A page devoted to the cosmic exploits of Jerome Beatty Jr.'s
popular science fiction book series for young readers.
Maria Looney, a Wild Rubian and a fubbalo on Pocksum
(Gahan Wilson illustrated all the Looney books.)
Matthew Looney's Voyage to the Earth
Matthew Looney's Invasion of the Earth
Matthew Looney in the Outback
Matthew Looney and the Space Pirates
Maria Looney on the Red Planet
Maria Looney and the Cosmic Circus
Maria Looney and the Remarkable Robot
A Lunar Invitation
by Ken Gage
As a fourth grader, I got my first Looney book as a gift from my parents; it was called Maria Looney on the Red Planet and it instantly pulled me into a vast universe of adventurous reading. What I most recall about that book is that, aside from showing me the door to science fiction, it proved that reading could be fun. And it taught me that -- contrary to the beliefs of the general public -- life does indeed exist on the Moon!
I do remember the book giving me some minor difficulties, vocabulary-wise. I had not yet developed my lifelong condition of dictionary-itis. (English Majors are afflicted with it.) Like most young (and old!) readers, if I did not know a word immediately, I just made up a suitable meaning on the spot and plowed ahead. But the next year, in Fifth Grade, I purchased The Hobbit (with paper route money) and that one was almost appropriate to my reading level at the time. So, in venturing a guess, I'd say that the Maria and Matthew Looney books could be rated at a pre-Hobbit difficulty level, only barely. Whether that's helpful or not, there is another reason I'm bringing all this up.
If you know youngsters between the ages of 8 and 12, the best possible thing you can do for them is to introduce them to the joy of a truly exciting book. For me, as I've mentioned, that introduction came from Jerome Beatty Jr.'s fantastic storytelling. When my dog chewed up my paperback copy of Maria Looney on the Red Planet (not too long after I finished reading it, luckily), I did not get a replacement for a long, long time -- not until the late 1990s (while riding a wave of nostalgia), when I started using the Internet to seek out once again those thrilling worlds Mr. Beatty had created. I discovered that other people -- many, in fact -- (both young and old) recalled these books fondly. And I finally got my cherished Maria Looney on the Red Planet back into my book collection.
Libraries have frequently praised Mr. Beatty's award-winning series as ideal material for children. Highland Park Public Library, for example, has always included a Looney title or two on its list of esteemed children's literature. Monroe County Public Library (in Indiana) cites all seven Looney books on its Children's Services list of often-requested book series. Consistently, library after library and school after school recommends the Maria and Matthew Looney series. I discovered as well that a company called Loganberry Books is always posting customer want lists frequently demanding Looney books and various other works by Jerome Beatty, Jr. E-bay and Alibris and Amazon.com are among many more that invariably contain listings of these highly-sought books. And my cybersearches have turned up the fact that Mr. Beatty's Maria Looney and the Remarkable Robot placed on the prestigious
Texas Blue Bonnet Award Master List and, in 1980, his Matthew Looney's Invasion of the Earth took home the Massachusetts Children's Honor Award.
Even though the publishing companies behind the original runs of the Maria and Matthew Looney books (Young Scott Books and Avon Books -- the latter which, in July 1999, was bought out by HarperCollins) have sadly let their titles go out-of-print, you can still find well-read copies of them circulating at libraries, used book stores and Internet auction sites (like e-bay). I have now, in my "adult" life, tracked down all seven titles of Mr. Beatty's Looney series to relive the marvelous exploits of the Moon's little-known inhabitants and share that larger realm with you here.