November 30 – It’s Picture Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-seeing-stars-cover-2

About the Holiday

For little learners, picture books provide one of the best ways to interact with facts about all kinds of subjects. Loaded with illustrations or photographs that let kids see exciting and beautiful details, nonfiction picture books bring to life science, history, biographies, nature, and so much more of the world around us. This month, take a look for nonfiction picture books about your child’s passions to add to your home library.

Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations

By Sara Gillingham

 

If you have a young astronomer in the family and are looking for a book that will make their eyes twinkle like stars on a clear, dark night, Sara Gillingham’s magnificent guide to all eighty-eight internationally recognized constellations is a must. Combining information on how and where to find each constellation, the fascinating stories and/or myths surrounding them, and stylistically gorgeous illustrations, Seeing Stars offers children and adults not only a resource to use when stargazing, but a sit-down-and-explore beauty to enjoy any time.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-seeing-stars-pisces

Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Seeing Stars opens with brief and illuminating discussions on what constellations are, who invented them, using asterisms and brightest stars to find a constellation, which constellations are visible when and where, and the art of stargazing.  A chapter on the ancient constellations takes in the signs of the zodiac (I’m an Aquarius and learned that the famous water carrier of the sign is none other than Ganymede, who in ancient Greece was “considered the most beautiful man alive…. One day, in the middle of a quiet life tending sheep, Ganymede was snatched by an eagle and taken to Zeus” who put him to work as “the official cup-bearer to the gods.”).

In this section, readers will also find the constellations created from “well-known stories, characters, animals, and sacred objects” as well as the  heroes and gods of Greek mythology. Here, readers learn about Hydra, the water snake. Hydra, the largest constellation, covers one fourth of the sky in a “twisting line” that at one end curves inward to make a “small irregular polygon” that serves as the serpent’s head. She was “so wretched that even her breath could kill someone,” and was vanquished by Hercules in the second of his labors. Pegasus, Persius, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, and Orion are just a few of the other well-known figures from the ancient world.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-seeing-stars-andromeda

Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Next, come the modern constellations mapped by European explorers and named for exotic and even mythical creatures in the late 1500s and 1600s. One of these early astronomers was Elisabeth Hevelius, considered to be one of the first female astronomers. Colorful birds of paradise inspired these stargazers to name a small cluster of stars that “make a line with a narrow V on the end, much like the point of a beak” Apus (from the Greek word apous or “footless”), after some European navigators believed the birds had no feet.

What constellation outlines an animal with a “long neck like a camel and a body that is covered in ‘spots’”? Camelopardalis, of course! Or you may be more familiar with this animal’s more common name: giraffe. Chameleons, doves, dolphinfish, cranes, lizards, lions, and lynx also appear in our skies but there’s room, too, for the more whimsical, like Monoceros – or unicorn – and the phoenix.

Modern constellations also pay homage to invention and discovery. These include Caelum, the chisel, named for an engraver’s tool invented in the 1600s to “carve fine lines into printing plates” for book production; Circinus, the compass; Microscopium, the microscope; Telescopium, the telescope; and Pictor, the painter’s easel.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-seeing-stars-northern-crown

Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

A Resource section provides information on tools for stargazing, eight circular maps that chart the constellations seen from the northern and southern skies over three-month increments throughout the year, an illustrated guide to asterisms, resources for further reading, and an extensive glossary and index.

Each constellation is highlighted with a two-page spread. The left-hand page is attractively divided into four sections that provide an image of the constellation created from lines connecting stars in three different sizes that indicate their brightness, tell where the constellation is found and it’s proportion to other constellations, a circular map that spotlights the constellation among others nearby, and a paragraph on the story or myth surrounding the constellation. On the right, the image of the god, animal, or object that inspired the constellation floats on a midnight-blue background and contains within it the stars that make up the constellation connected to show its shape. The brightest star in the constellation is highlighted.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-seeing-stars-lacerta

Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Sara Gillingham’s writing style is knowledgeable and entertaining, opening up the world of astronomy to experts and novices alike with the kind of storytelling that captivates while it teaches.

Special mention must be made of the dazzling cover and dust jacket, which together recreate the depth of the night sky. The shimmering gold cover, splashed with the image of the Milky Way, shines through the tiny laser-cut “stars” on the deep blue dust jacket, making a stunning and interactive introduction to this well-crafted book. Kids will love finding and naming the constellations they see on the cover after reading about them inside.

Perfectly conceived and executed, Seeing Stars is a book the whole family can enjoy and will spark many trips outside to gaze at the stars with new interest and understanding. The book would make a much-cherished gift for astronomers, armchair stargazers, space buffs, and those who love mythology and history. It’s a terrific addition to home, classroom, and public libraries and would be just as at home on the coffee table as on the bookshelf.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Phaidon Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877723

Discover more about Sara Gillingham, her books, and her art on her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read-the-stars-word-search

Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle

 

Sometimes the constellations can seem hidden among all the other stars. Can you find the names of eighteen constellations in this printable Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle?

Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle | Read the Stars Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-seeing-stars-cover-2

You can find Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 14 – National Look up at the Sky Day & Interview with Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronaut-clayton-anderson-photo

Today, I’m honored to speak with retired astronaut Clayton Anderson about a pivotal childhood moment that inspired his life’s work, the challenges of being an astronaut, and his most vivid memories from space.  

What inspired you to make the journey to become an astronaut?

It was Christmas Eve, 1968.  I was nine years old when my parents put my brother and sister and me on the floor in front of a black-and-white TV around midnight. We sat on an old throw-rug gifted from our grandmother to watch humans circumvent the moon for the first time in human history. As I watched the control center team and listened to the flight director bark out commands, I was enthralled. “I need a Go/NoGo for the trans-lunar injection burn… FIDO? GO!  Retro…? GO!  Surgeon…? GO!  GPO…? GO! The entire team was GO! The craft disappeared behind the moon, leaving me to enjoy the rapid-fire chatter no more. It was simple static on our TV… for about 15 minutes. Then, after a couple of non-answered calls from the Houston CAPCOM to the Apollo 8 crew, I heard the quindar tone (famous “space-beep” you hear on TV), and the first words from the Apollo 8 commander, Frank Borman: “Houston, Apollo 8. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus!” That’s all I needed. The bit was set in my mind that one day, I would become a United States Astronaut.

How did your perspectives change while on the International Space Station?

I am a man of faith. Seeing our earth from orbit did allow me to have the “orbital perspective” so many astronauts speak of. However, while I totally agree that this perspective changed my outlook and my willingness to do better with trying to protect and preserve our “spaceship earth,” it strengthened my faith in God much more. The earth and those of us privileged to be on it, is not random. There is a reason why Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity and invented calculus. There is a reason why Albert Einstein was able to derive the Theory of Relativity. While I am unable to truly explain my rationale, I believe that there is a higher power. A power that created this universe and gave humans an adaptable brain. That incredible gift will continue to enable us to uncover the secrets of the universe, continuing to strengthen my faith.

What was a big challenge you faced during your career?

The dream of flying in space as an American astronaut was something I pursued for many years of my life. To have finally been selected and given that opportunity is incredible. Yet having the “best job in the universe” is not without difficulty. For me, it was family separation. I love my wife and kids more than anyone… on or off the planet.  To have to be separated from them for months at a time was extremely difficult, especially given their ages (6 and 2) when I began my training. It got easier as they grew older, but it didn’t assuage my guilt very much. While I lived my dream, they sacrificed greatly, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay them.

What is your best memory from being in space?

It must be my first spacewalk. Poised above the opened hatch, floating in my spacesuit while looking into the abyss of darkness created by the sun’s travel behind the Earth, I was calm. I watched ice crystals fly from behind my suit (they were created by my sublimator… or air conditioning unit) into the total black void of space. The slight pressure still available after the depressurization of the airlock was “pushing” the crystals into the vacuum of space. I was entranced just watching them sail by. When I finally came back to reality—buoyed by the Mission Control call to exit the airlock—I paused for just a moment to contemplate what was happening. The only thought going through my mind was that “…I was born to be here, right now, in this special place, doing this.”

Seeing my hometown from space…for the very first time, is a very, very close second. On that day, when I expected to excitedly capture photos of my Ashland, Nebraska, I had everything prepped and ready to go. Equipment was strategically placed around the U.S. Lab module’s earth-facing window, cameras were Velcroed securely to the wall, with timers set to remind me when to get into position. Finding my home on earth—without all the wonderfully placed lines, borders, squiggly river italics, and large stars designating capital cities—was tougher than I imagined. But when I finally found success, and saw Nebraska rolling into view by virtue of a big gray splotch known as Omaha (and a smaller gray splotch further southwest called Lincoln), the south bend of the Platte River was the last valid vision I had. When I saw my home, nestled there where the river bent, the place where I was raised and where many of my family and friends still reside, I took not a single photo. I simply broke down and cried. Overcome by the incredible emotions of floating weightlessly, as an American astronaut flying 225 miles above the exact spot where I was born and raised, having first dreamed of doing exactly that, was simply too much for me. So, I did what seemed to come to me naturally.  I wept.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and memories of your incredible career. I wish you all the best with A is for Astronaut and all of your future endeavors as you inspire children and adults to always reach for the stars.

About Clayton C. Anderson

Retired Astronaut Clayton Anderson spent 167 days in outer space, having lived and worked on the International Space Station (ISS) for 152 days and participated in nearly 40 hours of space walks. With a strong belief in perseverance and the importance of STEAM as part of every child’s education, Astronaut Anderson brings his “out of this world” insight to issues faced by children, parents, and educators. 

You can connect with Clayton Anderson on:

His website: astroclay.com | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter. For speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

You can find A is for Astronaut at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

National Look up at the Sky Day Review

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday hopes to inspire people to slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleasures—like gazing up at the sky and really seeing the beauty that’s there. Throughout the day and night, the sky presents an ever-changing world of color and motion, depth and light. It’s a work of art like no other.  Ever since the earliest times, people have been fascinated with the sky, directed by the stars, and questioning of what lies beyond. Today, we also celebrate those poets, mathematicians, scientists, and especially the astronauts who have explored the sky and brought all of its wonders a little closer.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of A is for Astronaut to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of a signed copy of A is for Astronaut and a tote bag. View details below.

A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet

Written by Astronaut Clayton Anderson | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

There are some books that just make you say “Wow!” when you open the cover. A is for Astronaut is one of these. Leafing through the pages is like stepping out into a clear, starry night, visiting a space museum, and letting your own dreams soar all rolled into one. When you settle in to read, you discover that each letter of the alphabet introduces both poetry and facts to enthrall space lovers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-letter-A

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To get things started, “A is for Astronaut, / the bravest of souls. / They fly into space / and assume many roles. / They pilot, they spacewalk, / and they even cut hair. / But seeing Earth from our orbit— / that will cause them to stare!” A sidebar reveals more about astronauts—even astronaut nicknames!

“B is for Blastoff, a powerful thing! / When those engines are fired, it’ll make your ears ring.” And did you know that two and a half minutes after blastoff, the engines are cut off and everything begins to float? Pretty amazing! Blasting through the alphabet we come to G, where readers learn about our Galaxy that is “shaped like a spiral filled with billions of stars.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-letter-N

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

How are astronauts able to walk and work in space? “Space Helmets are crucial and H is their letter.” At K kids meet John F. Kennedy, who helped develop the space program, and L is for the Landing that brings astronauts back to Earth. M is for Meteors with their very long tails, and N, of course, is for NASA, which was formed in 1958 with a “goal to better understand our planet and solar system.”

How do astronauts do that? “Working outside in space is sure to impress. / We call it a Space Walk, and its letter is S. / Floating weightless, with tools and a bulky white suit, / we can fix and install things—it’s really a hoot!” And there’s also V for  “Voyager, two NASA space probes. / They are still sending data, / having long left our globe.”

At Z, time is up—that’s Zulu time and “our reference to England, when London’s clocks chime. / As we fly ‘round the Earth, folks must know our day’s plan, / so we all set our watches to match that time span.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-letter-P

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Both children and adults who have an affinity for space travel and all things related to astronomy will want to dip into A is for Astronaut again and again. With his wealth of knowledge and engaging voice, astronaut Clayton Anderson presents a book that will have readers starry-eyed and full of the kinds of facts and tidbits that answer questions and spur further discovery. A is for Astronaut can be read through from A to Z for its vivid poetry or explored in small chunks to absorb the fascinating facts included with each letter—or both. Expertly written for kids of all ages, Anderson’s A is for Astronaut is a stellar achievement.

Scott Brundage’s incredibly beautiful and detailed illustrations will thrill space buffs and serious scientists and engineers alike. Readers will love meeting astronauts tethered to their ship while working in space, experiencing the vibrant, mottled colors of a darkened sky or distant planet, and viewing the technological marvel that is the NASA control room. With the precision of a photograph and the illumination of true artistry, Brundage’s images put readers in the center of the action, where they can learn and understand more about this favorite science.

A is for Astronaut is a must for classroom, school, and public libraries and would be a favorite on home bookshelves for children (and adults) who love space, technology, math, science, and learning about our universe.

Ages 5 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363964

Discover more about retired astronaut Clayton Anderson and access resources on his website, or follow him on Facebook | Twitter | or Insta. For speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

To learn more about Scott Brundage and view a portfolio of his publishing and editorial work, visit his website.

Visit Sleeping Bear Press to learn more about A is for Astronaut

National Look up at the Sky Day Activity

 

Show your excitement about all things space-related with these fun activity sheets from Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson and Sleeping Bear Press! 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-fill-in-the-blanks-activity

A is for Astronaut Fill in the Blanks

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-vocabulary-activity

A is for Astronaut Vocabulary Sheet

 

Picture Book Review

March 23 – National Near Miss Day and Interview with Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-cover

About the Holiday

Today we remember a cosmic fly-by that occurred on March 23, 1989. On that day the 300-meter-wide asteroid 4581 Asclepius, named for the Greek god of medicine and healing, came within 430,000 miles of hitting Earth—actually passing through the exact position Earth had held only six hours earlier. This near miss wasn’t discovered until nine days later by astronomers Henry E. Holt and Norman G. Thomas. “On the cosmic scale of things, that was a close call,” Dr. Holt said at the time. To celebrate today, you can thank your lucky stars for this near miss or any others you’ve experienced recently or in your lifetime. Another stellar way to spend the day is to learn more about space and our universe!

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of A is for Astronaut to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of a signed copy of A is for Astronaut and a tote bag. View details below.

A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet

Written by Astronaut Clayton Anderson | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

There are some books that just make you say “Wow!” when you open the cover. A is for Astronaut is one of these. Leafing through the pages is like stepping out into a clear, starry night, visiting a space museum, and letting your own dreams soar all rolled into one. When you settle in to read, you discover that each letter of the alphabet introduces both poetry and facts to enthrall space lovers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-letter-A

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To get things started, “A is for Astronaut, / the bravest of souls. / They fly into space / and assume many roles. / They pilot, they spacewalk, / and they even cut hair. / But seeing Earth from our orbit— / that will cause them to stare!” A sidebar reveals more about astronauts—even astronaut nicknames!

“B is for Blastoff, a powerful thing! / When those engines are fired, it’ll make your ears ring.” And did you know that two and a half minutes after blastoff, the engines are cut off and everything begins to float? Pretty amazing! Blasting through the alphabet we come to G, where readers learn about our Galaxy that is “shaped like a spiral filled with billions of stars.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-letter-N

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

How are astronauts able to walk and work in space? “Space Helmets are crucial and H is their letter.” At K kids meet John F. Kennedy, who helped develop the space program, and L is for the Landing that brings astronauts back to Earth. M is for Meteors with their very long tails, and N, of course, is for NASA, which was formed in 1958 with a “goal to better understand our planet and solar system.”

How do astronauts do that? “Working outside in space is sure to impress. / We call it a Space Walk, and its letter is S. / Floating weightless, with tools and a bulky white suit, / we can fix and install things—it’s really a hoot!” And there’s also V for  “Voyager, two NASA space probes. / They are still sending data, / having long left our globe.”

At Z, time is up—that’s Zulu time and “our reference to England, when London’s clocks chime. / As we fly ‘round the Earth, folks must know our day’s plan, / so we all set our watches to match that time span.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-is-for-astronaut-letter-P

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Both children and adults who have an affinity for space travel and all things related to astronomy will want to dip into A is for Astronaut again and again. With his wealth of knowledge and engaging voice, astronaut Clayton Anderson presents a book that will have readers starry-eyed and full of the kinds of facts and tidbits that answer questions and spur further discovery. A is for Astronaut can be read through from A to Z for its vivid poetry or explored in small chunks to absorb the fascinating facts included with each letter—or both. Expertly written for kids of all ages, Anderson’s A is for Astronaut is a stellar achievement.

Scott Brundage’s incredibly beautiful and detailed illustrations will thrill space buffs and serious scientists and engineers alike. Readers will love meeting astronauts tethered to their ship while working in space, experiencing the vibrant, mottled colors of a darkened sky or distant planet, and viewing the technological marvel that is the NASA control room. With the precision of a photograph and the illumination of true artistry, Brundage’s images put readers in the center of the action, where they can learn and understand more about this favorite science.

A is for Astronaut is a must for classroom, school, and public libraries and would be a favorite on home bookshelves for children (and adults) who love space, technology, math, science, and learning about our universe.

Ages 5 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363964

Discover more about retired astronaut Clayton Anderson and access resources on his website, or follow him on Facebook | Twitter | or InstaFor speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

To learn more about Scott Brundage and view a portfolio of his publishing and editorial work, visit his website.

Visit Sleeping Bear Press to learn more about A is for AstronautYou can download two A is for Astronaut Activity Sheets here:

A is for Astronaut Vocabulary Sheet | A is for Astronaut Fill in the Blanks

Meet Astronaut Clayton Anderson
celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronaut-clayton-anderson-photo

Today, I’m honored to speak with retired astronaut Clayton Anderson about a pivotal childhood moment that inspired his life’s work, the challenges of being an astronaut, and his most vivid memories from space.  

What inspired you to make the journey to become an astronaut?

It was Christmas Eve, 1968.  I was nine years old when my parents put my brother and sister and me on the floor in front of a black-and-white TV around midnight. We sat on an old throw-rug gifted from our grandmother to watch humans circumvent the moon for the first time in human history. As I watched the control center team and listened to the flight director bark out commands, I was enthralled. “I need a Go/NoGo for the trans-lunar injection burn… FIDO? GO!  Retro…? GO!  Surgeon…? GO!  GPO…? GO! The entire team was GO! The craft disappeared behind the moon, leaving me to enjoy the rapid-fire chatter no more. It was simple static on our TV… for about 15 minutes. Then, after a couple of non-answered calls from the Houston CAPCOM to the Apollo 8 crew, I heard the quindar tone (famous “space-beep” you hear on TV), and the first words from the Apollo 8 commander, Frank Borman: “Houston, Apollo 8. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus!” That’s all I needed. The bit was set in my mind that one day, I would become a United States Astronaut.

How did your perspectives change while on the International Space Station?

I am a man of faith. Seeing our earth from orbit did allow me to have the “orbital perspective” so many astronauts speak of. However, while I totally agree that this perspective changed my outlook and my willingness to do better with trying to protect and preserve our “spaceship earth,” it strengthened my faith in God much more. The earth and those of us privileged to be on it, is not random. There is a reason why Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity and invented calculus. There is a reason why Albert Einstein was able to derive the Theory of Relativity. While I am unable to truly explain my rationale, I believe that there is a higher power. A power that created this universe and gave humans an adaptable brain. That incredible gift will continue to enable us to uncover the secrets of the universe, continuing to strengthen my faith.

What was a big challenge you faced during your career?

The dream of flying in space as an American astronaut was something I pursued for many years of my life. To have finally been selected and given that opportunity is incredible. Yet having the “best job in the universe” is not without difficulty. For me, it was family separation. I love my wife and kids more than anyone… on or off the planet.  To have to be separated from them for months at a time was extremely difficult, especially given their ages (6 and 2) when I began my training. It got easier as they grew older, but it didn’t assuage my guilt very much. While I lived my dream, they sacrificed greatly, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay them.

What is your best memory from being in space?

It must be my first spacewalk. Poised above the opened hatch, floating in my spacesuit while looking into the abyss of darkness created by the sun’s travel behind the Earth, I was calm. I watched ice crystals fly from behind my suit (they were created by my sublimator… or air conditioning unit) into the total black void of space. The slight pressure still available after the depressurization of the airlock was “pushing” the crystals into the vacuum of space. I was entranced just watching them sail by. When I finally came back to reality—buoyed by the Mission Control call to exit the airlock—I paused for just a moment to contemplate what was happening. The only thought going through my mind was that “…I was born to be here, right now, in this special place, doing this.”

Seeing my hometown from space…for the very first time, is a very, very close second. On that day, when I expected to excitedly capture photos of my Ashland, Nebraska, I had everything prepped and ready to go. Equipment was strategically placed around the U.S. Lab module’s earth-facing window, cameras were Velcroed securely to the wall, with timers set to remind me when to get into position. Finding my home on earth—without all the wonderfully placed lines, borders, squiggly river italics, and large stars designating capital cities—was tougher than I imagined. But when I finally found success, and saw Nebraska rolling into view by virtue of a big gray splotch known as Omaha (and a smaller gray splotch further southwest called Lincoln), the south bend of the Platte River was the last valid vision I had. When I saw my home, nestled there where the river bent, the place where I was raised and where many of my family and friends still reside, I took not a single photo. I simply broke down and cried. Overcome by the incredible emotions of floating weightlessly, as an American astronaut flying 225 miles above the exact spot where I was born and raised, having first dreamed of doing exactly that, was simply too much for me. So, I did what seemed to come to me naturally.  I wept.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and memories of your incredible career. I wish you all the best with A is for Astronaut and all of your future endeavors as you inspire children and adults to always reach for the stars.

About Clayton Anderson

Retired Astronaut Clayton Anderson spent 167 days in outer space, having lived and worked on the International Space Station (ISS) for 152 days and participated in nearly 40 hours of space walks. With a strong belief in perseverance and the importance of STEAM as part of every child’s education, Astronaut Anderson brings his “out of this world” insight to issues faced by children, parents, and educators. 

You can connect with Clayton Anderson on:

His website: astroclay.com | Facebook | Instagram | TwitterFor speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

You can find A is for Astronaut at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Near Miss Day Activity

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

Rocket to the Moon! Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

Supplies

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

Directions

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

Picture Book Review

March 8 – International Women’s Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hidden-figures-the-true-story-of-four-black-women-and-the-space-race-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by recent events and increased activism, this year’s theme is “Press for Progress: a Push for Gender Parity worldwide.” Rallies, performances, and discussions as well as special events and lessons in schools are just some of the ways that International Women’s Day is commemorated.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.” The United States was involved in World War II, and Dorothy wanted to help the war effort by working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to make planes faster, stronger, and safer. Developing new airplanes required lots of tests at the Langley Laboratory in Virginia. Today, we use computers to do the kinds of math needed, “but in the 1940s computers were actual people like Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hidden-figures-the-true-story-of-four-black-women-and-the-space-race-dorothy

Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of lfreemanart.com.

Even though Dorothy was a woman and an African-American in the segregated South, Dorothy did not think her dream of getting a job was impossible. After all, she was really good at math. She applied and was hired as a computer. At Langley, whites and blacks worked in different buildings and had separate facilities. After the United States won the war, Dorothy stayed on to create better aircraft.

Now America and Russia were in competition to build the best airplanes. This required more math, more tests, and more computers. Mary Jackson was hired at Langley to test model airplanes in wind tunnels. Mary had her sights set on becoming an engineer, but most of the engineers were men. To prepare, Mary needed to take advanced math classes, “but she was not allowed into the white high school where the classes were taught.” Mary didn’t take no for an answer. She got special permission to take classes, got good grades, and “became the first African-American female engineer at the laboratory.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hidden-figures-the-true-story-of-four-black-women-and-the-space-race-katherine

Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

In 1953 Katherine Jackson was hired for a team who tested airplanes while they were in the air. Her work was to analyze turbulence to make planes safer in dangerous gusts of wind. She wanted to go to her team’s meetings, but she was told by her boss again and again that it was impossible; women were not allowed to attend meetings. At last her persistence paid off, and she became the first woman to sign one of the group’s reports.

When machine computers were installed at Langley in the 1950s, they were faster than the human computers but made many mistakes. “Dorothy learned how to program the computers so they got the right answers and taught the other women in her group how to program too.”

In 1957 Russia launched a satellite into space, ramping up the competition with the United States. Now “the United States started building satellites to explore space too,” and the name of the agency was changed to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency or NASA. Then President John F, Kennedy set a goal of sending a man to the moon. First, however, there would need to be many experiments, new space craft, and tests to send astronauts into orbit. This meant more people who were good at math would be needed.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hidden-figures-the-true-story-of-four-black-women-and-the-space-race-separate-offices

Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of lfreemanart.com.

When the first manned space flight was planned, Katherine calculated the trajectory that would take John Glenn into space and bring him home again. In 1967 Dorothy Darden came to work at Langley. She loved electronic computers and wanted to become an engineer. “Her first job was to help with NASA’s mission to the moon.”

When Neal Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface for the first time on July 20, 1969, he said it was a giant leap for mankind. “It was also a giant leap for Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine, and all of the other computers and engineers who had worked at the lab over the years.” The moon landing was just the beginning. NASA engineers were already dreaming of trips to other planets and super-fast spacecraft. And although it would be hard and require a lot of numbers, “Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine knew one thing: with hard work, perseverance, and a love of math, anything was possible.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hidden-figures-the-true-story-of-four-black-women-and-the-space-race-four-women

Copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Margot Lee Shetterly brings her compelling story Hidden Figures to children in this exceptional picture book that skillfully reveals the talents and dreams of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine as well as the work atmosphere and social injustices of the time period. While acknowledging the struggles and obstacles the four women faced, Shetterly keeps her focus on the incredible achievements of these brilliant women and the positive changes and opportunities for others they created. Brief-yet-detailed descriptions and explanations of math, science, and computer terms flow smoothly in the text, allowing all readers to understand and appreciate the women’s work.

As Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine each begin their work at Langley as young women, Laura Freeman establishes their dreams and their particular field of expertise through richly colorful illustrations that highlight the schematics, tools, equipment, and models they used. In one particularly affecting spread, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine go off to their offices on the left-hand side, and their white counterparts head out to theirs on the right-hand side while the blueprint of their building lies under their feet. Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine’s clothing is also mirrored in color by the women on the other side of the fold. Period dress and electronics show progression through the years, and kids may marvel at the size of early computers. The final image of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine as older women is moving and inspirational.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race is an outstanding biography of four women who contributed their gifts for math as well as their self-confidence not only to science but to dreamers in their own and future generations. The book would be a stirring choice for classroom and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469

Discover more about Margot Lee Shetterly and her books on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Women’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-women-in-stem-coloring-book

Women in STEM Coloring Book

 

Discover five women who broke barriers  and made important contributions to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields in this printable  Women in STEM Coloring Book created by the United States Department of Energy.

 

Picture Book Review

October 8 – It’s World Space Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-to-the-stars-cover

About the Holiday

First declared by the United Nations in 1999, World Space Week has grown to be the largest public space-related event in the world. The week celebrates the advancement and contributions of space technology and exploration. This year’s theme is “Exploring New Worlds in Space” and aims to encourage and inspire new experimentation, discovery and participation in advancing ways to explore the cosmos beyond earth.

To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space

Written by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan | Illustrated by Nicole Wong

 

As a child Kathy Sullivan loved to explore. Her father designed airplanes, and when he brought home blueprints, she carefully studied every line and curve. When she saw airplanes in the sky she wished she were on them, flying to exciting locations all over the world. Maps and foreign languages fascinated her. “Their strange symbols, exotic tales, and musical sounds made her feel like the world was waiting for her.” Kathy wanted to see that whole world and thought maybe she’d like to be a spy or a diplomat, but her friends and other adults told her those weren’t jobs for women.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-to-the-stars-blueprints

Image copyright Nicole Wong, courtesy of nicole-wong.com

But Kathy always followed her heart. She loved going fishing with her dad and brother and finishing the day with a swim. She “delighted in how her arms and legs moved in slow motion underwater.” Kathy was still a teenager when she learned how to pilot a plane. At first the busy instrument panel made her nervous, but she quickly learned how to manage all the “dials, buttons, and numbers.”

Kathy got a taste for the thrill of space when she bravely jumped at the opportunity to ride in a Breezy—an open-air-framework plane. Sitting at the very tip of the airplane, in front of the pilot, Kathy had a bird’s eye view. “The wind rushed past her face so fast it pushed her cheeks back. Higher! Faster! Young Kathy looked at the ground below her feet. She felt like she could see the whole world.”

As an adult, Kathy put all of these experiences to good use as she studied complex science that would lead her to NASA. And when she became the first American woman to walk in space, she fulfilled her childhood dream to see the whole world!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-to-the-stars-spacewalk

Image copyright Nicole Wong, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, have written a compelling biography of Dr. Sullivan that not only tells the story of her adult achievements, but also reveals the childhood and teenage motivations and influences that fostered her journey to the stars. As each event in Kathy’s young life is introduced, it is followed by an adult accomplishment: Kathy’s poring over her father’s aircraft blueprints leads to a spread of college-age Kathy studying charts in textbooks. Her enjoyment of swimming underwater is followed by an illustration showing her NASA training underwater. Her initial introduction to a plane’s instrument panel informs her later responsibilities inside the spacecraft. And the question she once asked herself as a child—what kind of job would allow her to see the whole world—is answered as the astronaut Kathy gazes down at Earth from space.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-to-the-stars-breezy

Image copyright Nicole Wong, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Nicole Wong’s lovely, realistic watercolor and ink paintings clearly show readers Kathy Sullivan’s trajectory from curious girl to accomplished astronaut. The blueprints that Kathy studies are filled with schematics. The aqua water she swims in swirls and bubbles in the wake of her cannonball dive, and the crisscrossing fields lay like a mottled green quilt under the Breezy. Especially stunning and effective are the illustrations of Dr. Sullivan’s work with NASA. Kids will love the up-close view of the spacecraft’s instrument panel with its myriad buttons and dials. Likewise, they will find the gorgeous two-page spreads of the space shuttle’s launch, the view from the cockpit, and Kathy’s spacewalk particularly thrilling.

Following the text is a personal note from Kathy Sullivan to her young readers. More extensive biographical notes reveal how Dr. Sullivan discovered her love of science as well as information on the NASA missions she supported. Two more pages highlight the women of the first space-shuttle class, which included Kathy Sullivan, and other firsts by eight other women in space.

To the Stars is a wonderful book to teach children that following their own heart is the best path to future happiness and personal accomplishment. It’s a beautiful addition to any budding scientist’s or adventurer’s library!

Ages 5 – 9

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580896443

To find fun activities for To the Stars—including how to make space play dough—as well as other books by Carmella Van Vleet, visit her website!

To learn more about Nicole Wong and view a portfolio of her artwork, visit her website!

World Space Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronaut-coloring-page

 

Astronaut Coloring Page

 

Would you like to be an astronaut? Draw yourself in this spacesuit and then grab your crayons, pencils, or markers and have fun with this printable Astronaut Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review

July 20 – Space Exploration Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-darkest-dark-cover

About the Holiday

On July 20, 1969, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the lunar module Eagle on the moon’s surface. With one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind, Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon. Today’s holiday dates back to that Apollo 11 spaceflight and honors the phenomenal achievement of leaving earth to explore the universe around us. We also celebrate Moon Day today in commemoration of the first lunar landing. There are many ways to remember this moment in history that captured the imagination of millions and still resonates today. Why not go moon and star gazing, set off model rockets, enjoy a sci-fi movie or book, or throw a moon-themed party?


Today, I’m happy to welcome a guest reviewer—Nick Alexander!

Hi there! I’m so glad I could participate in reviewing this book. I’m Nick, a space-obsessed environmental science and geology major from Connecticut College who adores anything related to exploring the universe! I developed my love of space at an early age, and it’s inspired me to always think scientifically about the world around me. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and I love classic science fiction novels. I love to write, read, and create things as well as come up with new ideas to research. I still hold on to my childhood ambition of becoming an astronaut, and I hope to one day get out into space and explore the cosmos!


The Darkest Dark

Written by Chris Hadfield | Illustrated by the Fan Brothers (Terry and Eric Fan)

 

The Darkest Dark is a story of many lessons, trials, and triumphs. The book focuses on a little boy named Chris as he discovers the best way to deal with his fear of the dark, a phobia that many children experience. Chris is a boy who dreams of outer space and aviation and longs to one day touch the stars like his heroes. However, there is one problem; Chris is terrified of the “aliens” that lurk in the dark, especially in his bedroom after the lights are turned off. He is so afraid that he can’t sleep through the night in his own bed.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-darkest-dark-bath-tub

Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2016. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Through a journey of trial and error, with the support of his parents, and by watching the 1969 moon landing (which just had its 48th anniversary on the publication of this review), he overcomes his fear and pursues his dreams of becoming an astronaut. This wonderfully charming book explores many a small child’s fear—the dark—and reveals that there is far more to the dark than may meet the eye.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-darkest-dark-sleeping

Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2016. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Chris Hadfield, ISS commander and renowned Canadian astronaut, was very particular in the way he wrote the story, as it explores elements of his own childhood and ties into his own life. The fear of the dark—achluophobia or nyctophobia—is an incredibly common fear that many children deal with at some point in their life. By exploring this phobia, Hadfield channeled his fear into something that he later dedicates his life to. He uses his story to empower the reader and make them feel that even with fears, one can still accomplish anything.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-darkest-dark-dock

Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2016. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Terry and Eric Fan use a great series of techniques to help the reader understand what Chris is scared of, which also helps the reader learn to not be afraid of what’s around them. In the beginning of the book, the illustrators create an environment that gets the reader more accustomed to the idea of darkness and shows how it actually contains many possibilities and endless new questions to be answered. In a way, this atmosphere almost changes the reader’s view of what darkness really means, as it’s presented differently throughout the progression of the book. The illustrations, from the perspective of a space geek, are also rather accurate as well, showing the footage of the Apollo 11 landing and shots of the International Space Station in orbit!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-darkest-dark-playing-astronaut

Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2016. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

As a self-proclaimed space expert, I’m delighted to get the chance to review this wonderful book. Growing up, my fear of the dark often got in the way of being more confident about myself, and to see that people I admire went through something similar really means a lot. As someone who eventually wants to go to space and explore the unknown, maybe it means I’m on the right path. As we continue to move forward, we must keep our eyes turned skywards, and we must continue to come up with inspiring stories like this, to encourage the next generation.

A note about Chris Hadfield and his life and work follows the text.

For kids who love space exploration or who are struggling with overcoming fears, The Darkest Dark is an inspirational read that would be welcome on home bookshelves and a wonderful resource in school, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0316394727

You can learn more about Chris Hadfield and his events, music, and videos as well as view a gallery of aerial photographs on his official website!

Discover a portfolio of illustration work by Terry and Eric Fan on their website!

Blast off to The Darkest Dark with this book trailer!

Space Exploration Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moon-phases-craft

Phases of the Moon Blackboard

 

If you have a little space lover in your family, they may like keeping track of the phases of the moon with their own chalkboard! This craft is easy and fun to do together and will make a cool wall decoration for any child’s room.

Supplies

  • Black tri-fold presentation board or thick poster board
  • Pencil
  • White chalk or glow-in-the-dark paint
  • Circular object to trace (or use a compass) to make the moon
  • Mountable squares for hanging

Directions

The chalkboard can be made any size that you prefer by adjusting the size of the board and sizes of the “moon”

  1. Cut your black tri-fold or poster board to the preferred dimensions. My board measures 4 feet long x 1 foot high
  2. To create nine moon phases, with the pencil trace nine circles at equal distances apart in the center of the board
  3. With the chalk or paint, fill in the center circle completely to make the full moon.

To make the moon phases to the right of the full moon

  1. In the circle to the right of the full moon, color in the left side of the circle until it is ¾ full. Make a dotted line along the right side of the circle
  2. In the next circle color in the left half of the circle with chalk or paint. Make a dotted line to indicate the right half of the circle
  3. In the third circle from the center fill in a ¼ section crescent on the left side of the circle. Make a dotted line around the remaining ¾ of the circle
  4. To mark the new moon on the end, mark the circle with a dotted line

To make the moon phases to the left of the full moon

  1. In the circle to the left of the full moon, color in the right side of the circle until it is ¾ full. Make a dotted line along the left side of the circle
  2. In the next circle color in the right half of the circle with chalk or paint. Make a dotted line to indicate the left half of the circle
  3. In the third circle from the center fill in a ¼ section crescent on the right side of the circle. Make a dotted line around the remaining ¾ of the circle
  4. To mark the new moon on the end, mark the circle with a dotted line

Hang the blackboard on the wall with mounting squares

You can follow the phases of the moon through each month by adding the dates that correspond to each phase and erasing and changing them as the weeks progress.

Picture Book Review