Jan 13, 2009
View my page on Space Art Network
"Collecting Space Stuff" Astronomy 30(2) February 2002. pp
"Collecting Space Stuff" Astronomy 30(2) February 2002. pp 70-74.
Spoke at CONJECTURE 2002 about children's space books of the 1950s on Sunday Oct 20, 2002.
"Early Space Flight. John Sisson of UC Irvine has created terrific web page about early visions of spaceflight, including material from Ley, Disney, and our own G. Harry Stine." from Rec.models.rockets (Model Rocketry site)
"In the children's book By Spaceship to the Moon (1952), a massive, domed cylindrical spacecraft is seen hovering high above lunar craters. John Polgreen's illustrations for Space Pilots (1957) show regular Joes boarding a rocket the height of an office tower. Those earthlings are likely on their way to a moon colony or a science camp orbiting Venus. Such images helped to shape the baby-boomer fascination with the cosmos. The vivid illustrations and the books in which they appeared predicted that one day we would visit such stellar destinations as the jagged mountains on the moon and yellow oceans on Saturn. John Sisson of University of California's Science Library has collected the best of those drawings for this online retrospective. He begins in 1883, long before space exploration, and follows the fad through the space age to 1974, when our sights were set on Mars. The trip is visually stunning and thought-provoking, complete with links to short bios about the artists. (**** site)" from the Jan/Feb 1998 issue of Sympatico NetLife
"Dreams of Space. Classic space art from the 1940s through 1970s. Includes a history of space art and reproductions from books and magazines." from Getty ArtsEdNet, Mars Millennium Project.
"Dreams of Space: Space Art in Children's Books from the Fifties to the Seventies. If you're a baby boomer, the child of a baby boomer, or just friends with one, you're bound to enjoy this whiz-bang collection of rocket ships, astronauts, and moon landings. America's fascination with space reached a fever pitch in the mid-Fifties, and many future NASA astronauts and engineers grew up on books with titles like Space Ship to the Moon and You and Space Travel. Many of the illustrations proved prescient -- witness the space shuttle-like rocketship on the cover of the 1956 book The Real Book About Space Travel." From Yahoo Picks of the Week (7-31-2000).
"Dreams of Space: If you're a baby boomer, you will enjoy this site. John Sisson of University of California's Science Library has collected the best space art from the 40s to the 70s, mostly from children books. The illustrations in these books show facts (as they were known) mixed in with the fantasy of space flight and led many of the readers of these books to "dream of space". And amazingly, many of these illustrations are not far off the mark." Space Site of the Week Aug 13, 2000 from Space Careers.
"Travel to outer space has long been a dream of mankind's. Before there were planes and trains and rocket ships, the desire to go "out there" has been on the minds of both young and old. This desire was reflected in our entertainment medium. Movies and books about space travel were very commonplace. Today's FamSite looks at a site that takes a nostalgic look at those dreams. The site is called Dreams of Space. It is a site that is dedicated to the artwork of science fiction and space stories that were written before science fiction became science fact. Here you can look and admire at some of these covers. They reflect an innocence of how little we understood about the complexities of space travel; yet do not diminish the adventures involved. There are a wide-ranging group of authors presented here, from Willy Ley to Walt Disney. The emphasis is on the 1950's, but the years 1883 to 1974 are mentioned as well. The information contained here is quite interesting and entertaining. Enjoy your visit here today." From World Village: Family Site of the Day Aug. 20, 2000.
"COOL IMAGES: Let's Go to the Moon! Dissatisfied with the new millennium? If you're still waiting for your personal rocket pack and Mars vacation, or if you believe the international space station really ought to be doughnut-shaped, perhaps it's because you spent some formative years reading the books resurrected in Dreams of Space. The lovingly compiled collection presents hundreds of illustrations from children's space-travel books published between 1883 and 1974, with a focus on those post-1950. Follow the chronological arrangement to watch spaceship images evolve from rounded pods to winged rockets to sleek, staged rockets with landing capsules. Satellite books boom post-Sputnik, and the city-under-a-dome theme emerges in the late 1950s. The collection includes books by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Wernher von Braun. Perhaps you'll recognize a favorite Golden Book or Tomorrowland image that inspired your inner astronaut." from Science August 18, 2000 Netwatch.
"Fly to the Moon. This Web site is a collection of hundreds of illustrations from children's space-travel books between 1883 and 1974, but mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, representing facts known at the time, and assembled by John Sisson. There is also a look at the future and a link to careers in space science." from Science Museum of Minnesota's Goings On-Line page (Aug 24, 2000).
"Thursday 8-24-00. Space Art in Children's Books 1950s-1970s contains a multitude of beautiful images, a great many of them familar from my childhood. Those without the patience to wade through all of it should focus on Clifford Geary, Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell." from RASH Weblog.
"Have I linked to this site of space art from 1950s-1970s children's books before? Oh well, it's so worth seeing again. Check out what they envisioned we'd be up to by the 1980s. Boy, were they wrong. When I was born, in late 1967, we had not yet been to the moon. Before I was out of childhood, we'd made our last trip and now we show no desire to go again. It's like this whole big arc of space mania rose and fell and now sits stagnant, all before I was really coherent about what was going on. I wonder what images my children will someday form of space travel. Will it just seem like a silly fad, like Australian bands?" from Pop Culture Junk Mail (8-18-00).
"Infinity and beyond -- It's been theorized that most of the high technology we enjoy today has been inspired by science fiction. Today's scientists were kids in the '50s, '60s and '70s and were exposed to all kinds of fanciful ideas. Many of them were children's books about what life might be like in the next century, and you can get a nostalgic look at the illustrations from those books at Dreams of Space: Space Art in Children's Books at http://sun3.lib.uci.edu/~jsisson/john.htm. This University of California, Irvine site will evoke fond memories for baby boomers.The images are drawn from comic books, textbooks and children's fiction." -- Dwight Silverman. HoustonChronicle.com August 9, 2000.
Oct 12, 2000
"Space dreams".(Industry Trend or Event)
By Matthew Cobb.
"Dreams are maps". said US astronomer and space visionary Carl Sagan. He was talking about the way that children can be inspired to follow a career, in particular in the space sciences. John Sisson's site -- http://sun3.lib. uci.edu/-jsisson/john.htm -which focuses on the covers and illustrations from children's books about space over the period 1949-1974 shows why so many young people -- mainly boys -- took to dreaming about space. The result is a highly atmospheric mixture of pulp and science fiction, from the bright green fantasy rocket ship on the cover of The Big Book of Space, to the highly technical drawings inspired by Wernher von Braun's projects that appeared in Colliers magazine and in fact outlined the future US manned space programme. Divided into five time periods, each corresponding to developments in space travel, the site shows not only how our view of space changed as it became increasingly real, but also illustrates how different graphic styles shaped that view. There are short biographies of most of the artists and links to a number of other "space art" sites. Modest and straightforward in its form, the site succeeds admirably. Sisson, who works at the Science Library of the University of California. started to collect this amazing material in the 1980s when he realised that he would never live on a space station or visit Saturn for breakfast. As well as being required surfing for those interested in space travel, this site is a must for anyone who was a child. (from ComputerWeekly.Com).
Jan 31, 2001. (in Dutch)"Jongensboeken gingen vroeger niet zelden over het jaar 2000. Stoere helden beleefden spannende avonturen op de maan, in raketten of elders in het zonnestelsel. Ze vochten tegen robotten en buitenaardse wezens. Inmiddels is de maan al tig keer bezocht en is het 2001. Reden om terug te blikken, zo blijkt uit de vele sites over 'space art in children's books'. De tekeningen zijn, zo blijkt uit de titel, tot kunst verheven. (from N R C H A N D E L S B L A D - M E D I A)
8/6/2002. "Now for todays Internet Tip of the Day. Checkout Dreams of Space at sun3.lib.uci.edu/~jsisson/john.htm. It is a site that is dedicated to the artwork of science fiction and space stories that were written before science fiction became science fact. Here you can look and admire at some of these covers. They reflect an innocence of how little we understood about the complexities of space travel; yet do not diminish the adventures involved." (from psciTV Daily News Transcript 8/6/2002 Indiana, USA)
SCIFI.COM Science Fiction Weekly's Site of the Week November 18, 2002. Dreams of Space (http://sun3.lib.uci.edu/~jsisson/john.htm): Though it may be difficult for younger fans to imagine, there was a period not terribly long ago when the idea of traveling to the moon, or even into outer space, was considered science fiction. For children growing up at that time, the sparks that frequently ignited an interest in SF—and, more often than not, real-life science, too—were colorful books filled with drawings of complex space stations and futuristic spaceships. Dreams of Space chronicles those inspiring images, focusing not on the juvenile fiction literature of the day, but rather the rosy forecasts of humanity's imminent conquest of the cosmos. The site is divided into five sections, highlighting both cover art and internal graphics. "Imagination" showcases books published prior to 1949, with "Preflight" looking at works issued from 1949 to 1953 and "Countdown" concentrating on volumes printed between 1954 and 1956. Tomes from the dawn of the Space Age (i.e., 1957 to 1960) are covered in "Liftoff," while publications from 1961 through 1974 are brought to light in "Flight and Touchdown." Seminal titles like The Conquest of Space (1949) and The First Book of Space Travel (1953) are featured, along with dozens of lesser-known yet equally inspired illustrations. Among these relatively uncelebrated images are striking black-and-white drawings from By Rocket to the Moon (1931), the lush designs of Space Flight: The Coming Exploration of the Universe (1959) and a pair of sketches from The Next 50 Years on the Moon (1974) that are optimistically captioned "We're into the 1980s or perhaps the early 1990s. Actual construction of a permanent lunar colony has begun." Book-jacket text excerpts and a short history of outer-space art are also available, plus two separate indexes, one presenting thumbnail biographies of important artists and illustrators and another offering information on various authors and editors. Maintained by John Sisson, Dreams of Space is a fascinating site that ingeniously documents how imagery that was once kid stuff ultimately became, as Carl Sagan might have said, true "starstuff." — by Jeff Berkwits
October 20, 2003. Out of This World "There's something magical about space images from the era before man actually made it into space. The deco-influenced rockets of that period are nothing short of wonderful. Seeing images of a biplane flying to the moon is naive enough to be quite charming. This site is packed with imagery like this and, like a good book, you won't be able to put it down".--by Jules Allen. St. Petersburg Times.
July 18, 2008.
Children's Space Flight Book Collector - John Sisson John Sisson is the Biology Librarian at the University of California Irvine. John collects Children's books with a space flight theme. In the following interview, we talked about his collection and his hopes of getting to the moon one day.
ephemera: Tell me about how you become interested in children's books about space flight?
Sisson: I grew up in La Canada, California, just a few hundred feet from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. When attending elementary schoool in the mid-1960s many of the children who I went school with had fathers were involved in the space program. These children would bring photographs and stories to school about the latest launches and satellites. I was facinated with the space program and had teachers at school who kept us up to date with bulletin boards and classroom viewing of televised events. All these meant I started collecting space flight related stuff almost as soon as I remember. Particular memories included Kellogg's cereal space flight stickers, an early Dr. Suess Beginner's Book called You Will Go to the Moon and the Life magazine series of issues leading up to the moon landing. In the 1970s as the space program faded, and I became concerned with teenage issues, I stored my space stuff away. In the 1980s, I started seei ng non-fiction books and other stuff that reminded me of how I used to be convinced that I would live on the moon one day. What ever happened to all that optimistic and almost propagandistic literature? When I settled in California I started collecting seriously in 1990. I found that the used bookstores and Friends of the Library book sales were full of books from my childhood. I started accumulating and learning about these books. There were hundreds more than I expected and then I "found" eBay, and now I had access to books from England as well. I became happily obsessed with finding new ones as well as chasing down anything intended for children that had a non-fiction slant to space flight.
ephemera: Did you begin consciously, knowing what you would collect, or did you just one day discover what you were doing?
Sisson: There was definitely a point when it turned from an accumulation to a collection. At first these books and materials brought me joy from nostalgia about a "lost" time. As I learned how many of them there were (at least 400+), I started trying to discover why these books were published and looking at their roots in the early 1950s. At the same time, I did a lobby exhibit for our library and got lots of positive responses how people remembered these books. So, at some point, my love for this material changed to a dedication to documenting and collecting what existed. I also put a a web site and gave more talks about this material. I started getting positive reviews from people on the web site including being one of Science magazine's "web sites of the week" in August 2000.
I have met very few other collectors of this material and have become convinced, since it is so literally ephemeral, I should capture and document all I can about the childhood experience in the 1950s and 1960s. I say ephemeral because there seems nothing less collectible than old non-fiction children's books. Few, if any of these books, have a value of more than a few dollars, so dealers rarely deal with it. Non-fiction science books become out of date quickly, so no one really wants them. Many of my books are ex-library and are stamped "obsolete".
ephemera: What obstacles do you encounter as a collector of non-fiction children's books? From your comments, it sounds like this can sometimes be a challenge.
Sisson: As accumulation turn to collection you have to set limits on what you collect. Rather than trying to cover everything about space flight I tried to focus on a core time of 1945-1975. I also had to choose to focus on the non-fiction books. There are a number of collectors of space flight fiction like: Tom Corbett, Buck Rogers, Tom Swift, and I didn't really want to cover old ground. This gives my collecting a defined universe, so it is easier to reject things that are nice but don't really fit. Since my goal is to examine or own every non-fiction children's book on space flight from this period, the second obstacle has been budget. While the items individually are not very expensive, I had to pace myself. I used to print out eBay listings of any book that seemed relevant even though I was only buying a few of them. This gave me a wish list of what the total collection might look like. I could then concentrate on what looked like the high priority and unique items and leave some of the common stuff for later. Of course, as you collect, you learn what is common and what is not so you always miss a few "big fish".
The third obstacle is education. I started this collection realizing that not many were collecting these books and thus there was no collecting list of what exists. I learned to look everywhere for mentions of books that were new to me. I looked through old education journal articles, bibliographies at the end of other space flight books, etc.
Two other challenges I am still working through. One is that I have always felt that I needed to do more than just collect these books, I needed to document and share them somehow. To solve this need, I have continued to update my web site Dreams of Space, and I have created an annotated bibliography but am still unsure what form I will publish it. I also face the challenge of achieving my goal. Since I have found most of the books I believe exist, I am now trying to broaden my collecting by finding books in other languages and tracing how space flight was taught in the schools in the 1960s. When is a collection done?
ephemera: That's an interesting question. Maybe someone reading this interview might want to leave a comment with thoughts on that. With so many books to choose from, what are your favorite items in the collection?
Sisson: Favorite can mean a couple of things, so let me give an example of each: First my rarest item has to be Space Patrol Official Handbook. This is a 1952 self-published pamphlet by Denis Gifford. This has nothing to do with the old Space Patrol television series instead it was his attempt to find other space flight fans and raise a little money. I had read mention of it in a book by him about a year before I got it through eBay. In the introduction to his book Denis admits there are only a few copies in existence so to recognize and own one was a real treat.
My favorite nostalgia book is You Will Go To The Moon from 1959. This was the book I remember reading as a child and have tried to collect it in all its variations (at least 6). Other favorites are Young Adventurer's Pocket Book of Space Travel, a 1951(?) give-away with Mickey Mouse Weekly, Our Place in Space, a 1958 pamphlet from General Electric, and Book of Space Adventur es, a 1966 British boy's annual whose cover summarizes the space race in one image. I also have a couple of special associated items like the original illustrations for a couple of these books and a printing plate for the cover page of All About Satellites and Space Ships (1958).
ephemera: I, too, loved the old Dr. Suess book you mentioned. I had that one as a kid. For anyone who'd like to follow in your footsteps, what resources and tools do you recommend?
Sisson: There are few if any books or bibliographies devoted just to children's space flight books. Among those that have helped are: The literary legacy of the space age: An annotated bibliography of pre-1958 books on rocketry & space travel by Michael Ciancone, the February 2005 issue of Firsts magazine, which has an excellent article on collecting spaceflight books, and Aeronautics and Space Bibliography for Secondary Grades (NASA EP-2) a 1961 listing of books intended for school teachers trying to build classroom libraries.
For tools, I would echo eBay as a great place to browse and learn what is available. Like a huge rummage sale, you never know what you will find and it pays to check back weekly. I spent many hours using a couple of keywords and figuring out which titles were common (plus buying a few!). The book dealers sites don't have many of the older books, but if you have a specific title some of the multi-site search engines can help, my favorite is Bookfinder.com. Many of the copies of my books are pretty beat up. I initially was concerned with just getting a copy and not worried about condition so I got on the preservation wagon late. I protect books and book covers by either mylar or putting the entire book in a sepatate acid-free envelope (if the binding is weak).
I also recommend comic book size mylar bags with acid-free backing boards. There are great for the smaller books and pamphlets and are easy to find. I also recommend creating a list of your items early. I started out recording the information on 5 x 8 spiral bound index cards. These are big enough to capture the basic information as well as cost and any notes about the item. At some point, once I had more than 200 items I moved to an Access database I created. This is very handy becasue I can quickly search what I already own and its condition.
ephemera: Thanks, John. We've covered Children's books in the past, but this is the first time we've looked at a particular niche within that genre of ephemera. I know a lot of people will find this interview especially interesting and enjoyable.
ephemera web site