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A boy named David reads an ad in a newspaper, asking for boys between the ages of eight and eleven to build a spaceship, from materials they happen to have around and without adult help, for an exciting mission to outer space. David and his friend Chuck oblige, and are selected for the mission by the peculiar neighbor Mr. Bass, who explains that he is a mushroom person who grew from a spore and that he senses that his people, on the unknown child-sized planet Basilicum X, are in need of help. He helps them space-proof their ship and suggests that they bring an animal mascot, and off they go.

The mushroom people are indeed in need of help, but luckily (or was it only luck?) one of the items Chuck and David brought with them is exactly what they need. Unlike many children’s fantasies of this time period, the conclusion does not involve a mind-wipe, the suggestion that it was all a dream, or anything of that nature.

This is a children’s classic from 1954. This is my first time reading it, which is too bad. I enjoyed it as an adult, but I would have loved it at age eight or so. It precisely captures a particular type of child’s adventure, when you and your best friend equip a cardboard box with provisions for a journey, and take off for outer space. (Or Fairyland, or Narnia.) The details of the mushroom planet are very much like something a child might imagine, as is the solution to the mushroom people’s problem – a child’s idea given an adult’s scientific gloss.

Amusingly, all the adults are happy to support David and Chuck’s expedition, because (the reader understands) they assume the boys will just be camping out overnight. David doesn’t realize this, and is both pleased and baffled that his mother doesn’t object to his journey into space.

The language is very old-fashioned (“Gee whillikers!”), and so is the whole idea of scattering tons of accurate scientific details amidst the fantasy, clearly with a didactic intent. (In the sense of teaching, not of preaching.) I enjoyed learning new things from books when I was a kid, and I enjoyed reading this book, but I’m surprised that it’s still in print. The whole idea of scattering bits of useful or interesting knowledge into children's books is something that seems to have gone way, way out of fashion.

When I opened my copy, purchased at a used bookshop, I found that one of my SAT students had written her name on the inside cover! It was a coincidence (or was it?) that fit right in with the off-kilter, quirky spirit of the book.

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet


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