In the graphic novel Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier, Jim Ottaviani and illustrator Maris Wicks capture the great humor and incredible drive of Mary Cleave, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first women in space.
The U.S. may have put the first man on the moon, but it was the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space. It took years to catch up, but soon NASA’s first female astronauts were racing past milestones of their own.
The trail-blazing women of Group 9, NASA’s first mixed gender class, had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman’s place is in space, but they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for everyone.---from the publisher
176 pages 978-1250760036 Ages 9-13
Keywords: graphic nonfiction, graphic biography, biography, astronauts, girls and women, women, space, determination, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, humor, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, STEM, science
Books Alive: Barb's interview with Astronaut, Mary Cleave
*************** “We come and go like a comet
We are wanderers, are you anymore?”
-- Paul Kantner, “Starship” (1970)
“I started flying when I was fourteen because I was a strange little kid that kept playing with model airplanes and...anyway, my parents were great.
My mother’s brother was a pilot, and he was killed in World War II. He was the only flier in our family. But you know, I liked airplanes, and when I said I wanted to fly, my parents did a smart thing. They let me.
(Mother) ‘It’s expensive...so if you want to do this, make some money. Whatever you make, we’ll match.’
So I started babysitting and giving baton-twirling lessons and making money. My parents matched it, and I met Walt.
Walt was an Army Air Corps pilot and an instructor. We had the best time.
(Walt) ‘I’ve never taught someone to fly that couldn’t drive a car. No bad habits to unlearn. It’s great!’
It was great. but when I did finally get into a car the first time in driver’s ed., I scared everyone half to death.
(Mary) ‘Sorry, sorry. I gotta fight this feeling.’
(Driver’s Ed teacher) ‘What feeling?’
(Mary) ‘That I should be steering with my feet.’”
60% of licensed attorneys in the U.S. are now female. A majority of new MDs in America are also now female. A lot has changed over the past half-century. Before Title IX, women generally couldn’t gain entry to many of the country's most prestigious professional programs. Now they are on the verge of dominating these fields.
But flying airplanes and spaceships seems to still be a field in which men have maintained control. The latest statistics from the FAA Aeronautical Center show that only 6.6% of commercial airline pilots in the U.S. are women. And one might have a better shot at winning this week’s Lotto jackpot than becoming a female astronaut orbiting the planet.
Mary Cleve is one of the rare women who beat the odds through hard work and good luck.
ASTRONAUTS: WOMEN ON THE FINAL FRONTIER is the story of the women who have become part of space programs in the US and the former USSR. It’s a fun and notable graphic novel focused on the struggles and successes of women astronauts. Part of the focus is on Valentina Tereshkova, the Russian cosmonaut who, in 1963, was the first woman in space. Tereshkova remains the only woman to have completed a solo space mission.
The story is narrated from the point of view of now-former US astronaut Mary Cleve, who served on two space missions in the 1980s. There is a lot of great information here, but what makes the story particularly memorable are the accompanying illustrations. It’s exciting to see Mary and her co-crew members heading out to the launch pad for their trip into space.
“When we got out of the van, it zoomed away. Fast. And there was Atlantis. Our ride.
In all the simulations and all our practice runs, there were people everywhere. Now nobody was around but us. We’d never been to the ship when it was loaded with fuel and ready to go. Too dangerous.”
This is an exciting history. Some men, like the late John Glenn, take a bit of a hit for not being on the right side of things when it came to women in space. But Mary, Sally Ride, and other women have now pierced this barrier. I hope that the gender gap in both civil aviation and NASA’s programs will continue to narrow.
ASTRONAUTS: WOMEN ON THE FINAL FRONTIER is a stellar picture book for older readers.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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