(The Washington Post)

How far away does the moon seem to you? The distance changes within every month, but it averages out at 240,000 miles, far enough that it took more than 400,000 American men and women nearly a decade to figure out how to send astronauts there and back. The four books here show how many challenges — including the basic laws of gravity — were involved as well as how much more there is to explore.


Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything

By Martin W. Sandler. Age 10 and older.

When President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, Americans became determined to win the space race against the Soviet Union. In this well-researched book, Martin Sandler focuses on the Apollo 8 spaceflight of December 1968, in which three astronauts attempted to go beyond the Earth’s orbit to orbit the moon. Along with historical background, Sandler also gives a sense of what it was like to be on that mission, in the capsule, for more than six days. For starters, the flight simulators didn’t quite prepare them for liftoff on the Saturn V rocket. Said astronaut Bill Anders, “I felt like a rat in the jaws of a giant terrier.” And just as the crew’s photographs and telecasts brought their discoveries into American homes, this book fulfills a similar mission for readers born decades later.


Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon

By Suzanne Slade. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Ages 10 to 14.

In “Countdown,” Suzanne Slade and Thomas Gonzalez celebrate the teamwork that went into getting the first men onto the surface of the moon and back again in the summer of 1969. Alongside images that manage to seem both true to life and dreamlike, Slade clearly explains the engineering objectives (“designing, building and testing four new crafts . . . that must work flawlessly together”) as well as the emotional ups and downs experienced by the team. And although the story is full of great risks and bravery, Slade and Gonzalez also make room for lighter moments, as when the astronauts listen to music from a floating cassette-tape player.


To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure

By Buzz Aldrin with Marianne J. Dyson. Ages 8 to 12.

In November 1966, Buzz Aldrin went into space for the first time. Less than three years later, he and Neil Armstrong became the first two humans to walk on the moon. In addition to featuring Aldrin’s memories of these adventures, this book includes lots of photographs and pop-up models of such devices as the Saturn V rocket. The book’s pullout cards discuss those exciting years from the point of view of Aldrin’s daughter. Not yet a teenager, she and her two brothers got to stay up late and watch their father’s moon walk on one of the first color TVs in their neighborhood.


Space: The Definitive Visual Catalog of the Universe

By Sean Callery and Miranda Smith. Ages 8 to 12.

Through photographs and other images, this beautiful, information-packed book reveals all sorts of things we can’t see with our own limited vision. The color of stars, for instance. Above a photo taken with the Hubble telescope, the authors explain how a star’s color (red, white, yellow, orange or blue) indicates its surface temperature. This book contains a universe of discoveries — from our own solar system to the dark matter that astrophysicists are investigating from beyond.