My students can always tell when I’m reading an especially good book during our sustained silent reading time. I’m a reader who wears her literary heart on her sleeve and I’m not always quiet about it. The kids heard me gasping in shock as I read Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES, laughing out loud at Erin Dionne’s MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, and most recently, grumbling with indignation as I read Tanya Lee Stone’s latest work of nonfiction for middle grade readers, ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM.
Known informally as the Mercury 13, these women were the best of the best: pilots who had earned their wings and wanted more. They fought to prove they were just as qualified to be astronauts as the men being trained by NASA, and they had test data to support that argument. ALMOST ASTRONAUTS tells the story of why they never made it into space – a story that serves as a shocking reminder of how deeply ingrained sexism was in American society in the early 1960s.
This book is loaded with compelling details, from vivid descriptions of the testing and training these women endured to media reports from the time period that illustrate just the kind of bias that kept the women out of space in the end. Modern students reading this account will be intrigued by the historical and scientific details, outraged at the attitudes of the powerful people who put up roadblocks for the women who might have been America’s first female astronauts, and inspired by the manner in which these women paved the way for others.
Every school year, I’m able to choose just a few books that our full team reads together in class. These books are so well-written that I’m willing to read them out loud four times over the course of a few weeks. They have to be important books, amazing books that I know will capture every student’s imagination. This year, we’ve already read Cynthia Lord’s RULES and Laurie Halse Anderson’s CHAINS. ALMOST ASTRONAUTS is going to be our next whole-team book for this year, and I can’t wait to share it with my kids.