Review by C.J. Bunce
Originally published last year in the UK as A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space, writer Libby Jackson, flight controller and flight director for the European Space Agency, brings her biographies for grade schoolers to U.S. readers re-titled as Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space. An introduction to the space programs of the past and present for girls and boys, Galaxy Girls goes beyond being an assemblage of one-page stories of astronauts, looking back to women of many backgrounds and careers who heavily influenced the progress of space exploration, including many outside the field of aeronautics. Most of the women in the book were not astronauts or “in space” as the title suggests, but it’s fair to say Earth’s space programs would not have been as successful–or continued to survive this long–without them.
Most fascinating is the scope of the book. Readers will encounter standouts from expected fields including scientists and pilots, but also lawyers, doctors, textile workers and seamstresses, and women in the early roles as “computers” themselves. The career path that women selected for the book took the most was that of engineer, but Jackson also includes others, like actress Nichelle Nichols, who, in addition to inspiring young women who would become astronauts from her role on Star Trek, assisted NASA in broadening their recruitment efforts in the 1970s and onward. Wives of astronauts of years past are also spotlighted as influential and key to space exploration, and even the first woman tourist in space is included.
Readers will meet several women famous for their landmark firsts: Jeannette Piccard–first woman in the stratosphere, Jacqueline Cochran–first woman to break the sound barrier, Valentina Tereshkova–first woman in space, Eileen Collins–first woman shuttle pilot and commander, Svetlana Savitskaya–first woman spacewalker, and Peggy Whitson–first woman space station commander (who has gone on to create new records surpassing even male astronaut records in the past year since the book was written). And they’ll learn about women who died in pursuit of space science: Christa McAuliffe, Judy Resnik, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark. Some of the featured women worked behind the scenes to create the earliest space programs, and others featured are today’s pioneers in aeronautics and engineering, planning Earth’s space programs for tomorrow.
The main value of Galaxy Girls is the fact that the book now exists–most of the women featured, who were born in the 1930s to 1970s, had no such book to be inspired by as children. This includes the author of the book, who also had limited inspiration in the UK as role models were concerned since most of the famous astronauts of her youth hailed from the U.S. and Soviet Union. The fact someone has finally created such a work targeting young kids, featuring actually more than 50 women (some of the featured 50 biographies describe groups of women) who helped influence space exploration, is a benchmark long overdue.
Teachers, librarians, and parents purchasing this book may want to know that it is written in British English, so expect many questions from your kids about different spellings, word choice, and phrasings. While hitting inequality head-on in many places, it also is written in a manner that at times overlooks stereotypes of the past in language choices, with statements of fact rather than addressing the differences between yesterday and today as it relates to the roles of women in society across the decades (many books would have gone further to reject outright the inequities faced by these women). Even the title Galaxy “Girls” seems to stand opposite the goals of a book like this–like a 1950s throwback–since these are not girls but women being featured. No doubt creating an encompassing work to both present realities of the past while inspiring kids, breaking down barriers, and eliminating inequalities as an assumption as part of educational growth–in a single volume–can’t be all that easy. The goal of course is getting girls (and boys) to have all the tools in-hand to be anything they want to be, and pilot and astronaut Eileen Collins’ three-year-old daughter may be an indicator the world is making some progress there. Collins’ bio states that her daughter is growing up thinking all moms fly spacecraft.
Here is an excerpt of the Galaxy Girls:
Color illustrations for this 144-page hardcover book were created by art students and graduates of the London College of Communication. An introduction for grade schoolers to spaceflight and the women that inspired the future, Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space is available now here at Amazon.