"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Cybils Nonfiction Reviews: Apollo 8 and The Grand Escape

The Cybils short lists are posted and my work is done for the year, almost. I still have a few books to write reviews for. Three of the fourteen books we sent on to the Round 2 judges I wasn't able to complete due to time constraints or, in one case, because I didn't have access to the book so had to judge it on the short preview provided by Amazon.com. So I don't feel qualified to write reviews for those books. But today I am completing my work by reviewing two fabulous books Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin Sandler and The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century by Neal Bascomb.

The authors of the books I am reviewing today are both excellent and prolific nonfiction writers for  junior/young adult readers. Martin Sandler, author of Apollo 8, has published over 60 books on a variety of topics, many that I had in my high school library. Last year his book, The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found was the Cybils winner for JH Nonfiction. He has won five Emmy Awards for his writing for television and two of his books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Neal Bascomb, author of The Grand Escape, has published eight books, all narrative nonfiction, and three of them are for young adults. All of his inspiring stories are focused on adventure or achievements of individuals.

During the height of WWI, Allied POWs wage their own little war with the enemy by planning and executing the escape from the notorious German Holzminden prison. It is a remarkable tale about a band of pilots and officers who plan an ingenious escape by tunneling  their way clear of the prison compound. Eventually 29 officers escaped. Nineteen were caught and returned to prison but ten men made their way to safety in Holland by foot. Their escape inspired their countrymen during the dark days of war and infuriated their enemy. The book is stuffed full of over 100 photographs to make the incredible story really come to life for readers of today.

When I started reading The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century I was a little confused. I kept picturing in my mind the POW prison break of WWII, made famous in a movie starring Steve McQueen, called The Great Escape. But that actual escape was made possible because of the knowledge learned by the earlier escape made by countrymen during WWI. Several of the officers who escaped Holzminden went to work informing their countrymen in techniques for escape and how, even if the attempt isn't successful, escapes take enemy manpower away from the front line which helps the war effort.

The book reads like the best adventure novel I've ever read. I highly recommend it for high school and adult readers.

Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything recounts the NASA mission that changed things for the USA space program. America was desperate to beat Russia to the moon and the country was experiencing one of the most turbulent years of its history. A boost to the morale of its people and a change the focus to something good was desperately needed. So on December 21, 1968 the first manned spaceflight to leave low Earth orbit, Apollo 8, was launched. Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the astronauts on board the flight that took them to the moon where they orbited ten times before returning to earth as heroes.

Willaim (Bill) Anders snapped the shot of the most iconic photo ever taken. It is of Earth as seen from the moon and is called Earthrise. The photo has “became a symbol of the Earth’s fragility, a reminder of just how small and insignificant the Earth’s place in the universe truly is.” The success of the Apollo 8 mission catapulted America's space program into high gear leading to the lunar landing of Apollo 11 just seven months later on July 20, 1969.

Earthrise, taken by Bill Anders from Apollo 8, Dec 24, 1968.
Students in both junior and senior high will enjoy this book which is full of beautiful, archival photos taken during the flight. Its publication is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, a lesser known but very important spaceflight.


  1. What a beautiful photo! You’ve been reading so many interesting books.

  2. The Grand Escape has been added to my TBR list! I love WWI and prisoner escapes are not a topic I've read much about.


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