Cover of book shows female astronaut floating in space near space shuttleMost picture book biographies, unsurprisingly, have a linear structure. Someone did something and then did something else and then did something else. To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space uses a refreshingly different structure. One spread shows Dr. Kathy Sullivan’s interests and activities as a child or teenager, and then the next spread shows an analogous task in her adult work as an astronaut. This structure invites readers to make thematic connections between disparate parts of her life. I think it would be a fun book to use to make predictions. After reading about a childhood activity, challenge kids to think of how that might have prepared her for her work as an astronaut?

The structure is reflected in the typeface choice. Each spread that shows modern-day life for Dr. Sullivan is printed in italic, emphasizing the shifting timeframe.

The book has lots of dialogue and quotes that are unattributed in the back matter, but since Sullivan is a co-author, I trust them.

There are 2 full spreads of back matter, including a note from Dr. Sullivan and a biographical essay about her. My favorite part, though, was the list of short biographies of 13 other women astronauts. I hadn’t heard of most of them. but even the short glimpse of their lives was fascinating and inspiring.

This is a great companion book to another astronaut book from last year that examined how childhood experiences shaped adult passions–The Darkest Dark.

To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella VanVleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong. Charlesbridge: 2016.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Boy stands outside in the dark, with monstrous shapes around him, but he stares at full moon above him.Today is Pearl Harbor Day. We commemorate that frightening moment when the United States was plunged into dark terror. Adults fear metaphorical darkness, but kids often have to face head-on their fear of the actual dark. The Darkest Dark is a lovely memoir by astronaut Chris Hadfield of how he conquered his childhood fear of the dark, to allow himself to take up a profession where his work is spent in the deep, unrelieved dark of outer space.

The book shows Chris as a child play-acting being an astronaut but then falling apart when he actually has to sleep in a dark room. We see all the strategies his parents employ–letting him sleep with them, checking for monsters, giving him a night light–but nothing helps. They finally hold one privilege over his head: if he can’t stay in his own bed all night, they won’t watch the moon landing.

Chris manages to tamp down his fear because he so so so wants to watch astronauts walk on the moon. I love the part of the book that depicts watching TV that night. One of my earliest memories is of my parents waking me up to watch TV in the middle of the night, which seemed to me as miraculous as people stepping on the moon. I remember, like Chris, looking at the moon with wonder that night.

But for Chris, something even more profound had happened. “Chris had changed….For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.”

The back matter tells about Chris’ subsequent career in space and includes snapshots from his childhood as well as his adult life.

The art is gentle pencil drawings, realistic with just enough fantasy thrown in to depict the outlines of Chris’ terror.  Shadows have creepy glowing eyes and bizarre creatures seem to lurk in corners. But the art resolves itself with a lovely wordless spread where he and his family, after watching the moon landing on TV, stand outside in the dark and look at the moon.

This is a great book for kids afraid of the dark, but it’s also a nice reminder that holding to dreams in dark times can lead to “Dreams that actually can come true.”

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion, illustrated by The Fan Brothers. Little Brown: 2016.

Children around a globe.



I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.