We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747303)
Welcome to 1986, the year of the Challenger disaster and a year when all three of the Thomas children find themselves in seventh grade together. Fitch and Bird are twins and used to be very close. Bird loves science and exploring how things are made. As the Challenger nears its launch, she finds herself spellbound by the potential it represents for women in space and for her own future. Fitch meanwhile is struggling to deal with the anger that rises inside of him constantly, filling his days playing Major Havoc in the local arcade. Cash has been held back a grade and no longer plays basketball, which he misses desperately. He finds himself wondering if he is actually good at anything at all in life. The three siblings grow up in a family that is filled with anger, regular arguments and verbal abuse. As the three grow apart, circumstances including the Challenger disaster pull them back together, just in time to allow them all to find a potential way forward.
Kelly is a Newbery Medalist and this book shows her skill and superb understanding of the minds of youth. Using the setting of the mid-1980’s, she invites readers to see that while some things are different, much of the emotions, family tensions and life was the same as today. The Challenger disaster provides the ideal unifying factor in each of the sibling’s stories which are told from their own points of view. Yet Kelly does not overplay that element, never drawing the lines starkly but allowing readers to connect elements themselves.
The three siblings are quite different from one another and yet their shared upbringing and lack of safety at home create a unified experience that they all emerge from in different ways. Bird, the smart one, who takes things apart and does well at school, wonders if she is disappearing. Fitch burns with an anger he can’t explain, lashing out at others. Cash too is frustrated but he takes it out on himself and struggles internally.
A deep and magnificent middle-grade novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raul Colon (9781524717551)
This picture book takes the science of how atoms move through the universe and then shows how that makes us all very special. Through the eyes of one father and his child, each of us is celebrated for our connection to stars, planets and the entire universe. The story is told in lyrical verse that connects the child to the sun, the moon and faraway planets. The little girl’s features and hair are all compared to the Milky Way and the shine of the cosmos, inextricably tying them to one another. This book will have us all delighting in the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the stars in the sky.
Jayawardhana’s text in this picture book is evocative and lovely, inviting everyone to think of their own connection to the universe. Combining this poetic approach with the science behind it in his Author’s Note, this book really allows children to imagine themselves as an integral and unique part of a much larger system, dreaming beyond the earth.
Colon’s art is jaw dropping in this picture book. He takes readers to other planets, frozen and barren but then lights the skies with new planets, galaxies and stars. He fill the bodies visually with the swirl of stars and planets and then juxtaposes humans into these wild and beautiful worlds he has created.
A stellar look at our connection to the universe. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.
Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781419734076)
Nanda was born into the circle of her mother’s loving arms. As she grew, her world grew too. It grew to include more circles, branches in trees, blocks, steel, and cogs. Her world got bigger as she traveled to college where she built her own helicopter and then became a pilot. Her world continued to grow as she roared into the atmosphere aboard a space shuttle. She was bigger than she had ever been before when she stood on the moon’s surface and looked at the stars above her and Earth glowing in the sky.
Mercurio’s prose plays with perspective right from the first pages. She also includes shapes and components of engineering into Nanda’s childhood. A girl fascinated with science and engineering becomes an astronaut in this book that offers an inspiring look at a girl who grows up as her world grows around her.
The illustrations play with shapes on every page, from the patterns of trees and their branches to the quilt below plane wings made up of farmland. Even the stars above form circles at the end of the book along with Earth, guiding readers right back to the circle that the book started with.
An inspiring look at a young girl of Indian descent who reaches the stars. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox (9781250303172)
The book begins with the prediction that on Friday, Llama will destroy the world. On Monday, it all began with Llama eating far, far too much cake. On Tuesdays Llama dances, so he tried to put on his dancing pants. He had to squeeze in to them because they didn’t quite fit due to the amount of cake he had eaten the day before. His pants ripped, creating a sound loud enough to enter space and create a black hole. On Wednesday, Llama noticed the black hole, did scientific calculations and then made a sandwich instead of letting anyone know. On Thursday, signs of doom started appearing everywhere. On Friday, everything was sucked into the black hole. But what will happen on Saturday?
I love that the entire plot of the book is laid out in the title and again on the first page. Llama is going to destroy the world and it will happen on Friday. That hangs over the head of the reader, creating a sense of real drama. It also allows the book to head in a wild and zany direction that is incredibly engaging and that only gets sillier as the week continues. The ending is a great twist in a book that looks a physics, time and space.
Fox’s illustrations are so funny. Llama has googly eyes and a comical face with plenty of expression. The different elements of the story are given heft and drama by the illustrations, including the ripped pants, the pile of cake, and of course, the black hole.
Funny, scientific and zany, this picture book is so much fun. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Company.
The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly (9780823442430)
This picture book features three nested books, each smaller than the last. Thomas and his parents are on vacation at the beach in the first and largest book. His parents decide to take a nap and Thomas is bored, so he heads off and explores the beach. When he can’t find his parents, he stops and sits down, noticing a small book abandoned in the sand. He opens it and discovers the story of Thomas who is on vacation with his parents in the snowy mountains. His parents take a nap; Thomas wanders off. Thomas can’t find them and notices a book nearby. When he opens it, he discovers the story of Thomas and his family visiting outer space. Each book ends with Thomas finding his family right near him and as the smaller books close, the reader is once again back in the beach story and the family heads home.
Originally published in France, this book is very unique and exploring it for the first time is a remarkable experience. The nesting of the books physically represents the way that the stories nest together, rather like a Russian nesting doll where the smaller ones are on the inside. Still, in these books the stories get wider ranging as the books shrink down. The text is simple and accessible, feeling almost like a vintage tale until the nesting begins.
The art and book design here are fantastic. The nested books even feel right inside the larger images that form a frame around them. Each book has a cover that represents what is inside it, much like the main cover does with the boy in snow gear reading on a beach under a ringed planet.
Clever and funny, this is a rewarding book to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.
Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)
Living on Wilnick, an outdated and aging space station at the end of the galaxy could be dull, but not for best friends Sanity and Tallulah. Sanity, who has always wanted a pet despite rules against having one, decides to create one herself. It turns out to be a very cute three-headed kitten with a taste for meat. The kitten manages to escape soon after Tallulah’s mother finds out that she exists. The girls set out to find out whether the problems that are happening across the space station are the fault of one cute kitten or maybe it’s something else. Meanwhile, there seems to be a very large monster on the loose and the coolant tank appears to have been drunk dry. As disaster looms aboard the space station, it’s up to Sanity to save the day thanks to the technology she explored when creating her illegal pet.
Brooks sets exactly the right tone in this graphic novel. The girls best friends who tend to talk one another into getting into even more trouble while trying to fix what they have already done. Add in a three-headed kitten and mayhem follows. The two girls could not be more different, which makes for an odd-couple chemistry between them. The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power.
The art in the book is done in a limited color palette with pinks and deep blues. The art brings to life the space station and its size, conveying the hazards of keeping it functional while giving the girls a lot of space to run into trouble. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse and that extends to all of the people who live aboard the space station.
A strong graphic novel with plenty of appeal. Appropriate for ages 9-12
Reviewed from library copy.
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)
An amazing graphic novel for teens, this book offers romance, space travel, and boarding schools all in one incredible package. It is the story of Mia, a girl who doesn’t have a lot of friends at the boarding school she attends. But one girl catches her attention, Grace, a new girl who needs help figuring out how to make her way at the school. Soon the two girls are a couple, but Grace has a secret that she refuses to share with Mia until suddenly Grace is gone. Now Mia works in space repairing buildings with a small team. She gets close with the others until she finally reveals why she joined the crew.
Walden is the author of Spinning, which was an impressive graphic memoir about coming out. Here, she weaves a complex tale in a universe entirely her own. The universe she has created is populated entirely by women, something that is slowly realized by the reader rather than being specifically mentioned or explained. The result is an LGBT universe that includes a very special depiction of a transgender character as well.
The art here is simply amazing. The universe unfolds on the pages, done in a limited color palette but incorporating dreamlike moments, staggering rock formations, crumbling abandoned buildings and fish-like space craft. It is entirely Walden’s creation, unique and unlike anything else.
An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (9781682630136)
This nonfiction uses free verse and evocative images to convey the history of the Apollo missions to the moon. The book begins with John F. Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon in ten years. Over the next 2979 days, starting in 1961, over 400,000 people worked to make his vision become reality. The book shares the tragedy of Apollo 1, where three men died on the launchpad due to a fire. It shows the triumphs and set backs of the space program as they tested unmanned rockets. Then Apollo 7, 8, 9 and 10 return to manned flights with their silence, splendor and drama. Until finally, Apollo 11 reaches the moon and man takes their first steps on its surface.
Slade’s free verse is spare and lovely, capturing the essence of each of the dramatic moments in the quest to reach the moon. With the death of the first lunar astronauts, she allows the doubts about the program’s future to hang in the air, so that readers will understand how brave the choice was to continue forward. Throughout, her writing allows readers to feel and experience those moments, to count the minutes on the dark side of the moon, to feel the tension of piloting the lunar module to the surface, to all of the risks, the moments that could have gone differently.
Gonzalez’s illustrations add to that drama, depicting the astronauts themselves, the glory of space and the splendor of rockets and flight. He uses space on the page beautifully, showing scale and size. His glimpses of earth in space are realistic enough that one almost sees them spin in the blackness.
A glorious look at the Apollo missions. This belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Peachtree Publishers.
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (9781250137524)
Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She worked on the Mercury missions and the Apollo missions, doing the math that allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to return safely.
Filled with the determination and resilience it took for Johnson to become a NASA mathematician, this picture book shows the barriers that were and are in place for scientists and mathematicians who are women and people of color. Make sure to check out the note at the end that provides even more information on this incredible mathematician. The art in the book is incredibly appealing with mathematics adding complexity to the simple style.
A picture book biography that soars to great heights. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.