With co-author Freeman, Kelly takes readers back to 1975, when long-distance telephone calls cost money, calculators were expensive luxuries, and Americans fizzed with excitement about the U.S. space program.
Former astronaut Kelly takes a cool biographical fact—he and his identical twin brother, Scott, are the only siblings ever to fly in space—and spins it into an absorbing adventure. To get visiting 11-year-old twins Scott and Mark out of his hair, Grandpa suggests they build a spaceship. Taking him at his word, they enlist the help of brainy Jenny O’Malley and their neighbor Barry Leibovitz, a math nerd, and so begins a summer of clandestine research and construction. Eventually the team expands to include Howard Chin, who has a computer, and Lisa Perez, whose dad owns an auto body shop. The team studies physics at the library and scrounges for materials, promising all the adults they won’t blow anything up. The kids’ enthusiasm is infectious, and Kelly’s expertise comes through in telling, kid-friendly details, as when Barry’s older brother, a former pilot and Vietnam POW, takes them on a trip to an amusement park to determine which kids have the right stuff. If the characters often speak in infodumps, it’s because they are learning along with readers, and the information imparted is staged just right.
Intriguing subject matter and rock-solid pacing combine for a nifty adventure—one that may well spark a new generation of astronauts. (further reading) (Historical fiction. 8-12)