How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity's Greatest Adventure

by John Rocco (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade


This beautifully illustrated, oversized guide to the people and technology of the moon landing by award-winning author/illustrator John Rocco (illustrator of the Percy Jackson series) is a must-have for space fans, classrooms, and tech geeks.

Everyone knows of Neil Armstrong's famous first steps on the moon. But what did it really take to get us there?

The Moon landing is one of the most ambitious, thrilling, and dangerous ventures in human history. This exquisitely researched and illustrated book tells the stories of the 400,000 unsung heroes the engineers, mathematicians, seamstresses, welders, and factory workers and their innovations and life-changing technological leaps forward that allowed NASA to achieve this unparalleled accomplishment.

From the shocking launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik to the triumphant splashdown of Apollo 11, Caldecott Honor winner John Rocco answers every possible question about this world-altering mission. Each challenging step in the space race is revealed, examined, and displayed through stunning diagrams, experiments, moments of crisis, and unforgettable human stories.

Explorers of all ages will want to pore over every page in this comprehensive chronicle detailing the grandest human adventure of all time!

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A soaring tribute. 

School Library Journal

Gr 5 Up—This illustrated nonfiction book depicts each step of the scientific and engineering journey that facilitated the moon landing. The history of the Apollo program takes a back seat to the explanations of various rocket science concepts. This is often presented in a problem-and-solution format, which adds a narrative aspect to the otherwise technical texts. The hand-drawn illustrations move from portraits to technical drawings with remarkable ease. Every page provides graphic features, including illustrations or callout boxes. Many graphics-heavy nonfiction books can be overwhelming, but this work's aesthetic is classic and coordinated. The stories of the people and their process are given as much weight as the many diagrams and engineering marvels. Several of the collage illustrations and individual profiles show the people of color and women who helped with the NASA program while acknowledging the overall lack of diversity and problems within both the time period and institution. There are a lot of books about the Apollo program, but this one offers many unique elements that make it a good addition to a collection. VERDICT A gorgeously illustrated nonfiction book about the Apollo program and the space race that does its best to highlight diversity and the human story but focuses primarily on engineering. An engaging second-level purchase for medium and larger libraries.—Elizabeth Nicolai, Anchorage P.L., AK

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

This expansive illustrated history of the Apollo space program delves ambitiously into the collective efforts and engineering feats required to send the first astronauts to the moon. In David Macaulay-esque style, pages brim with labeled diagrams, close-ups, and cutaways showcasing myriad technologies, including the inner workings of a rocket engine and the intricacies of spacesuit design. The book's seven sections profile many lesser-known scientists, engineers, technicians, and seamstresses who comprised a workforce 400,000 strong. Scientific principles also get full billing, often accompanied by simple experiments easily conducted at home. Using realistic colorized drawings--many replicated from archival documents and photos--Rocco (Big Machines) maintains a consistent, accessible aesthetic throughout, while present-tense narration creates an exigent tone. In a culminating chapter about the Apollo 11 mission, for example, everyone involved "hop and pray that the parts they built, the stitches they sewed, and the programs they wrote and wove will all work perfectly." This paean to ingenuity and collaboration, which also functions as a rocket science primer, is nothing short of stellar. Research notes, extensive source lists, a further reading list, acronyms, and an index conclude. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.


Starred Review
A triumphant undertaking that places readers in the historic moment.


Starred Review

Rocco delivers a strikingly beautiful and highly informative account of the United States's audacious effort to send human beings to the moon.

Review quotes

[Rocco] focuses on heroes from a diferent realm. . . . [and] make[s] clear the risks and dangers of the project. —The Washington Post

As an astronaut during the Space Shuttle and International Space Station eras, I stood on the shoulders of these innovating pioneers. This fascinating book illuminates the hard work and risks taken in service of one of the crowning achievements of our history in space. —SCOTT KELLY, former NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station 

This spectacular book is going to inspire future generations of problem solvers and dreamers, whether it is to venture back into space or to look more closely at the seemingly overwhelming challenges we confront right here on Earth. Nothing short of stunning! —DAVID MACAULAY, Caldecott Medal winner and co-creator of the New York Times bestseller The Way Things Work

The extraordinary passion, ingenuity, and persistence of the 400,000 people who turned an 'impossible' dream into reality leap off every page of John Rocco's beautifully illustrated, thoroughly researched, and lucidly written book. —ANDREW CHAIKIN, author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts

How We Got to The Moon is for everyone, the thousands on the firing line, those who developed the tools and the dreamers who wrote the books on how it could be done. It captures the time and the people not just for my generation but for all generations to come. —GENE KRANZ, retired NASA Flight Director of Apollo 11 

John Rocco
John Rocco is a New York Times Bestselling author and illustrator of many acclaimed books for children, including Wolf! Wolf!, winner of the Borders Original Voices Award for best picture book; Moonpowder; Blizzard; and Blackout, a winner of the Caldecott Honor. Rocco also illustrated Whoopi Goldberg's Aliceand the covers for Rick Riordan's internationally bestselling series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, The Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. He also was the illustrator for both #1 New York Times Bestsellers Percy Jackson's Greek Gods and Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes. Most recently, Rocco's first book of nonfiction, How We Got To The Moon, was longlisted for the National Book Award.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
October 20, 2020
BISAC categories
TEC002000 - Technology & Engineering | Aeronautics & Astronautics
Library of Congress categories
Project Apollo (U.S.)
Space flight to the moon
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
Honor Book

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