Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

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  • Written by: Tanya Lee Stone
  • Forward by: Margaret A. Weitekamp 
  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 980L
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick (February 24, 2009)

Summary: This is the true story, of thirteen American women, who pushed the boundaries of sexism in the 1960s. Most famously, Jerri Cobb, a pilot, wanted to become an astronaut. NASA and the majority of the American public did not think that being an astronaut was a woman’s job. This opinion lead to the support of the decision to have all male astronauts to be the first in space. These women set out to prove they should be allowed as astronauts, on the basis of the legal system, as human beings, and also scientifically. After reading this inspiring story, the reader will be left wondering why after the dramatic discoveries women were still challenged in their role in space. 

5 keywords: Non-Fiction, Historical Non-Fiction, American History, Women’s History, Space History. 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.9
Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Suggested Delivery: Independent/Class read  

Electronic Resources: A book talk. This can be used to preface the general outlines of the story, or during certain chapters of the books. These help students develop schema in the story they are reading. Book talks are especially helpful when it comes to comprehension of non-fiction texts as it helps students ask questions of what they are reading. This, in turn, makes a more reflective reader. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zucjl2hu_8E

This is a great trailer with some historical quotes and statistics that would be most useful before reading this story. This will help the students gain an understanding of the time period and the challenges of everyday women in the 1960s.

Website: This website is a podcast of the author discussing the book. http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/86019/vt-edition-interview-author-tanya-lee-stone/

Teaching guide from publisher – Great author interview and detailed discussion questions. This is a fabulous resource for the book. http://www.tanyastone.com/assets/files/AA%20Reading%20Guide.pdf

Key Vocabulary:

Parliamentarian – A member of Parliament

Naysayers –  A person who says something is not possible

Empowering – To give power to someone

Feminist – The belief that men and women have equal rights

Hurdles – A series of barriers

Venture – To do something that is risky

Glass Ceiling – An unfair system that prevents women and minorities from getting better jobs

Electroencephalogram – A machine that tests brain activity

WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilot

Altitude – The height of something above the sea

Before: Prior to reading, have students do a quick write about what they know about the Women’s Rights Movement, and historically important female figures. In order to give historical relevance and context, in addition to background information which will prove to be helpful in terms of comprehension, discuss the events leading to this and the climate in America at the time. For example, Many of these women would not have been pilots if not for WWII, and therefore would not have had the opportunity to be educated in flight. The Space Race was also a huge factor in this, as was the Cold War. Lastly, women had been given a taste of career in WWII and after being forced back into their socially accepted home life, became fed up and therefore started the second wave of feminism.

During: While reading, have students underline words that they do not understand. Have them look these words up in a Thesaurus to help them find if there are other words that fit and they know the definition to. They can also use a dictionary to help them with understanding content specific, tier III words. This type of vocabulary notation aids in students understanding of what they are reading. This book has many tier II and III words which students will need to understand in order to read the book to its full potential. 

After: When the reading has ended ask students a variety of questions. These questions should be thought provoking, and mainly consisting of opinion and persuasive questions.

Do you think women deserve to be astronauts?

Why do you think the military rejected the advancement of female astronauts? 

If you were a NASA executive would you have let women be astronauts or not? 

In what ways have these women bettered your life?

Having a discussion about these women and their story will force students to think and use what they have read to back up their answers and formulate discussions. Many adults struggle to have a discussion about topics such as this, and by having kids learn how to respectfully hear opinions of others based on knowledge will hopefully teach that reading and knowing how to read is key, and that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Remain a mediator and narrator of this discussion and stay neutral.

Writing Activity: To begin enforcing writing and using text quotes to back up what is written, have students write about how Almost Astronauts and the events inside are similar to current day female struggles. Their text to world connections do not have to be quoted, but they should come from relevant and reliable sources. Students are also welcome to compare these events to other historical women attempts of advancing the gender. To further enforce an acceptance of all people, students should also be asked to write about how the strides of these women have positively impacted their lives, as gender roles hurt men as well as women. These prompts will help with inferential comprehension as they are asked to connect this to current and past historical events, by thinking about how what they read relates. They are also asked to think about how this helped themselves, which has students think larger than just the story itself and influences a text to self connection.

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