SciFriday - Almost Astronauts

Welcome back to Sci Friday - a blog feature where I share my science and science fiction favorite books for the world to see.

"Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others" - Amelia Earhart

This summer I visited Washington, D.C. with my family. My husband and sons rushed around to all the museum exhibits and monuments with unbridled glee. I always enjoy these kinds of outings as well, but I started to notice something as I walked around...

Women's contributions to our nation's history and science were present, but often seemed to be spotlighted as a bit of an anomaly. Each time I found a woman's story, I found myself drawn to her. I lingered. I took more pictures. I teared up a bit.

This has always been the way of the world, and I seem to remember noticing this problem more as a young girl and teenager. I guess as I hit adulthood I just pushed it out of my mind more. I'm not sure why it's been jumping out at me more lately, but I have found myself looking at everything with a more critical lens in the past few years. Women hold up "half the sky" (which, by the way, is an amazing movement dedicated to "turning oppression into opportunity"), but the recognition of our contributions is sorely lacking.

So when several friends recommended that I read Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, I knew this was the kind of book I needed. It was the kind of book my students needed. Here was a story that I had never heard as a girl. This is a story that needs to be told.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone
Hardcover, 134 pages
Published February 24th 2009 by Candlewick Press (first published February 29th 2000)
ISBN 0763636118 (ISBN13: 9780763636111)
Goodreads Summary
They had the right stuff. They defied the prejudices of the time. And they blazed a trail for generations of women to follow.

What does it take to be an astronaut? Excellence at flying, courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, top physical shape — any checklist would include these. But when America created NASA in 1958, there was another unspoken rule: you had to be a man. Here is the tale of thirteen women who proved that they were not only as tough as the toughest man but also brave enough to challenge the government. They were blocked by prejudice, jealousy, and the scrawled note of one of the most powerful men in Washington. But even though the Mercury 13 women did not make it into space, they did not lose, for their example empowered young women to take their place in the sky, piloting jets and commanding space capsules. ALMOST ASTRONAUTS is the story of thirteen true pioneers of the space age.

My Thoughts:
I was reminded of this photo that I took at the helicopter museum near my house. The Whirly Girls were mentioned in the early part of Almost Astronauts as well. It's both amazing to see how far women have come, and disheartening to realize just how long it has taken to get where we are.

Did I mention that I teared up as I walked the museums and saw - sprinkled among the men - the stories of the women who helped create my world? This book gave me those same feelings. I also felt angry. No, I felt downright furious that these 13 women had dared to dream that they could be treated equally and had been denied the opportunities that men took for granted. I grew up watching the shuttle launches as a girl. Even though I never saw my own path heading into space, I knew that women like Sally Ride had led the way. I had no idea that these women existed. 

Besides the fact that I feel this is an important story for all students to hear, the book itself is well written and would appeal to students in upper elementary and up. The photos were numerous enough that I could see the Mercury 13 and helped to break up the text. The text itself includes so much dialogue and interesting snippets that I felt pulled into the story.

I borrowed Almost Astronauts from my local library on the advice of several of my Nerdy Book Club friends (my "Nerderati"), and they didn't steer me wrong. I've already ordered a copy to put into my classroom library, and I can't wait to get it into the hands of my students.


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