done, and even includes some of the same visuals as the Welcome to Mars book. The magazine article starts out clearly stating its purpose, “It’s the year 2035, and you’ve been selected to join NASA’s newest astronaut class. Your assignment: Travel to Mars…Here’s your guide to everything you need to know about surviving life on Mars.” Very concise in its purpose and the information that it shares with young readers, I would highly recommend the magazine article.