We Dream of Space

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We Dream of Space
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Release Date
May 05, 2020
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Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling author Erin Entrada Kelly transports readers to 1986 and introduces them to the unforgettable Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas in this pitch-perfect middle grade novel about family, friendship, science, and exploration. A great choice for readers of Kate DiCamillo, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Rebecca Stead.

Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.

Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.

The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.

Told in three alternating points of view, We Dream of Space is an unforgettable and thematically rich novel for middle grade readers.

We Dream of Space is illustrated throughout by the author.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Historical Events Portrayed in Fiction
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Bird, her twin brother Fitch, and their older brother Chase are all doing the best they can in 1986 Park, Delaware. They all have some interests; Bird likes machines and tinkering, Fitch likes arcade games, and Chase likes basketball but is struggling because he has been held behind a grade in school. Their parents are constantly fighting, and their mother has gone back to work at a time when families were still struggling a bit with the concept of women working outside the home and men being involved in the home. The family dynamics are especially hard on Bird, who feels like she somehow needs to make things better, even though she needs more emotional support than she is getting. When her science class starts studying the Challenger Space Shuttle and looking forward to the launch, she finds something with which she can identify, and her internal conversations with mission specialist Resnick help her through some rough times. Having a goal like being an astronaut is a good coping mechanism for having to deal with her toxic parents, her messy home life, and her mother's controlling attitudes toward food. She does find a good friend with a calm, ordered family life, and loves to visit there, even though it makes the chaos at home seem worse. When the Challenger disaster occurs, will Bird find the support she needs to make her own way in the world?
Good Points
There are lots of good details about daily like in 1986, and even the depiction of the family troubles seems to reflect some of the middle grade literature of the time. (Think Judy Blume, Norma Fox Mazer, Marilyn Sachs and Cynthia Voigt.) Ms. Salonga was a great character and her enthusiasm reminded me of Ms. Lowitt, my 6th grade science teacher. She also kept her eye on Bird. Like Kelly's The Land of Forgotten Girls, Hello, Universe, Blackbird Fly, and other titles We Dream of Space explores how tweens can manage to find a way forward through difficult circumstances.

The Challenger disaster was a big deal, and is frequently covered in the school curriculum. I can't tell you the number of times I have had to recount where I was when this occurred for students who have to interview someone who remembers it! This event is a major component of Planet Earth if Blue, but I haven't seen it elsewhere. This story is reminiscent of the great I Love You, Michael Collins, which is set two decades earlier and is a good choice for readers who want to know what the 1980s were like.
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historical fiction about family and pre-adolescent challenges
Overall rating
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WE DREAM OF SPACE is a highly engaging middle grade historical fiction. The book follows three siblings, Cash, Fitch, and Bird. Fitch and Bird are twins, and Cash is their older brother. All three are in seventh grade, since Cash failed the year before and is repeating. The book follows the lead up to the launch of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986, as well as the immediate fallout.

The book is filled with 80s nostalgia that parents will recognize (such as time at arcades and Star Trek/Wars). Ultimately, it is a story of sibling love and shared experience, as things are not always going well at home, and the siblings make their marks in different ways on the family dynamic (for better or worse). These ages are really formative and awkward, which is demonstrated well in the book.

What I loved: I love Bird's dreams of becoming a Shuttle Commander and her observational nature. The diagrams she draws also adds a cool STEM twist in the book. The characters felt really genuine and sympathetic, and they were intriguing to follow. We see their challenges and mistakes, as well as their approach to trying to make them better. There is also some bullying of other children, and this is played out with an ultimate consequence and the feeling of wrongness by one of the siblings.

What left me wanting more: There are a lot of major issues that are presented but not resolved, such as their parents fighting, which frequently boils down to sexism and misogyny (that the mother should do all the cooking and housework, her education was wasted, her value is in homemaking, etc.). These are valid points that are often still at play today, and I wanted more of a demonstration for the kids (in the book and reading in the present) that these are not the rules. Parents could do this through discussion.

There is also a point about interracial relationships being maybe unwelcome from parents, and I would have appreciated a heart-to-heart about these. Bird thinks about asking her parents because she knows this is an important question, but ultimately decides not to. Bird recognizes the differences between her parents and how they have made their family-life vs. one of her new friend's, and this contrast sort of speaks to some of these issues.

Another is the point about the importance of appearance and prettiness, which frequently comes up for Bird. For instance, her mother says her brothers can eat sweets and junk food, but not her; other people say being pretty is not her thing, but smart is (as if they cannot coexist); etc. This is somewhat resolved through the imaginary conversations she has with Judith Resnick. These are points that would all be great to discuss with children outside of the book. This book could be good for raising the discussions, but I would have appreciated more overt discussions of these and resources shown to children who might be reading. They are appropriate to the time period (and even sometimes now too).

Final verdict: Overall, WE DREAM OF SPACE is an enthralling middle grade read about siblings and the pre-adolescent experience.
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