Who doesn’t look at the sky with wonder? A person might wonder what the stars are made of or if anyone else is up there? These books will foster a love of the night sky and a sense of exploration. Strap in for an exciting ride!

Web links to additional information and activities about humor follow these reviews.


Contributor: Peg Glisson


Black Hole Sun

David Macinnis Gill

Movie-ready doesn’t even begin to describe this lightning-paced action novel about a group of teen mercenaries out to make a living on a hardscrabble Mars and, if it’s financially rewarding, save a few lives along the way. To be fair, only a few members of the ragtag group are in it solely for the cash, while the others are following a complex moral code of a samurai-esque group called the Regulators. Either way, none of them is quite prepared for the horror of the flesh-eating Draeu and their even more powerful, used-to-be human leader. Mars is tough living at best, and a group of miners, long weary of handing over their children on demand to the Draeu, decide to take a stand. Durango, the book’s protagonist, takes the job to help them, and gathers as many allies as he can, though his word as an outcast Regulator means little. He has Mimi, his dead leader who is implanted in his head (and who offers both sardonic advice and technologically advanced assistance), and fiercely loyal Vienne, who will always help him, but everyone else in the group is dubious at best. The good guys are muddy and just trying to survive; the bad guys are creepy in all the right ways and just trying to survive as well. The elegantly, intricately described exotic setting is unremittingly bleak, and it serves almost as a character in itself, sometimes subtly sucking away ambition and other times bashing characters over the head with yet another Mars-related nightmare. Action, adventure, sci-fi, and horror buffs will all find this an almost perfect mix of all of the genres, and the addition of a soupçon of romance and hints of painful family drama results in a book that’s got appeal to just about any potential speculative-fiction fan. 2010, Greenwillow, Grades 9-12, $16.99. REVIEWER: April Spisak (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).


ISBN: 9780061673047

The Coolest Job in the Universe : Working Aboard the International Space Station

Henry M. Holden.

Did you know that there is something in outer space called “space junk”? Actually, there is a lot of it. In 2011, the Joint Space Operations Center was monitoring 22,000 pieces of man-made orbiting objects. This book talks about space junk as well as many other factors most people would not think about with regards to living and working on the International Space Station. The book describes the risks associated with living in space, the benefits of having the space program, and the solutions that have been found to mitigate the risks. There are many pictures of astronauts on the space station, as well as other related photographs. Any child who is interested in the space program will enjoy this overview of what it is like to be in space on the space station. The book also contains a table of contents, a glossary, a list of references for the text, and a list of additional print and Internet resources. 2013, Enslow Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $23.93. REVIEWER: Nicole Peterson Davis (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780766040748

How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers: A Simple but Brilliant Plan in 24 Easy Steps.

Mordicai Gerstein

Caldecott Medalist Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) kicks his imagination into high gear in this fantastical how-to book. A boy with spiky red hair and glasses shares his 24-step plan for planting sunflowers on the moon to cheer it up (Gerstein portrays it with droopy eyes and a frown). The Rube Goldberg–worthy expedition, chronicled in exuberant cartoon panels and comically deadpan narration, involves creating a giant slingshot to launch a flag pole/anchor harpoon into the moon (the satellite looks understandably alarmed as the boy’s homemade missile approaches); then, wearing a spacesuit kindly donated by NASA, one can simply bicycle up to the moon on the 238,900 miles of garden hose attached to the harpoon (“Your mother will be sobbing, your father will shake your hand, and everyone else will say good luck and take care”). Throughout, the boy’s emotions are genuine and infectious: he’s moved by the beauty of Earth from space, shares feelings of loneliness on his journey, and is elated to see the results of his work after he returns home. 2013, Roaring Brook, Ages 4–8, $16.99.. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.

ISBN: 9781596435124

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke

The second graphic novel in the Zita the Spacegirl series is a step above the original. In this story, Zita is traveling the universe to return to Earth and is a hero with personal appearances, fans, and celebrity. When a robot takes on her appearance, she lets it play her at an appearance so she can escape and see the town. But the robot accepts a job to save another planet from doom, takes over Zita’s life, and kicks her off the spaceship. Stranded with only her friend Mouse to assist, Zita becomes a wanted criminal and strikes off on another adventure to stop the robot and meet up with her friends once more. The full-color artwork is more polished in this second graphic novel than in the previous. The new characters are just as imaginatively drawn as the recurring ones. The colorists use muted tones, primarily leaving bold tones to stand out in certain scenes. We learn a little more about the side characters’ pasts, but not enough of Zita to allow her to be more than a standard girl power character. While one can still enjoy the adventure without having read the first volume, readers who have read volume one will get more out of this book. Give this graphic novel to a reader not quite ready for Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series. 2012, First Second/Macmillan, Ages 11 to 15, $12.99. REVIEWER: Kristin Fletcher-Spear (VOYA).

ISBN: 9781596438064

The Mighty Mars Rovers : The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity

Elizabeth Rusch

The question of life on Mars has fueled space research and imagination for years. Steven Squyres watched the Apollo moon mission on television as a teenager and grew up to be lead scientist on the mission sending his self-designed rovers to Mars. Readers watch as his team brings the rovers to life and follows their journeys into space. The two robots seem to take on personalities of their own as they survive years past their initial three month assignment and defy countless odds and near calamities to gather information to send back to earth. The next step is using all of that information to help put people on Mars; a thrilling prospect! Full of rich photos of Steve and the other scientists and astronauts, the rovers and the red planet itself, this book is sure to re-ignite interest in an ever-changing space exploration program. Part of the “Scientists in the Field” series, this volume would be a valuable addition to any school or classroom library. 2012, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 9 to 12, $18.99. REVIEWER: Amy McMillan (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780547478814


Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

Juno meets aliens, sort of, in this wacky debut novel. The narrator is sixteen-year-old Elvie Nara, whose wisecracking voice is the perfect vehicle for her description of encounters with threatening aliens. This includes her high school classmates as well as the two species of aliens who attack the pregnant teen’s birthing center, a spaceship in orbit around Earth, the mothership of the title. This is an extremely clever premise that is skillfully carried off by the authors. On the one hand, Elvie goes from bullies and pregnancy issues to running for her life from aliens only two weeks before her due date. On the other, she flashes back to her school and home life which include her encounters with the drop-dead gorgeous Cole Archer, the father of her baby, who disappeared from her life the minute she told him she was pregnant. He reappears with the alien force that attacks the mothership. Lots of humor, snarky teen comments, and earthy language abound as Elvie provides a blow-by-blow description of life in school and space and battling aliens while trying to make it to the end of her pregnancy and decide what to do with the baby once it is born. This is book one of The Ever-Expanding Universe trilogy. This reviewer cannot wait to see the next installment of Elvie’s alien encounters. Teens who like irreverent humor, as well as fans of science fiction, are going to enjoy spending time with Elvie and her friends. 2012, Simon & Schuster, Ages 15 to 18, $16.99. REVIEWER: Bonnie Kunzel (VOYA)

ISBN: 9781442429604

Out of This World : Poems and Facts About Space

Amy E. Sklansky

Through the twenty poems about space and astronomy, readers discover a fascination for space travel and exploration that humans have shared for generations. The fun poems are accompanied and supported by sidebars with facts about space and about astronomy. For example, there are facts and a poem about packing to go to the moon that details what the Apollo 11 astronauts took with them on their historic mission, and then asks readers to think about what they would take if they were going to the moon. Readers learn that the bright light they associate with the moon is actually a reflection of the sun’s light; the moon does not generate its own light. There is a haiku poem about the astronaut footprints on the surface of the moon and the accompanying sidebar explains that the footprints will likely last as long as the moon itself does. The artwork that illustrates the book is a combination of paintings and computer-generated images, lending both wonder and charm to the book. The factoids in the sidebars are valuable by themselves and are particularly useful for a class unit on astronomy. This is one of the better books about outer space for younger readers and it is very highly recommended. 2012, Knopf/Random House, Ages 5 to 10, $17.99. REVIEWER: Ellen Welty (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780375864599

Pluto Visits Earth!

Steve Metzger

Illustrated by Jared Lee

The recently demoted planet Pluto is the hero of this fantasy, which offers bits of astronomical information amid its whimsy. When Pluto is informed by a passing space rock that he is no longer a real planet, he is enraged. He recalls being named after a Roman god, and decides to go to Earth and demand to be changed from a dwarf planet to a real one again. On the way, he asks the other planets for reinforcement. But Neptune is too busy with his thirteen moons; Uranus is too frightened; Saturn too vain; Jupiter too bossy; and Mars too distracted. Reaching Earth, Pluto asks astronomers why they made him a dwarf. They claim that he is too small, not even much larger than his moons. But then a young boy tells him that he will always be his favorite. Finally feeling special, Pluto speeds back happily to his orbit. Use of a Rapidograph pen helps project nervous movement to the objects in the black sky. Colored dyes add attractiveness to the comic scenes. The end pages showing rocket ships, comets, stars, and even a few humans in space suits reinforce the fantasy. A note clarifies the discovery of Pluto and its recent demotion. 2012, Orchard Books/Scholastic, Ages 4 to 7, $16.99. REVIEWERS: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780545249348

Pluto’s Secret : An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery

Margaret Weitekamp with David DeVorkin

Illustrated by Diane Kidd

Why is Pluto no longer called a planet? This book, published in association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, explains in scientific but elementary terms how this change came about. Large illustrations help define the descriptions of the solar system and how astronomers, particularly one named Percival Lowell, search for a new planet beyond Neptune. Using a new telescopic camera, an astronomer finds what he labeled as the ninth planet that was eventually named Pluto. But they discover that Pluto does not stay in one place as the other planets do. They also find other objects in the same orbit as Pluto. Astronomers name this area where the new objects orbit “the Kuiper belt.” They decide that they need to define what a planet actually is or is not and decide that Pluto is not really a planet since it is not alone in its orbit. Humorous drawings depict Pluto talking and smiling as the discoveries unfold. Several pages at the end of the book discuss “The People and Telescopes Behind the Story.” A “Who’s Who” gives information about each planet and the astronomers. There is a glossary and “A Note from the Museum.” This text contains a good explanation of a complex theory and relates the information in an entertaining way. Younger children should be able to get a better idea of the concepts of outer space and the basics of astronomy. It would make a helpful resource for educational purposes. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/Abrams, Ages 8 to 11, $16.95. REVIEWER: Vicki Foote (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781419704239

Seven Wonders of Space Technology

Fred Bortz

Judgment calls are difficult when listing the greatest of anything, but this book does an excellent job of narrowing the list of space technology wonders to seven by highlighting a combination of specific spacecraft and more general categories. The general chapters are Chapters 1, on observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and Spitzer Space Telescope; 3, on Earth satellites and weather satellites; 4, on moon bases and moon water, as well as recent lunar missions, such as Clementine, Lunar Prospector, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and Chandrayaan-1, launched by India; 5, on the Mars Rovers—Sojourn, Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity, and the future craft Curiosity; and 7, on future technologies—solar sails and plasma-drive rockets, including the Dawn craft now on its way to asteroid Vesta. The two chapters on single craft are Chapters 2, on the International Space Station; and 6, on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, with a summary of all seven of its instruments for a total power consumption of only 28 watts! (p. 55). The book has a one-page time line; a listing of sources, including websites used in the preparation of the text; and a bibliography. Both English and metric units are used. Only one statement dates the text at present: the one with the reference to the future retirement of the Shuttle fleet in 2011 (p. 14). The text has an error on page 35: Under an illustration of a lunar astronaut, the caption reads, “… Aldrin became the first human to walk on the Moon in 1969”; actually, he was the second. A unique aspect of this book is its suggested reader project, “Choose an Eighth Wonder” (p. 73). Although this profusely illustrated book may seem short, it really is worth the price! (Seven Wonders Series) . 2011, Twenty-First Century Books, Ages 12 to 18, $33.26. REVIEWER: Ronald F. Smith (Science Books and Films)

ISBN: 9780761354536

Space and Time

Jim Whiting

Part of the “Mysteries of the Universe” series, which examines the complex physics and entities of our universe, Space & Time explores the history and science of our understanding of these concepts. Whiting begins with a basic description of our daily experiences with both space and time. We use clocks and calendars to track our place in time, and, similarly, we use concepts like longitude and latitude to establish physical locations (however, though we can revisit physical locations, we cannot do the same with time). In the next chapter, Whiting examines the history of how humans have measured both space and time, including physical measurements, lunar and solar calendars, and increasingly accurate clocks. Finally, current thinking about the unity of space and time are explained, the Theory of Relativity shows how these concepts are interconnected (four dimensional “spacetime”), and the author floats possibilities for time travel. The clean, simple layout of the pages makes the reading experience smooth and enjoyable. In addition, the full color photographs and illustrations are striking. The text can feel a bit dry at times, but the content is of high quality, and the amount of text will not be intimidating to an average student. The book also contains an index, glossary (necessary, since sometimes the definitions are brushed over within the text), related websites, and a selected bibliography. Overall, a solid addition to science collections; can either be used as a stand-alone title or with other series titles. 2012, Creative Education, Ages 10 up, $24.95. REVIEWER: Caitlin Marineau (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781608181926

Space Blog

Angela Roylston

Kids in grades 3-6 – particularly Grade 4 – will appreciate the 32-page ‘Connections’ titles from Crabtree, which pair vivid color covers and contemporary photos with lively subjects in science to grab attention and educate. The new Connections releases are top picks highly recommended for any general elementary-level library, each offering introductions suitable for either reports or leisure browsing. Angela Royston’s SPACE BLOG offers kids a virtual trip to outer space, introducing the solar system through bright sidebars of information, science and ‘space tips’ through a first-person ‘blog’ of experience from a space-exploring astronaut’s perspective. A highly recommended science collection pick! 2010, Crabtree, Grades 3-6, $19.95. REVIEWER: Midwest Book Review (Children’s Bookwatch, March 2011).


ISBN: 9780778799108

Space Tourism

Peter McMahon
Illustrated by Andy Mora

Readers of Space Tourism might some day blast off for a space holiday! Author Peter McMahon was nominated for the 2010 Lane Anderson Award for Ultimate Trains, the first book in Kids Can’s Machines of the Future series. In Space Tourism, McMahon informs us that one hotel entrepreneur “hopes to offer four-week stays to the public by the end of 2012” for US $15 million. In the first part of Space Tourism, McMahon gives the short history of the non-work-related space trips that a dozen people have taken since 2000. In the second part of the book, the author explains how advances in technology are rapidly making space trips more affordable. The page and a half of text treatments tell about “Living on an International Space Station,” “Space Hotels” and other topics, with insets that contain trivia such as the fact that Space Station meals are now “designed by celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Rachael Ray.” This book earns gold stars for its valuable expert interviews that link to truly intriguing experiments. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, for example, describes take-off and “its various stages [that] deliver the astronauts aboard into orbit.” She challenges readers to “think about that” when making the multi-stage rocket. The directions for this and other projects can be tricky, although the projects themselves are outstanding. The impeccably clear illustrations of technical and scientific illustrator, Andy Mora, make a great difference in helping readers successfully complete the projects. Space Tourism has a glossary and an index; both are slim, but appropriate, for this short, 39-page book. The publisher’s recommended reading level for this book is Grades 4 to 7, but readers in Grade 3 or even younger would appreciate it, too. With its approach that includes hand-drawn images, interesting facts, true stories and things to make, this book will take spaceniks out of this world! Grades 4 to 7. 2011, Kids Can Press, Ages 9 to 13, $18.95. REVIEWER: lian goodall (Canadian Children’s Book News).

ISBN: 9781554533688

Stink : Solar System Superhero

Megan McDonald

Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Stink Moody, younger brother of Judy Moody, returns to fight for the underdog and teach his classmates a thing or two in the process. Formerly enamored of the planet Saturn, Stink becomes intrigued by the entire solar system while studying for a science test. But he realizes his mnemonic device is lacking when the teacher marks Pluto wrong because it is no longer classified as a planet. Stink is so indignant that he takes a stand against his nemesis, Riley Rottenberger, who smugly reveals that she already learned that fact at Space Camp. Their teacher agrees to let the two students–and their followers–duke it out by campaigning for their views, staging a mock trial, and performing a dramatic reading about Pluto’s banishment. At the climax of the story, Stink’s performance proves persuasive, and the underdog prevails. The writing is the right blend of education and entertainment to hold the interest of young readers, and it’s intriguing how the suspense builds as Stink approaches Pluto’s last stand at school. Crammed as the book is with written and illustrated facts about the solar system, readers can’t help but come away with a better understanding of each planet’s properties. Clever “Mnemonic Comics” illustrate the planets using the phrase “My Very Excellent Mother Served Us Nine Pizzas,” anthropomorphizing them to educate readers about their characteristics. Other simple illustrations with funny details, such as Pluto’s symbolic tombstone, flesh out the story well. 2010, Candlewick Press, Ages 6 to 10, $12.99. REVIEWER: Michele C. Hughes (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780763643218

Super Stars : The Biggest, Hottest, Brightest, Most Explosive Stars in the Milky Way

David A. Aguilar

This gorgeously illustrated book takes us on a spectacular journey in time and space, introducing 15 fascinating denizens of the Milky Way with careful descriptions that provide astronomical details. A “Look to the Stars” logo on nearly every double page spread provides a visibility key (e.g., “Naked Eye,” “Binoculars,” “Telescope”), in addition to the object’s name, constellation, and distance from earth (in light-years), and a reference to a simple star chart showing the object’s location as seen from earth. References to Luke Skywalker and the ancient Greek Medusa connect some pictures to contemporary culture. A number of the pictures show an object as it would be seen from a nearby (supposed) planet; for example, Algol, a triple star eclipsing system, is shown in close up with a view from a desiccated plain containing tall rocky monoliths. The book starts with a lovely new mnemonic for the order of stellar classification (OBAFGKM) on the half title page and includes a short glossary, an index, four small star charts that show the location of each object illustrated, notes on the “Composition of Our Sun” and the “Speed of Light,” and a list of Internet links for “Further Exploration.” There is even an exercise in drawing “The Stars to Scale” using chalk in a parking lot (great fun!).With such an extraordinary presentation, the few editorial faults (“Gliese” is pronounced “gleez ze,” VY Canis Major should be VY Canis Majoris, and a questionable choice of font for some text that makes the letter B and the number 8 hard to distinguish) are easily ignored. This is, indeed, a “super star” of a book. Glossary; Index; C.I.P. Highly Recommended, 2010, National Geographic Society, Ages 10 to 14, $27.90. REVIEWER: Katherine Haramundanis (Science Books and Films).

ISBN: 9781426306013

You Are a Star!

Michael Parker

Illustrations by Judith Rossell

This charming picture book shows little children how they and the universe were formed in a simple, creative way that provides just the right mixture of science and imagination. The author uses a unique method of narration, in that while he is ostensibly addressing the little girl in the book, he could also be talking to the reader as well. He tells the little girl that even the tip of her finger is made out of stars, and then he invites her to fly out of her bedroom window, into the sky, to see what millions of stars look like. From there he takes her on a journey into the life of a single star and its eventual explosion, leading to its role in creating the earth, and everything and everyone in it. The language used in the book is both evocative and beautiful, as are the illustrations which display an interesting progression. In the beginning and in the end of the book, when the little girl is in her bedroom, the drawings are contained in small squares, perhaps showing how small each one of us is in the universe. In the middle of the book, however, when the girl is flying through the sky, the illustrations are large and sometimes cover two pages, hinting at the universe’s great expanse. At the end of the book is a page of “star facts” which include information about the sun, the color and life span of stars, and why stars seem to be twinkling. This is a gentle and lovely book that is likely to stir a child’s interest in science as well as engage her imagination. The pages are not numbered. 2012, Walker, Ages 4 to 7, $16.99. REVIEWER: Leona Illig (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781426311147

Updated 05/01/13

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