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Peter Parley Explains the Moon to Children, Part 2

Today’s guest post is by Jacqueline Coleburn and Anthony Mullan. Jackie is a rare book cataloger at the Library of Congress and is cataloging the Library’s rare children’s books.  Anthony Mullan is a volunteer who was formerly a reference specialist in the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. One of his current interests is 19th century American geographic education.

Reading Samuel Goodrich’s astronomy books for children in 2019, it is impressive to realize how much of the solar system he could explain to children in the 1840’s (7 planets!). Goodrich does his best to communicate that knowledge in a technically correct and engaging manner.

Glances at the Physical Sciences, 1844, page 12

Goodrich, as Peter Parley, tells his young friends, “[T]he moon has two motions. It revolves or turns on its axis, once in twenty-nine days … The earth flies along in its orbit around the sun … at the rate of eleven hundred miles a minute.  Now the moon, in order to keep up with the earth, and not be left behind, must hurry along at the same prodigious speed …” (Peter Parley’s Tales About the Sun, Moon, and Stars, 1842, page 38. According to moon.nasa.gov  the Moon orbits the Earth once every 27.32 days.  The rate of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is very close to the 1,100 miles per minute Goodrich teaches (See curious.astro.cornell.edu/)

His knowledge of the topography of the Moon was farther off the mark. “The moon is, in fact, a great world! It is round, with mountains, and rivers, and seas upon it.  If we could go near to the moon, we should see that it is a great round ball, or globe, with land and water upon its surface, like the earth upon which we live … (Peter Parley’s Tales About the Sun, Moon, and Stars, 1842, page 16) The Moon may appear to have mountains because of its craters, and the darker regions may appear to be water from so great a distance as the earth, but the moon is in fact dry, has no atmosphere, and cannot sustain life.

Peter Parley’s tales about the sun, moon, and stars, 1842, page 59.

Goodrich was intent on offering children useful knowledge.  At the same time, he fed his readers’ imaginations and respect for God’s creation. Toward the end of Peter Parley’s Tales About the Sun, Moon, and Stars, he exclaims, “What a stupendous subject of contemplation! – How countless are the worlds which God has created!”

If Goodrich had lived to see NASA’s successful mission to put a man on the Moon in 1969, what would have been his focus?  What would he have used to capture a young reader’s attention and sense of wonder?

Possibly this quotation from an interview of Neil Armstrong by Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose and Dr. Douglas Brinkley, Houston, TX – 19 September 2001.

Image Courtesy of NASA. The first footprints on the Moon will be there for a million years. There is no wind to blow them away. URL: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/home/F_Apollo_11.html

I was surprised by a number of things…I was surprised by the apparent closeness of the horizon. I was surprised by the trajectory of dust that you kicked up with your boot, and I was surprised that even though logic would have told me that there shouldn’t be any, there was no dust when you kicked. You never had a cloud of dust there. That’s a product of having an atmosphere, and when you don’t have an atmosphere, you don’t have any clouds of dust.

Maybe Peter Parley would have children imagining kicking their boots across the Moon, not raising any dust, and wanting to learn more.

Selected books

Peter Parley Explains the Moon to Children, Part 1

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