At some point in every child’s primary school career they will learn about the Earth, Moon and Space. It’s a topic that excites and one that I’ve enjoyed teaching many times over the years. Alongside the science of our solar system there’s usually an opportunity to look at the exploration of space, the journeys that have taken place and the possibilities for the future. Like many other primary school teachers I’ve often combined the topic of space with biography writing, knowing that the life of Neil Armstrong inspires so many children to read and write. It comes as no surprise then at how saddened I was to hear of his passing earlier this week.
As a modern-day adventurer, Armstrong leaves an incredible legacy for children: showing how dedication, team work and bravery can lead to phenomenal results. He was a quiet man, who never exploited his celebrity, instead choosing a life of teaching and learning at the University of Cincinnati. To a generation of children (and particularly boys) growing up in the 1960s and 1970s he was a hero – an icon who shaped their play, inspired their reading and shaped their aspirations.
As one of those children touched by the achievements of the Apollo 11 team the first book that I reached for on hearing of Neil Armstrong’s death was The Sea of Tranquility by Mark Haddon, illustrated by Christian Birmingham. This beautiful picture book is an autobiographical account of Mark Haddon’s childhood – growing up as a little boy fascinated by space and the lunar missions.
Christian Birmingham’s beautiful illustrations capture the young Mark Haddon making a scrapbook called The Journey to the Moon; playing with a model space rocket; gazing out of his bedroom window at the moon. It is though, the carefully placed references in the visual text that make this book for me. On the first page Haddon is pictured wearing a blue and white striped t-shirt with a red pocket. Later in the text he is seen saluting for a photograph next to this t-shirt – now being used as a flag – as he ‘claims’ the snow-covered garden. In the same image we see an echo of the lunar landing in Haddon’s bootprints left in the snow. The t-shirt motif is used again later in the text – but where I shall leave for you to discover yourself.
Neil Armstrong has taken his last step on the Earth but his incredible journey to the moon remains an inspiration to children all over the world. He will continue to be a figure children want to read about and write biographies about. The Sea of Tranquility provides an autobiographical account showing them just how much Armstrong’s adventure to the moon inspired a generation of children who might just be their mums and dads.
Rachel Clarke, Coventry Primary English Consultant
Mark Haddon is best known as the author of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.”