Mission to Space by John Herrington.
White Dog Press, Chickasaw Press, Ada, Oklahoma, 2016.
Picture book informative non-fiction, 20 pages including glossary.
Not yet leveled.
John Herrington tells about space travel, including the preparations for what happened during his trip to space. Since he is an enrolled tribal member of the Chickasaw Nation, his experiences as an astronaut are also viewed through the lens of his indigenous heritage.
I had to get this after reading Debbie Reese’s review at AICL. Not only did she strongly recommend it, but the pictures she shared from the book also had me convinced that this would be great for my students. Many of them love space, and most are ill-informed about indigenous peoples, so this book would be a great way to interest and educate. Plus, the book trailer was great too.
Within days of that book review, I was on the hunt for this book. None of the libraries I worked at or patronize had it. Branch loans only work if another branch has the book, and I felt ridiculous requesting a 20-page book through inter-library loan. I requested that some of the local libraries purchase it, and started looking into getting it for one school. These days I have some buying and requesting power at some of the libraries I work at, and I’m starting to finally understand why many of my previous requests weren’t always granted.
Simply put, small libraries have limited purchasing power, and often limited buying outlets. Even in the cases where this book was a good fit for the library, my boss was on board with the purchase, and we had the buying power to make it happen, I still wasn’t able to buy it from this press because of the daunting logistics of a small institution purchasing one book from another small company.
I wish that Native Americans had something like KitaabWorld, where one account would allow you to purchase a wide variety of books relating to a specialty group. (Yes, I know about Birchbark Books, but their website is a pain to navigate and they don’t have Mission to Space.) Finally, the #100indigenousbooks project gave me an excuse to go out and buy it myself.
For some reason, I was expecting something like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in terms of size and other aspects of the book, but it was a standard picture book size. The productions values on this are absolutely top-notch, with glossy pages and clear photographs. Each page has no more than two sentences of text in a futuristic looking text box. Some pages give basic facts about going into space, while others sneak in information about the Chickasaw Nation.
It was a little difficult to tell what age group this was best for. Some of the words (celebration, ignite) are a little difficult for picture book readers. I would guess that second or third graders on up would be able to read it mostly independently, and younger children would need to have it read aloud. My plan is to read this to the first grade class when they work on space in science next school year.
My own family wasn’t that into it, but that may have been because I oversold it. Only one member is as interested in space exploration as I am, so half way through one of the girls asked (with a suitably disgusted tone) “is this whole book about space?” and I replied that yes, it was, so she went and got Jingle Dancer off the shelf and said “read us this one instead.”
One of the best parts is the glossary of Chickasaw terms, including space terminology, in the back of the book. I loved that this exposed the kids to a less common language and showed them that indigenous peoples are right here and talking about space travel in their native languages!
If your family has interest in space exploration (mine will get there), or if you want to teach your students or children about a modern Chickasaw, I highly recommend this book. It should be in every library. Also, having seen this book in person makes me far more likely to purchase other books from the Chickasaw Nation’s publishing house because even though the price tag is high, they are also very high quality. (And if you click that book trailer link, currently on sale…)