Almost Astronauts 13 Women Who Dared To Dream is the story of 13 women who participated in the same tests used by NASA to test the seven male astronauts of the Mercury 7 mission. These women, along with scientist Randy Lovelace, hoped to change NASA’s perception of women and to participate in the astronaut-training program. This book shares both the personal role each woman played in the testing and the public debate that followed along with the political side and social climate of the 1960s. Women were viewed as the “homemakers” and they could not get a loan or rent a car on their own. The story continues on to show how even though they did not get to join NASA, they got the ball rolling against discrimination based on gender. It ends with the uplifting message that dreams can come true as told by the first woman Thunderbird pilot for the air force.
This book is rich with history as told by some of the women themselves through their interviews with the author, Tanya Lee Stone. She includes many photographs from the testing and the women pilots. There are also posters and comics to represent the social feelings of the time. At the end, there are photos of women who have become astronauts and jet pilots as a result of the advancement of gender equality.
Almost Astronauts is well written for an older elementary audience. I think it sends a powerful message about how women have been treated in the past and what women should aim for in the future. The story begins with the 1999 launch of the space shuttle Columbia with the first woman commander (driver). It then goes back in time to tell the story of the “Mercury 13” women. I think this beginning helps to connect young readers to the story because the space shuttle is something they are familiar with and then it leads them down the path of history. Although there are many key players in this complex story, the author weaves their individual parts into the whole story so it does not read like many biographies put together.
The School Library Journal starred review notes that it is a “passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to establish gender prejudices” and Booklist states that “full-page photos make for a fast read and the crucial civil-rights history will stay with readers.” The extensive endnotes include an appendix, webliography, further reading and source notes to give the reader more to dig into.
2010 Sibert Medal Winner
Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor
Orbis Pictus Honor Book
Young Adult Library Services Association Excellence in Nonfiction Honor