Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington is a stellar picture book biography that reminds me, once again, why it is vitally important to give even the youngest readers access to stories about about the lives, the childhoods especially, of people who have made great contributions to our world. To put it simply, you can't be what you can't see. When I was a kid, I can't remember a single biography for kids that I read. Although I'm sure they existed, they were likely so unappealing that I passed them over without a thought. When my oldest children were in elementary school, the only biographies on the shelves that featured the young lives of the famous were the Childhood of Famous Americans 70 book series, which can be a bit dry. In the last 10 years, the breadth and diversity - both in format, style, content and subject matter - of biographies for children has expanded spectacularly, giving young readers of all ages and abilities the opportunity to learn and be inspired.
Mae Among the Stars, written in simple, often lyrical sentences, begins, "Little Mae was a dreamer. They say that daydreamers never succeed, but little Mae was different." Working on an assignment for school, Mae decides she wants to see Earth - from space. Her mother responds, "That's an amazing plan, little Mae. Then you have to become an astronaut - that way you can see Earth from space. . . If you can dream it, if you believe it and you work hard for it, anything is possible." These loving words from Mae's mother become a refrain throughout the book. With the support of her parents, Mae's passion grows as she researches space and astronauts, making herself an astronaut costume out of old orange curtains and a spaceship from cardboard boxes. At school, when sharing her assignment with her teacher and the class, the students laugh at her dream of becoming an astronaut and her (white) teacher says she'd make a better nurse. Both the text and the illustrations powerfully illustrate the deep disappointment and belief in the words of this authoritative adult in her life. Sharing this event with her mother, Mae tells her, "Of course I believed her - she's my teacher!" While the degree of prejudice and stereotyping that was endemic in the 1960s when Mae was in elementary school is less today, the reminder for adults that our words have the power to shape how children think about themselves is always pertinent and worth repeating. Without the continued support and encouragement of her parents, Dr. Mae Jemison might not have made it into space, let alone medical school.
Dr. Mae Jemison's accomplishments are many. Besides being the first African American woman in space, she attended Stanford at the age of sixteen, earning a degree in chemical engineering then moving on to earn an MD from Cornell Medical College. She entered NASA's astronaut training program in 1987, at the age of 31, and went into space in 1992 on the shuttle Endeavour, mission STS-47. She was also the first real astronaut to act in an episode of Star Trek. And she speaks fluent Russian, Japanese and Swahili! These are all things you will learn from the biographical note at the end of Mae Among the Stars. And, while these are all important things to know about such an amazing person, the story of Mae Among the Stars is not about the person little Mae became, but the hurdles she faced and the support she got before she became this person.
Source: Review Copy