Review of Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier
by Jim Ottaviani; illus. by Maris Wicks
Middle School    First Second/Roaring Brook    168 pp.
2/20    978-1-62672-877-6    $19.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-76003-6    $12.99

At the attention-grabbing start of ­Ottaviani and Wicks’s second graphic ­collaboration (Primates, rev. 5/13), a series of panels shows a “famous astronaut” (gender intentionally obscured) shedding gear one item at a time until only stark white long johns remain. With a page-turn, readers meet (female) ex-astronaut Mary Cleave, who drolly admits that she’s “maybe not so famous.” But she gets the spotlight here — and the narrative reins, too — in a dense and riveting biography that not only tracks Cleave’s path to NASA’s Group 9 (the second astronaut class to include women) but also weaves in the voices of many trailblazers: Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut and the first woman in space; the Mercury 13, thirteen American women who passed the same rigorous physical tests given to male astronaut candidates; and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. A well-researched and lively text and tidily composed yet expressive illustrations capture the women’s passion, ambition, and know-how — and their indignation and fury at the sexism they faced. Inspirational and funny (“That was Sally’s ride”) and full of nitty-gritty scientific details about astronaut training and life and work aboard a space shuttle, the book illuminates the women’s tough journey to prove that “space is for everyone.” Back matter includes an author’s note (addressing composite characters and invented dialogue), a bibliography, a how-this-book-was-made spread, and character sketches.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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