Thursday, March 11, 2010

Space Books in the Sibert Award

Every year in January, the American Library Association hosts at their midwinter conference The Youth Media Awards. The most famous of these are of course the Newbery Medal (for written works for children) and Caldecott Medal (for illustrations for children). However a whole slew of awards are given out for both teen and children's works. One of my favorite awards is the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal or to put it more concisely, the Sibert Medal honors non-fiction books for kids. Non-fiction is some of my favorite things to read and I thought I'd start my reviews with two of them.

I'm a space geek. As a child there were family vacations to Cape Canaveral and other NASA sites. Someday there will be a moon base (about 15 years if you believe the official NASA site) and someday they will need a children's librarian. I'll be too old by then most likely, but I'll still apply. So I was thrilled when two space books made the Sibert Medal list. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing and a number of great space books came out. It's a good time to be a space geek.

Book: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Awards: Sibert Medal, Finalist for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (basically the award for teen non-fiction)
Vital Stats: Published by Candlewick Press in 2009, 133 pages, full color with many photographs throughout
Marketed toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and Short of It: Highly recommended for anyone, especially for students working at a 3rd to 6th grade level

Book Synopsis:
Shortly after the announcement of the country's first astronauts, the Mercury 7 (John Glenn, Alan Shepard and company), a number of female pilots were called in to undergo astronaut testing. Dubbed the Mercury 13 by their supporters and "astronettes" and "astrodolls" by the press, the women not only passed astronaut tests, they exceeded expectations. However NASA chose not to continue the testing process nor use these women in anyway in the space program. What followed next was a heated battle with the press, the public, and notable figures of the day all taking sides. Even after an appeal to the Vice President (LBJ) and testimony before Congress, the women never won their case. It would be another 20 years before Sally Ride went into space and even longer after that before a women would enter space as a pilot.

My Take:
I'm a space geek and I didn't know about the Mercury 13 women. I found the book fascinating and could not put it down. Anyone within earshot got to hear me read out loud particularly amazing or interesting bits of information in a near-constant commentary. It's an incredible story of amazing women who underwent difficult testing and public scrutiny and did it all with grace and valor. They are undoubtedly pioneers for all of us. According to the book, in 2007 only 6% of all pilots are women and only 3.5% of people who have the approval to fly commercial jets are women. I'm proud to say that one of my good friends is an awesome commercial jet pilot, former airforce pilot, air force academy grad, and a strong Christian. I believe it is possible to be all of these things. This book is a fantastic one to give to any child interested in being a pilot or astronaut or to any girl (or boy) who is looking for strong (female) role models.

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
No real possible issues of concern other than one paragraph which discusses how either menstration or the sexual temptation women pose would be issues with putting them in space with men. One paragraph, not graphic, shouldn't be a problem at all.

On a very cool note, the "leader" of the Mercury 13 women was an Oklahoman named Jerrie Cobb. Described as "deeply spiritual" after failing to have the Mercury 13 women accepted as astronauts, she decided there still was a way for her to contribute as a pilot. She went to South America and delivered food, medicine, and supplies to the natives living in the Amazon. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for this work. (Talk about a female role model!)

Book: Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Awards: Sibert Honor Book
Vital Stats: Published by Athenum Books in 2009, 48 pages, illustrated throughout with watercolors
Marketed Toward: Ages 4 to 8
The Quick and the Short Of It: I highly recommend this book for younger children

Book Synopsis:
Poetry and watercolors combine to tell the story of Apollo 11 in simple language. An author's note at the end fills in the details.

My Take:
This book has graceful free verse (and poetry is not my favorite thing to read) and beautiful watercolors. It's a great introduction to the Apollo program and might interest a child in learning more. It's too long for me to use in a storytime and too long for very young (think under three) children, but would be perfect to share one-on-one or as a bedtime story with the early school children (or the almost ready for school children). A marvelous addition to the fantastic array of space books out there.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection:
None that I can see.

You Might Also Like:
If either of these books are interesting to you, you (or your children) might also enjoy The Wright Sister by Richard Maurer which tells the story of Katharine Wright Haskell, sister of "The Wright Brothers" and their support, cook, promoter, and companion during the years they developped their plane and promoted it. For the budding space enthusiast, I recommend Team Moon: How 400,000 people landed Apollo 11 on the moon by Catharine Thimmesh, a great middle grade non-fiction work that focuses on the extraordinary effots of so many people to get man to the moon, including the little old lady seamstresses who sewed the spacesuits by hand. (This was the 2007 Sibert Medal winner.)

When I consider your heavens,
the works of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
-Psalm 8:3-4


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