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STEM Picture Book Review – Good Night, Oppy!

 

GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!

Written by James McGowan

Illustrated by Graham Carter

(Boyds Mills Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to be the third stop on the Good Night, Oppy! Blog Tour. I didn’t hesitate to join in when I heard that James McGowan’s debut picture book was about the Mars rover, Opportunity. I live less than a mile or so from NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) where the rovers are created, maintained, and communicated with so I was eager to learn more about Oppy. She was first launched in 2003 when I still lived abroad and was raising children, with little time to think about planetary exploration.

 

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Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

In McGowan’s story, he’s anthropomorphized the rover and introduced us to Oppy, one of two rovers on the Red Planet in 2004 searching for signs of past life. He blends the fictionalized narrative of hard-working and fun-loving Oppy, a solar-and-battery-powered robot roaming Mars and reporting back to her handlers on Earth, with fascinating scientific facts on most spreads. Plus, the onomatopoeia of the sound effect “Ping! Ping!” before a command from Earth adds an extra atmospheric touch that kids will enjoy repeating.

Readers learn that Oppy, as an Interplanetary Detective, remained in daily contact with “Teams of scientists and engineers …” who command and operate spacecraft using the Deep Space Network (a system of huge antennae throughout the solar system).  I always wondered how that worked! In fact, my friend’s husband was one of those JPL experts who, among other key responsibilities, received Oppy’s real-life signals on Earth. Equipped with cameras and other equipment for info transmission, Oppy’s job was to photograph and navigate Mars, report back and explore, explore and explore. In fact, over her lifetime she trekked twenty-eight miles providing invaluable information about the Red Planet for scientists and engineers.

 

 

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Interior art from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

Having successfully dodged many potential disasters, things changed for Oppy in June of 2018 when she went to recharge her battery. She needed a place where the sun could reach her solar panels unobstructed, but a powerful dust storm approached. Getting a message to Earth was impossible as layer upon layer of dust covered her panels. Oppy’s power was running low. With the sun obscured, she’d be unable to recharge. She managed to outrace the worst of the storm and transmit one last time to Earth before losing power forever.

What a game changer the rovers have been! Some of Oppy’s finds have been groundbreaking including her discovery of the mineral hematite on the surface of Mars meaning that at one time there had been groundwater. Another time Oppy got stuck in a sand dune and the process of getting her out required clever commandeering (see art above). That unfortunate experience also helped future rovers and technicians know what areas to avoid! Oppy was productive and persevered well beyond what the teams had ever expected. McGowan’s Author’s Note explains that both Opportunity and her sister rover, Spirit, were designed for ninety-day missions yet Spirit worked for six years while Oppy “worked for almost fifteen years!”

 

 

Good Night Oppy! int3
Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

Carter’s expansive illustrations in an array of red tones depict the vastness and dryness of Mars. Spreads are never stagnant and present an expressive Oppy on the go, investigating, soaking up the sun, and receiving commands from Earth that dictate which activities to pursue. I like how several times we’re transported to JPL command central for a different perspective of Oppy’s daily life. And, as the massive storm that ultimately ended Oppy’s career bore down on Mars, I felt sad when Oppy fell silent. By humanizing the rover, McGowan’s made Oppy’s contributions feel that much more important than they already are. Presenting Oppy’s story in this way makes it more compelling to younger readers and those more reluctant to pick up a STEM book. I learned so much and children will too. Such a great way to make kids care about our universe. Thank you and good night, Oppy! If you want to read more about Good Night, Oppy!, check out the other bloggers on the tour listed below.

 

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for coloring pages.

 

Oppy Blog Tour

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Power Down, Little Robot by Anna Staniszewski

POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT
Written by Anna Staniszewski
Illustrated by Tim Zeltner
(Henry Holt and Company, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

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In a pale green, star-filled cosmos, a little red robot is relaxing with snacks and television when his mother announces that it is time for bed. With a reluctant frown, he turns on his stalling program. Little Robot will do anything to avoid powering down! He lingers by the pantry, hoping for a can of oil. Then he dallies at the sink, brushing his cogs at half his normal rate. When he asks Mom Unit to read him a bedtime manual, she chooses the thinnest one on the shelf. She even has the nerve to fast-forward!

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Interior artwork from Power Down, Little Robot by Anna Staniszewski with illustrations by Tim Zeltner, Henry Holt Books ©2015.

 

Parents and kids will relate easily to this tale of bedtime resistance, told with pitch-perfect flair in Anna Staniszewski’s debut picture book. She has charmingly translated every kooky but common human toddler complaint about slumbertime into sweet, humorous robot-ese.

Mom Unit, firm but ever-patient, maintains her slight smile and weary half-lidded eyes as Little Robot moves into stalling phase part two. He needs his favorite toy -a riveted, antennae-sporting teddy. He wants to whisper secrets about the hummingbot. And Mom Unit must not forget to check the closet for rust monsters!

Little Robot resists and resists, but Mom Unit is determined to tuck him into his sleep module so he can power down and recharge for the next day. Can he continue battling bedtime, or will his programmed resistance to the fluffy pillows and soft blankets finally wear down?

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Interior artwork from Power Down, Little Robot by Anna Staniszewski with illustrations by Tim Zeltner, Henry Holt Books ©2015.

 

Illustrator Tim Zeltner depicts an ultra modern, space age robot home with crisp, metallic elements. He balances the stark interiors with soft-eyed, expressive characters that gently gleam. Zeltner’s images are created with acrylic on plywood using unique combinations of stains and glazes. The colorful boy bot and his purple-pink mother pop against the muted backgrounds.

If your young cyborg fights sleepytime with a vast array of ruses and excuses, this is the book for you! POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT will tame toddler tuck-in troubles and delight parents at the same time.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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