The Daily Camera – September 28, 2004
Author: Mary Butler – Camera Staff Writer
Jeffrey Bennett once dreamed of becoming an astronaut like Neil Armstrong and the others who flew the famous Apollo missions that landed on the moon six times between his 10th and 13th birthdays.
The 45-year-old Boulder astrophysicist, teacher and author never made it to space.
Instead, he sent his strapping black-and-tan dog, Max, in his first children’s book, “Max Goes to the Moon,” published in spring 2003. Max’s next imaginary adventure will take the 90-pound rottweiler to the Red Planet. “Max Goes to Mars” is due out this summer.
About 5,000 copies of the book have been sold and NASA distributed 1,000 copies of “Max Goes to the Moon,” in free “Blast Back to School” packets for school children. The Parents’ Choice Foundation, the nation’s oldest nonprofit evaluator of children’s books, awarded the book a “recommended” seal in August.
“Two things have always bothered me,” said Bennett, who has taught space science at both primary school and graduate school levels, including at the University of Colorado.
“Children’s space books are notorious for getting the facts wrong. And most science textbooks are designed like mini! -encyclopedias. There’s no story to go along with the information.”
Bennett, who lives in north Boulder with his wife, Lisa, and their two children, set out to change that trend when he began writing college textbooks in 1993 on topics such as quantitative reasoning and math skills.
After he had written four textbooks, Bennett’s editor, Robin Heyden, decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Heyden told him she’d always wanted to edit children’s books. Bennett said he always wanted to write children’s books. The two teamed up to form Big Kid Science publishing.
The next challenge, Bennett said, was to come up with a good story.
“Max Goes to the Moon,” came to Bennett one day when he was on a walk with his then 6-month-old son, Grant, and Max, the dog he and Lisa adopted when they were dating.
Max, a gentle giant who in real life affably endures young children attempting to ride on his back and win outmatched tug-of-war games, seemed ! a perfect hero, Bennett said.
The Apollo missions of Bennett’ s youth — which were the last to send man to the moon — inspired him to center the tale around a modern-day moon landing. Max’s fictional sidekick, Tori, was based on a local girl, Maddy Hemmeter, who is the daughter of a friend. Maddy was 9 at the time and an aspiring astronaut.
Boulder provides a scenic backdrop for parts of the story — the opening scene takes place on Pearl Street and the foothills make several appearances.
Bennett began the book, “This is the story of how Max the Dog helped people return to the moon — this time to stay.”
In the end, the world’s nations collaborate to build a moon colony. Bennett wrote, “The beautiful views of Earth from the moon made everyone realize that we all share a small and precious planet.”
Sophisticated young readers can refer to one of 19 short educational side stories included on the book’s pages that give behind-the-scenes information. In, “Why Build a Moon Colony,” Bennett tells readers! about the real-world benefits of a such an idea including the ability to mine the energy source helium-3, which is rare on Earth.
“Some scientists believe this gas could be used as fuel for power plants that would generate energy (by nuclear fusion) with little pollution or radioactive waste,” Bennett wrote.
He said the book’s basic story caters to young children, but kids as old as 12 can enjoy the story, thanks to the side stories, which explain topics ranging from the phases of the moon to the difference between rockets and airplanes.
Maddy, who modeled for the book’s illustrations of Tori, agreed.
“It’s a really good story. I liked it a lot,” said Maddy, who is now 13 and a student at Platt Middle School.
“Although it’s not as realistic, with a dog going to the moon, it’s cool for little kids to think of it that way and know that not only humans can go into space.”
Indeed, animals such as mice, monkeys, dogs and cat! s traveled into space long before man. Science experiments have continued to bring the animal kingdom into space.
For instance, hundreds of worms, known as C. elegans, were the only survivors of the tragic Columbia mission that killed seven astronauts, including University of Colorado graduate Kalpana Chawla, in February 2003.
Lisa Lusero, who coordinates visiting authors for Denver’s Logan School for Creative Learning, a private school for children in grades K-8, said the book’s attention to scientific details helped pull kids into the story.
“There’s a lot of really great science,” Lusero said. “Some of our younger kids were deeply fascinated and were excited by learning about how the temperature can change so much just by being in the shadows of the moon.”
The kids also enjoyed thinking about how cool it would be to put a dog in a space suit and play Frisbee on the moon, she said.
“They were feeling for Max and rootin’ for Max,” she said. “That was fun.”
But the best part of Bennett’s vi! sit to the school last year, she said, was getting to meet Max.
Bennett and Max visited several schools to read from the book before Max was diagnosed with bone cancer. The 9-year-old rottweiler has since had surgery to remove the tumor from his shoulder and is recovering. Bennett said Max should be up to making more appearances for, “Max Goes to Mars.”
“Everyone wanted to meet him,” Lusero said. Some of the children asked whether Max had really traveled to the moon, a frequent question when Bennett visits classrooms.
“You really can’t beat a visiting dog that’s been to space,” she said. “The kids loved him.”
Copyright, 2006, The Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.