The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron

I enjoy books about home restoration. I once wrote a term paper passionately defending Martha Stewart's status as an American icon. I have a serious crush on Alton Brown and an even more serious one on Red Green. And while I am rarely tempted to actually attempt any of the projects that I read about or see on television, I always find the sight of other people creating stuff to be tremendously satisfying. I'm no psychologist, but I'm pretty sure this fixation on DIY projects sprang directly from my childhood love of books like Eleanor Cameron's The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

While the connection between my fondness for a children's sci-fi novel published in 1954 and my unbridled enthusiasm for the Food Network might seem a little weird, it's not such a stretch when you take a closer look at Ms. Cameron's book. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet opens with a young boy, David, reading the following notice in the newspaper:

"Wanted: A small space ship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or two boys, between the ages of eight and eleven. The ship should be sturdy and well made, and should be of material found at hand. Nothing need be bought. No adult should be consulted as to its plan or method of construction. An adventure and a chance to do a good deed await the boys who build the best space ship. Please bring your ship as soon as possible to Mr. Tyco M. Bass, 5 Thallo Street, Pacific Grove, California."

Without a moment's hesitation, David and his best friend Chuck march right out and build themselves a space ship. (Out of wood and tin cans. In three days. No sweat.) They introduce themselves to the mysterious Mr. Bass, who tells them about the tiny, Earth-orbiting satellite Basidium-X, where the Mushroom people live. Earth scientists haven't been able to see it because they don't have the right filter for their telescopes, but Basidium-X is actually quite near--only a fifth of the distance to the moon. Why, that would be like a walk in the park for two boys with a really well-built spaceship....

The round-trip journey to the Mushroom Planet is accomplished in six hours flat--two hours there, two hours to solve the crisis that is threatening the entire planet, two hours back. It's a fun section of the story, but the parts that stick out in my memory have always been the chapters where David and Chuck build their space ship, carefully space-proof it (with Mr. Bass's help), and pack their lunches for the trip. The boys' projects are done neatly, rapidly, and without waste. They all work perfectly. None of the adults in the story question why these projects are being done, they just lend a hand and get out of the way of the boys' careful, industrious labor. It's like this time I watched Martha Stewart decorate an entire cake with tiny, perfect marzipan vegetables: I may not have had the slightest idea why anyone would want to carve miniature carrots out of almond paste, but I got a Zen-like fulfillment out of watching her precise, seemingly effortless work.

There is no symbolism in The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, no deeper meaning to the boys' fantastic project. The two boys exhibit all the personality of a year-old Twinkie and, aside from a fleeting moment of angst over whether or not to expose the existence of the Mushroom Planet to the rest of Earth, the characters seem to have no inner dialogue. But while The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet may not be The Secret Garden, it's not Dick and Jane in Space, either. It's a well-written adventure story with a satisfyingly empowering emphasis on children doing things for themselves. Read it to your children, and maybe one day your kid will build an absolutely amazing tree house, or the world's fastest go-cart, or even (if you're lucky) make you a lovely birthday cake decorated entirely with exquisite little marzipan vegetables.

Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


06 Mar, 2005 12:43 PM @ version 0

I read these! I loved these books when I was a kid! And I laughed at the Martha Stewart shout-out. (I hope she's busily making marzipan carrots at home now, bless her heart.)

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