Category Archives: Space books

“Dark Was the Night” – New book about Blind Willie Johnson and his music on Voyager I

An announcement from Gary Golio:

Black Blues Legend Blind WiIlie Johnson Blasts into Outer Space
in New Picture Book about His Soul-Stirring Song

 Ask Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Lucinda Williams and Jack White to name the slide-guitar player they most admire, and they’ll all say Blind Willie Johnson. What those musicians may not know is that one of his songs found its way to the depths of outer space. In Dark Was the Night – Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars, NY Times-bestselling author Gary Golio and Caldecott Honoree E. B. Lewis weave a magical tale of how the healing power of music can turn darkness into light.

Born in 1897, young Willie shone as he sang and played a cigar box guitar made by his father. But his bright childhood fell dark when he lost both his mother and his sight. Fortunately, his love of music led him back into the light. He began singing in churches and later brought his unique blend of gospel-blues to street corners all over Texas. Willie’s powerful voice, joined to the wail of his slide guitar, moved even more people when he cut some records and his songs were played on the radio. Yet by the time he died, he and his music were largely forgotten.

Then, in 1977, Willie’s haunting song, “Dark Was the Night“, was launched into space on the Voyager I space probe’s famous Golden Record. There, along with the many sounds and sights of planet Earth, is the soul-stirring song of a blind man, telling us not to be afraid of the dark, and reminding us that we are never really alone.

“An ode to a too-little-discussed musician and an excellent introduction to his amazing musical talent.”
Kirkus, *starred review*

“An inspiring story of one man’s commitment to lifting up himself and those around him with his music.
An American treasure who shouldn’t go unsung.”
Booklist

“Lewis’s expressive watercolors depict the subject’s humble country beginnings as well as the joy that he felt when he sang and played”
“A beautiful, timely tribute to a little-known musician and space venture.”
School Library Journal, *starred review*

Gary Golio is the author of the NY Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, winner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

E.B. Lewis is a fine artist and the acclaimed illustrator of over 70 books, among them Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson (Caldecott Honor Award), Talkin’ About Bessie by Nikki Grimes (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award), and The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (Orbis Pictus Award). He is also the recipient of the NY Times Best Illustrated Book Award, Kirkus’ Best Illustrated Book Award, and four additional Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards. Lewis teaches at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, and lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars[Amazon commission link]
Written by Gary Golio
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Published by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books
August 2020 • Ages 5-8 • 32 pages • $17.99 hardcover/$10.99 Ebook • ISBN: 978-1524738884

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Here is a short video about Johnson and his music on the Voyager spacecraft: Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and brilliant is that song drifting through space | Aeon Videos

Johnson’s recording of Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground:

Here is a nicely played cover of Dark was the Night (hat tip Behind the Black):

=== Amazon Ad ===

Dark Was the Night:
Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Backing Behind the Black

Writer, journalist, and blogger Bob Zimmerman tells me that it is his Birthday fund-raising time again at Behind The Black.

Check out Bob’s most recent Mars reports:

He will be on The Space Show tonight: Tue, 02/05/2019 – 19:00 | Robert Zimmerman.

And here is his latest space news update on the John Bachelor show: February 1, 2019 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast | Behind The Black

 

Listening to “Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8”

December 21st will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the first time humans left earth orbit to reach another celestial object. While the landing on the surface of the Moon by Apollo 11 dominates the public’s view of America’s lunar program, it was the orbiting of the Moon by the terrifically dangerous and milestone-making Apollo 8 mission that actually marked the triumph of the USA in the 1960’s “Space Race” with the Soviet Union.

I recently listened to Bob Zimmerman’s book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World. An audiobook version was released this year with a excellent reading by Grover Gardner. Bob nicely weaves a narrative of the Apollo 8 mission, from its conception to capsule splashdown, with captivating portraits of the three astronauts and vivid descriptions of the political and social upheavals of the time, especially the many dreadful events of the tumultuous year of 1968. (The book should disabuse young people of the notion that political polarization in the US today is something new or reaches the levels of other angry periods in the country’s history.)

The three astronauts – Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders – were the first to see earth from beyond low earth orbit. How the famous EarthRise photo came about is described in the book and answers the question of who actually took the picture.

The astronauts made a surprising but very appropriate reading during a widely viewed broadcast from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. The book tells the background story of how this came about.

The three space pioneers are still alive for the half century remembrances of Apollo 8 and Bob attended an event held in their honor last October at the Museum of Science and Technology in Chicago: Honoring the Apollo 8 astronauts | Behind The Black

We are blessed to still have them. Once again during the dinner presentation they talked of their mission, kidding each other repeatedly about what had happened, and talking about why they went and what they thought the future might hold. Borman was pessimistic about the future of space, but then he remains fixated on the concept of a government program for space. Anders meanwhile was in touch with the rise of private commercial space, and advocated that it is where the future lies.

Lovell was Lovell, as always a space cadet, enthused for the future exploration of space, no matter how we do it.

This event is likely only the beginning. Over the next year there are going to many similar events, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary the 1960s Apollo triumph, right through to the landing in July. To me, however, it will always be Apollo 8 that had the most historical impact. Everything that happened afterward merely reinforced what that flight taught us.

BTW: I had thought that George Mueller, head of the Office of Manned Space Flight during the Apollo era, played the key role in the decision to go to the Moon with Apollo 8. Mueller did successfully push the “all-up testing” approach in which the entire Saturn V would be tested altogether rather than incrementally, starting with dummy upper stages. This greatly reduced the number of test flights needed before the lunar missions could begin and was crucial in achieving JFK’s goal of reaching the Moon “before this decade is out“. However, as made clear in the book, it was in fact George Low, chief of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO), who proposed and championed the radical idea of going all the way to the Moon on just the third flight of the Saturn V, the first flight with a command module, and the first flight with a crew. For more about Low and his role in Apollo 8, see The Man Who Won the Moon Race – Air & Space Magazine.

Today NASA has little of its 1960’s daring and risk-taking culture demonstrated by Apollo 8. The agency, for example, indicated recently after another Russian Soyuz failure, that it would rather let the 100 billion dollar International Space Station fall into the atmosphere for destruction rather than permit astronauts to travel to the station in new American vehicles whose builders have not yet checked every last box in the mountains of certification requirements created by the agency’s vast multi-center bureaucracy.

Space exploration, development, and settlement will require endless risk-taking in the coming years but it appears the risks will be taken by participants in the private space sector, not by NASA.

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Science fiction comic mysteries by Jackie Kingon

If you are looking for some fun space reads during the holiday season, check out Jackie Kingon’s “science fiction comic mysteries”. She sent me the following excerpts of reviews for Chocolate Chocolate Moons:

“Kingon’s prose is often as snappy as her settings…delightful”
—Kirkus Review

“This book is provoking allegory with satirical elements that mock the weight loss industry and society’s view of eating as a whole.”
—Online Book Club

“A humorous romp, sure to please many a reader.”
—Midwest Book Review

And for Sherlock Mars:

Molly’s Bistro, owned by Earthling Molly Marbles, is doing well in Mars’ capital of New Chicago. Virtual Vittles, a virtual-reality restaurant, has opened nearby, but when its dining experience leaves customers hungry, they make a beeline for Molly’s place. She and Virtual Vittles owner Rick Frances eventually collaborate on a dining event; unfortunately, it ends with Rick found dead at Molly’s Bistro. Molly, who previously helped detectives solve a different mystery, works the murder case…An undeniably fun tale with a protagonist who can apparently handle anything…

—Kirkus Review

Listen to the Story of Apollo 8, when humans first left earth and orbited another world

Bob Zimmerman tells me his book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8, which tells the dramatic history of the first mission to send humans beyond earth orbit, is now available as an unabridged audiobook.  From the press release:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of mankind’s boldest adventures, the first manned flight to another world. To mark the occasion, an audio version of the first book about the mission of Apollo 8 has been released, narrated by Grover Gardner, a legend in the ears of fans of audiobooks all over the planet.

Says Valerie Anders, wife of Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders, “When I first read this excellent account, published before the end of the space shuttle era, I was delighted.”

Now, with the advent of high quality audio books and online merchants like iTunes and Audible, and the resonant and expressive voice of narrator Grover Garner, everyone can enjoy this recording of this pivotal moment in space history.

While more recent books have been published on the mission of Apollo 8 (most of which rely heavily on Zimmerman’s work), none has captured the impact the Apollo program had on the families of the astronauts nearly so well as “Genesis – the story of Apollo 8.” The new forward to “Genesis,” by Valerie Anders, contains a moving tribute to those pilots who never returned from their missions – not as faraway as the moon, but just as dangerous and far more frequent.

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