Chapter 1. News

I'll start the story one fall afternoon when I had been sent home from my friend Henry's house.

“I suppose you were the ringleader, Libby?” his mother had said. She usually said that when we got caught doing something; I thought of it as a compliment. It wasn't meant to be one, I know, but the word made me think of the circus.

Henry stuck up for me: He said he'd wanted to see how much noise we could make, too, and so had everyone else. I'm glad he said that. His mother probably would have sent everyone home anyway, not just me, but it was still a good thing to say.

The air was colder on the way home, and the sky was orange at the edges and pale in the middle. But there was still time to play outside before dinner, maybe enough time for other people to come over.

I ran the rest of the way. But when I opened our door, my father was there, talking to my sister Emmy. He looked excited.

“I'm home early because it's a special occasion,”he said, but he wouldn't say why, even when Emmy asked in a cute way.

“Daddy!”I said (I never try to act cute). “You shouldn't have said anything if you weren't going to tell us. It's not fair." But that just made him laugh more. “At least give us a hint.”

“It's something that will be a big change for all of us - especially you two. No more questions: we're eating soon and I'll tell you at the table.”

When dinner was ready, Emmy turned out the lights and I lit the candles (Emmy and I take turns doing that) while our little brother and sister got in their places.

It WAS a special dinner: lasagna! We ate while our parents talked: we're not allowed to unless one of them asks us a question. This is a rule most families don't have, I know. We have it because my father says “adult conversation is very important.”He says most people stop talking to each other when they're married and he doesn't want that to happen to him and my mother.

So they, mostly my father, talked, and sometimes I listened and sometimes I didn't; that night, I listened even to some of the really boring things, but I still didn't find out what the news was.





Click to see
bigger pictures of ringleaders.

Emmy and Willy, who sit next to each other, were doing something on their laps - passing something back and forth, I think: I couldn't see what. Willy was giggling, though. Bubby played with her food. I wrote on the table. This is kind of a strange habit, I guess, but I like to do it. I hold my pointer figure between my thumb and my middle finger, as though my finger is a pencil, and then I write with it.
My father saw me doing it.

“It's too bad no one will ever read all the great novels Libby's written on the dining-room table,” he said (he knows I want to be a writer when I grow up - everyone who knows me knows that!). Then he and my mother laughed.

I didn't. Emmy didn't laugh, either. We didn't make a face at each other - those kinds of faces count as talking - but we both hate it when he's sarcastic. Grown-ups are never funny when they say sarcastic things and I wish they wouldn't do it, especially to children. Of course, I didn't say that. I wrote it on the table, though.

Finally, he said he would tell us the news.

“We're moving to England for six months. I've been transferred to the London office of J. Walter Thompson. They wanted me to go alone, and come back for a visit after three months, but I said 'No, I want to bring my family with me.' So we're all going.”

He said that he would go first, and my mother would bring us over on an ocean liner, and he'd find a place for us to live in London and a school for Emmy and me - and maybe Willy, too. "English schools are different," he said.“It will be an interesting experience for you.”

I was still trying to imagine an ocean liner.

“Will we be on the ship for a long time? Will it have a gangplank and portholes?”I said.

“Five nights. You'll sleep in cabins with portholes and bunk beds," he said (Emmy and I have always wanted bunk beds). “You and Emmy will be in one cabin, Mommy and Willy and Bubby in the one next door. It's a famous ocean liner called the Liberté.”

"Like Libby!”I said.

“Liberté is French for Liberty. You'll have a wonderful time on the ship - there are all kinds of things for children to do.”

He said that in a few years “that form of travel" wouldn't exist, and how he wanted us to "have the experience.”He couldn't take the boat with us because there wasn't time, but on the way home, we'd all go on one together.

He talked about ocean liners for a long time: I pictured wind and ladies in long dresses going up the gangplank and the sound of a foghorn. Being on one did seem pretty exciting.

That night when Emmy and I were having our bath I tried to figure out how something that big, and made of metal, could float.

“I just don't understand why it doesn't sink,” I said. I had brought a little iron horse of mine into the tub with us.

“Look - even this little horse goes straight to the bottom every time. And Daddy said the boat was bigger than Great Oak Lane.”

I thought about it more in bed, while I was listening to the cars go by. I like falling asleep to those sounds: First the engine from far away getting closer and louder - it sounds lonely and adventurous from far away; then loud and exciting when the lights sweep the room. But no matter how much I thought about it, I still couldn't understand how a huge boat made out of metal could float.

And then I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in another country. I put my feet up on the wall at the head of the bed, and my hands behind my head, and thought. I couldn't picture it at all (except for London Bridge, which I imagined as arching over a river, with little tower-like houses on it). But even though I didn't know exactly what it would be like, it felt exciting - a real adventure, not a made-up one, that I'd be in myself

The France leaving New York Harbor.


The Liberté sailing into New York Harbor on her maiden voyage.

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Blow Out the Moon (former title There and Back Again) copyright © 1999, 2000 Libby Koponen. All rights reserved. The pictures of ocean li ners are from the collection of Kevin R. Tam. Used with permission.

The book has been published by Little, Brown and it's online at


It's in many bookstores and libraries, too.