Pop quiz! We know that outer space is still largely unexplored, but did you know that we’ve explored less than five percent of the world’s oceans? There are some great new books on space and sea exploration for middle graders to dive into (see what I did there?). Read on!
Recommended for readers 8-12
Planetary geologist Dr. E (Bethany Ehlmann) and her sidekick, Rover, take readers on a trip around the universe, filled with activities, photos, facts, and comics. Readers will learn about space exploration and how our big blue dot fits in with our cosmic neighbors: who else has volcanoes and sand dunes; how plate tectonics work; how craters are formed. There’s information about robots and rovers; space exploration and technology; and how learning about space helps us learn more about Earth. Each chapter begins with a 2-page comic spread, following Dr. E and Rover on an adventure related to chapter material. There are scientist profiles throughout the book, thought-provoking questions to generate discussion, and incredible photos. A glossary, list of book and web resources, and index makes this a solid book to have in space collections and a fun gift for kids who love science.
Recommended for readers 8-12
What do space and the ocean exploration have in common? SO much. There’s a reason we’re still trying to figure out how to explore both. Extreme pressure, temperatures and climates are all considerations scientists have to make when planning missions up above or far below. Author Jennifer Swanson (she’s co-author on Dr. E’s book, above!) gets a new generation of explorers ready for action with discussions about buoyancy and gravity; the shapes used in space and sea exploration (shape counts!); creating livable habitats; similarities and differences in each form of travel, and more. There’s consideration given to preservation and conservation for both sea and space: we leave a lot of garbage behind, and we need to stop that. Explorer’s Notebook callouts give readers a quick run-down on different topics, like training for a trip and how to create successful living and working environments – ideas that readers can apply to their daily lives while getting ready to be explorers. Activities give readers hands-on opportunities to learn about concepts like docking the International Space Station. There are detailed illustrations and color photos throughout, astronaut and aquanaut profiles, fun facts, resources, a glossary, and an index. NatGeo never disappoints: I love how Jennifer Swanson brings these two areas of exploration together; maybe it will inspire kids to become both astronauts AND aquanauts!
Recommended for readers 12-15
The Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union led to a race for dominance, and space was best place to push for that dominance. Matthew Brenden’s book, The Space Race, is an interactive chronicle of this pivotal point in history. Beginning with a timeline to give readers background, Brenden takes us from the 1917 Russian Revolution, through World War II (when Russia was our ally) and the Cold War, to July 20, 1969: the date Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon.
A comic strip running throughout the book illustrates and encapsulates the big ideas in the book, adding a little mental break for readers. There are loads of callout boxes, enhanced with QR codes that lead to historical reference and further learning; some topics include McCarthyism, duck-and-cover nuclear war drills, and the first anniversary of the Berlin Wall. Blast Fact callout boxes provide quick facts, and Inquire and Investigate sections provide rich inspiration for projects and research. Questions throughout the text challenge readers to think deeper about the material and would provide a great jumping-off point for book group or class discussions, and Vocab Lab sections offer new words to learn, all defined in the glossary at the end of the book. There are black-and-white and color photos throughout, providing a strong connection to history. Thankfully, there’s a metric conversion table, since science is metric and I’m not; there are additional resources, source notes, and an index.
I love Nomad Press’ books; there are so many entry points for students in each book. This one is a valuable reference for Science or History: in fact, The Space Race is one in a set of four Nomad books exploring great events of the 20th Century (others include Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events; The Vietnam War; and World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb).
The Space Race skews slightly older than the NatGeo books above: Nomad recommends this one for ages 12-15, but I think it can go a year or two younger, especially in my children’s room, where it will see more circ than in our teen section. Your library’s mileage, and your kids’ reading interests may vary. It’s a Guided Reading level Z, which can go as young as 9; I’d suggest at least 10 or 11.