Friday, August 16, 2019

Michael Collins: Forgotten Astronaut

Buckley, James Jr. Michael Collins: Forgotten Astronaut
August 27th 2019 by Jeter Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

There have been a huge number of books about the Apollo 11 moon walk since this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of that event, and all of them have contributed greatly to my knowledge of the space program. This biography takes a slightly different approach, concentrating on the one man of the three who did  not walk on the moon, Michael Collins. While the first section of the book is a fairly standard biography, mentioning Collins' early life and  giving lots of details about his military and flight experience, it gets very interesting when Collins enters the space program. The details of training, as well as descriptions of the rigorous process to even be chosen as an astronaut, are very interesting, and unlike anything I've read. The fact that the applicants were all white males is addressed, and a brief mention is given to women and people of color who were space pioneers. Probably the most fascinating part of the book was the description of the survival training the members of the Gemini and Apollo missions had to undergo-- in jungles and deserts! There was no guarantee that the modules would land in the ocean, so the crew needed to be prepared! I also enjoyed the depiction of the KC-135 cargo plane that would provide moments of weightlessness when it would fly straight up and then back down-- it's nickname was "the vomit comet"! The inclusion of more personal moments, such as Collins going to Dave Scott's house to help with his children when the Gemini 8 mission was in trouble, and his role in notifying Roger Chaffee's wife of his death, gives us insight into the personality of our subject. Where this book really shines, though, is the Apollo 11 mission through Collins' eyes, and the celebrations and tour afterwards through the same lens. This points out that history isn't monolithic, and that there are always lots of stories to be told about any event. There is just enough information about Collins' career after his stint in NASA to make me feel a sense of closure.
Strengths: I bookmarked a lot of pages, because there were so many small things that I learned. This will make the book appealing to readers who adore nonfiction, but the book also was a compelling read, with just enough information to keep it fast paced. I always tell my students that reading biographies is a great way to be allowed to be nosy about someone else's life, and this had a great balance of public and private life.
Weaknesses: This is more of a weakness of my students--I wish my students read more narrative nonfiction. For a while, I could get them to plow through some 42 page nonfiction books, but it's sometimes a struggle to get them to get through a reasonably long book like this one. Maybe now that they aren't allowed to use their cell phones during study hall, we will see a resurgence in nonfiction reading.
What I really think: I am going to start recommending books about the early space program to my readers who ONLY want to read about WWII, because all of the astronauts had a military background. Which is so obvious, but just blows my mind. I think it will do the same for my students.

My favorite moment yesterday was when three 6th grade boys came in. One said "We don't like to read, but my brother said you could help us find good books."

"Yeah," another chimed in, "since we're in middle school now, we want to read something besides Wimpy Kid."

Got the ring leader Korman's Chasing the Falconers and Joe Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson, one friend Horowitz's Stormbreaker, and the other Sherman's A Time for War.

Yes, I wear a lot of navy blue! This Liz Claibourne dress ($3) actually has a beige pattern. The cameo came from my best friend's mother's jewelry collection, and was amusing because I had one of my mother's almost exactly like it! (It has a hook on the back to make it a necklace.

Also, I don't have a smart phone, and my arms are not long enough for a good selfie with the iPad!


  1. I just wanted to say that your posts brighten my day every day. Thank you!

  2. The kids I’ve worked with love non fiction. It’s oft n the way to get reluctant readers interested.

  3. I just happened to come across your page because I have been looking for a book I read many years ago. I only know it's a novel and it was a narrative about a boy who was always thinking of one of the "forgotten" astronauts. At first I thought it involved Buzz Aldrin, but the one book that came up was not the one I remembered. So then I thought about Michael Collins, and when I put in a search lo and behold, here is your page talking about this book. While this isn't the book I am looking for, I am going to find a copy of this one. I am enjoying your writing immensely and I wish my daughters had been able to experience a teacher like you.