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Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Jane Addams Honor Book (Awards)) Hardcover – February 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 5–7—Stone adopts a tone of righteous indignation in chronicling the quixotic efforts of 13 women to win admission into NASA's initial astronaut training program in the early 1960s. The women were all pilots (one, Jerrie Cobb, had more hours in the air than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter), earned high scores in preliminary tests, and even counted a senator's wife among their number. But resistance came from all directions—including NASA regulations, which were weighted toward men; media coverage that reflected contemporary gender expectations; political maneuvering by then vice president LBJ and other officials; and the crushing opposition expressed by renowned aviatrix Jackie Cochran in a 1962 Congressional hearing. Properly noting, however, that losing "depends on where you draw the finish line," the author closes with chapters on how women did ultimately win their way into space—not only as mission specialists, but also as pilots and commanders. Illustrated with sheaves of photos, and based on published sources, recently discovered documents, and original interviews with surviving members of the "Mercury 13," this passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.—John Peters, New York Public Library
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From Booklist

“Space gals. Astronettes. Astrodolls . . . Who do these women think they are?” The media mocked them. Male astronauts did not want them, and neither did then vice-president Lyndon Johnson. If they were to let women into the space program, blacks and other minorities would be next. Nearly 20 years before the U.S. officially admitted women into the astronaut program, 13 women, known as the Mercury 13, fought for the right to soar into space. This dramatic, large-size photo-essay covers their stories, along with the exciting politics of the women’s liberation struggle in the 1950s and ’60s (“What is a woman’s place?”) and the breakthrough science and technology surrounding space exploration, including details of the would-be astronauts’ tests and training. The chatty, immediate style (“Picture this”) and full-page photos make for a fast read, and the crucial civil-rights history will stay with readers. The long, spacious back matter is part of the story, with detailed chapter notes and a bibliography. Grades 5-8. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 980L (What's this?)
  • Series: Jane Addams Honor Book (Awards)
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; 1 edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763636118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763636111
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.5 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tanya Lee Stone is an award-winning author of books for kids and teens. Stone went to performing arts high school in New Haven, CT and went on to major in English at Oberlin College (and study Voice at Oberlin Conservatory). After graduation she moved to New York and became an editor. Stone was an editor for more than a dozen years and has a Masters Degree in Science Education. She teaches Writing for Children at Champlain College.

After moving to Vermont, Stone became a full-time writer and has published more than 90 books for young readers. She writes picture books, nonfiction, and Young Adult fiction. Her newest nonfiction books have garnered some major awards. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Candlewick 09), received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, Jane Addams Honor, YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, Orbis Pictus Honor, and was awarded ALA's Sibert Medal for the best nonfiction book for young readers of 2010. The Good the Bad, and the Barbie won SCBWI's Golden Kite Award for the best nonfiction book of the year for 2011.

Her Young Adult novel, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl (Wendy Lamb/Random House) was an IRA Young Adult Choice, an ALA Quick Picks, an NYPL Book for the Teen Age, and SLJ Book of the Month. Her newest nonfiction picture books, Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote and Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder received starred reviews and were put on several state award lists. Elizabeth Leads the Way is also an ALA Notable, an Amelia Bloomer Award title, and a CBC Notable Social Studies Book.

Forthcoming titles include picture books about Elizabeth Blackwell and Jane Addams, as well as a YA nonfiction book about the first black paratroopers in WWII called Courage Has No Color.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By L. K. Messner on March 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm a 7th grade teacher, and 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.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By G. N. Jessen on March 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
Tanya Stone's well-researched and faithfully recorded "Almost Astronauts" describes a small footnote in history during the early years of our country's astronaut program. For those who weren't adults in 1961, or rather, female adults in 1961, the era of women aspiring to traditionally "male" jobs reveals surprisingly ugly politics and prejudices - NASA notwithstanding. Although I wasn't as active in the women's movement as some others, I commend their grit and applaud Ms Stone's passion for the story and her special talent in telling it.

Yours for accurate history, Gene Nora Jessen, one of the 13
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Fred Bortz "Dr. Fred" on March 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Jim Oberg's negative review makes some excellent points that do not diminish my admiration for this book, which echoes what the starred reviews in major publications have said.

I think Oberg's follow-up comments in the discussion of his review, rather than the briefer review itself, add quite a bit to the discussion of this excellent book for young readers.

Oberg's comments illuminate the paradox that is LBJ. Then-Vice-President Johnson was nothing if not pragmatic, which is why he was later successful getting civil rights laws passed, but he could be blunt and even vicious in his language. The pragmatic LBJ recognized that making special accommodations for women would lead to other groups asking for the same thing.

But when he said that, he used the language of the bigots who were all too commonly in positions of political power, and it is easy to conclude that he, himself, was a bigot. Oberg makes me reconsider whether Tanya Lee Stone's interpretation was correct, or whether we need a little more nuance to understand Johnson. After all, later in his career Johnson became the president who pushed for and signed some remarkable civil rights legislation.

And when you follow Oberg's review's link to his 2007 article about women space craft commanders, you will see that he admires women in space and the contribution of pioneers like the ones in Stone's book.

He seems to me to be a historian who is arguing for nuance. As an author of books for the same age range as this one, I know that it is not always easy to include such nuances. So I am sympathetic to both Stone's work and Oberg's comments.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on September 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
When I was ten, I wanted to be an astronaut. I checked out books from my local library, I worked hard in my science classes, I visited the Kennedy Space Center, and I read a lot of science fiction so that if I ever ran into aliens on my mission to Mars, I'd be prepared. Reading this book made me realize how lucky I was to have grown up in an atmosphere where the abilities of women were respected more or less regardless of their gender. The same year I turned ten, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle.

But back in the 1960s, aspiring women had no such role models; if they wanted young girls to understand that it was possible for women to perform just as well as men, they would have to become the models for future generations. In this book, Stone tells the story of the "Mercury 13," a group of thirteen women who fought tooth and nail for entrance into the space program decades before NASA let any women in. The combination of clear prose, firm social and historical grounding, and the detail-oriented nature of this account had me hooked from the beginning, opening a window into the history of women in space.

Stone portrays her facts convincingly, utilizing quotes from contemporary media sources like newspapers and magazines along with first-person narratives from the women involved and historical photographs. This combination of sources makes the experience of reading this book visceral, something you feel in your gut. This was particularly evident to me in the chapters where Stone describes in a play-by-play manner the physical and psychological tests that the Mercury 13 underwent in order to prove that they were just as capable as men. For a moment, I felt like I was in that isolation tank, or battling with my first experience of zero-gravity.
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