Allison's Book Bag

Space Carnival: The Story Behind Our Space Trips, written by Dr. Lee Mountain and illustrated by Dane Love

Posted on: November 10, 2012

A note from Andy, your guest reviewer for the next month:

I will be supporting Allison in two ways throughout November as she participates in National Novel Writing Month. First, I will do my best to stay out of her way. Second, I am taking on her blog duties by writing four or five guest reviews and possibly some other posts.

Start with the space race of the 1960s. Add a carnival. Throw in a little boy and a stray puppy. Now add Thor, a centrifuge, and a mermaid. Oh, yeah – and don’t forget the spinner. I mean a real spinner, built into the book. You’re going to need it, because your journey through this story is entirely in your hands.

The book is Space Carnival: The Story Behind Our Space Trips. If after reading my review you are determined to get your hands on this book, you’ll have to look for it online at sites like Abe Books or hope to stumble upon a copy at a garage sale. My apologies. It’s not really fair of me to review a book that for the most part is not available, but I just can’t review my childhood favorites without including Space Carnival.

Space Carnival - Cover

My old, beat-up copy of Space Carnival

Space Carnival is an interactive book – a Spin-A-Tale book, to be precise. To be even more precise, it’s “Another Spin-A-Tale Book,” according to the cover. But where are these other Spin-A-Tale books? My Googling has been fruitless. Hmm. Perhaps it was intended to be a series, but it just never took off? (“Took off.” Heh heh. Space puns.)

Space Carnival, published in 1970, is not the first interactive book. The idea for interactive books was conceived in the early 1940s, educational branching-path books emerged in the late 1950s, and fiction “gamebooks” began showing up in the late 1960s. There, that’s enough education for one day. Let’s get this carnival started.

On the first page of Space Carnival, our hero, Joe, has arrived at the space carnival and must choose one of five labeled doors: The Spinner, The Oven, The Pit, The Crush, and The Squeeze. “Now Joe was buying his ticket, now walking toward the five doors. A little dog came running up behind him. He spotted the puppy and tried to wave him away. Then he opened…” Which door should Joe open? Let’s help him decide by spinning our spinner…


Oh no, it’s The Squeeze! Joe finds himself in a small room with a small door. He goes through the door to a smaller room with a smaller door. This is a space carnival? What’s with these small rooms and small doors? What do they have to do with space travel? Joe goes through the small door and then the smaller door, into a tiny room with a tiny hatch. A sign says “The first astronauts squeezed through hatches this size to get into their Mercury capsules.” Ah, so there’s the space connection. Joe goes through the hatch and finds himself at the top of a corkscrew slide. Down he goes, and almost bumps into…


…a spacecraft! Here Joe meets twins named Castor and Pollux. The twins take Joe for a ride in the spacecraft, which they dock with an unmanned capsule. They land and Joe goes down a hallway until he reaches…


…an ejection seat! With each spin of the spinner, Joe learns something new about space or space travel, and often gets to experience some aspect of astronaut training – exciting stuff for young boys and girls who are happy to spend hours daydreaming about a career in space, or a day at a space carnival. But just as any container of your favorite ice cream is too small, Space Carnival is too short. It’s twenty pages long, but because of its interactivity you don’t read every page – you read one of the first five pages, then one of the second five pages, etc., and so your visit to the space carnival always consists of four stops. But also because of its interactivity, you can immediately read it again and have entirely different adventures. Or if you’re impatient you can read it straight through. But of course that would be cheating.

Space Carnival - Inside

Don’t get too attached, little girl – Joe will dump you for the next lunar module he sees.

I’ve gone far too long without mentioning the book’s author and illustrator. The author is Dr. Lee Mountain, and the illustrator is Dane Love. Although the back cover of Space Carnival says that Dr. Mountain is a nationally known children’s author, I can find very little information about her. Here’s what I do know: She is a former public school teacher and reading specialist, is currently a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Houston, and has written a number of educational books. As for Dane Love, I can’t find anything. Which is a shame, because I seriously love Love’s (er, sorry) artwork. When I visit The Oven with Joe, I can feel the heat coming from Love’s illustration –  sweat pours down Joe’s face, and the stray puppy looks ready to faint. Another illustration shows Thor swinging his giant purple hammer. It sounds a little nutty, but I’ve always loved the way Love has rendered the hammer’s motion. The combination of Dr. Mountain’s writing, Love’s illustrations, and of course the interactive element of the spinner, make the space carnival feel like a real place that I want desperately to visit. Yes, even now.

Few books from my childhood have stayed with me, but I’ve always kept a firm grasp on my copy of Space Carnival. It’s certainly seen better days – the pages are separating from the spine, and the spinner doesn’t line up with the hole. Such is the price of love.

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4 Responses to "Space Carnival: The Story Behind Our Space Trips, written by Dr. Lee Mountain and illustrated by Dane Love"

One of my faves too. Hi, Lee! You don’t know how many mornings I spent curling up in my parents’ bed spinning and taking Joe on adventures!

I have been looking, and looking, and looking for the name of this book which I remember from my childhood for ages… endless google searches of “space” and “spinner” and any word or phrase I could think of to describe this book. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this, I LOVED this book, and now, finally, I know what it was called and maybe I can even find a copy!

Bill, great to hear from you! One of my hopes in reviewing Space Carnival was that it would be found by people who had forgotten its name.

As you’ve probably already discovered, a number of copies of Space Carnival are available through online site such as AbeBooks — most copies run around $20. (I plan to get another copy for myself one of these days.)

You might also be interested in my interview with the author of Space Carnival, Lee Mountain. I just added a link to it to the end of the book review.

Thanks again for posting your comment. I’m happy to know that I’ve helped one person reunite with this great book.

P.S. Hopefully you won’t mind, but I will be forwarding your comment to Lee.

What a pleasure to meet another reader out of the past! Correspondence like this brings back all the fun of writing Space Carnival. Thank you for responding to Andy’s wonderful review. Your comments made my day!
Cheers, Lee


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