In We Are All Astronauts we reach for the stars and learn all about space!
Good Reading for Kids chatted to Kate Pankhurst about her favourite fact about space and who is her favourite astronaut.
MEET KATE PANKHURST
Why did you want to write a book about space?
Two reasons! I have been fascinated by the wonder of space, just how huge and mysterious it is, since I visited the planetarium in Liverpool Museum as a child. I wanted to explore the mind-blowing fact that we are, right here, right now, on a planet called Earth, spinning through the Milky Way. With our feet firmly on the ground we can learn all we can about space – just like astronauts. (You could say we are all astronauts! That’s where the title of the book came from.)
The idea for a space book had been bubbling for some time when I got the final piece of the inspiration jigsaw puzzle. I heard the story of Wally Funk, member of the all-female team of trainee astronauts called the Mercury 13. In the 1960s they were told space was no place for girls and their mission was scrapped! How unfair is that? Wally Funk never gave up on her dream of reaching space. In 2021, while working on this book, she became the oldest woman to go into space!
I couldn’t make a book about space without telling the story of the Mercury 13 and the many other overlooked female pioneers of space travel. I created the granny in this book to honour the Mercury 13 and the many other pioneering women of space travel who refused to take ‘no’ for an answer!
Who are some of the female pioneers of space discovery and exploration that readers will meet?
I wanted to include women who became astronauts. One of them is first black woman to go into space – Mae Jemison. Readers can meet her aboard the space shuttle Endaevour as she gives Luna Scope and her granny some advice teamwork and mission success!
There are also a huge number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) space related jobs that are being and have been done by women. One of them is Mary Jackson, NASAs first black female engineer. She explains what a space engineer does and gives Luna Scope some tips on building her own rocket (out of cardboard boxes of course)!
Other female pioneers include Ursula Marvin, the meteorite-hunting space geologist, Katie Bouman the scientists who helped to take the first ever photograph of a black hole and Katherine Johnson, the black female NASA mathematician whose calculations sent the first man to the moon!
Do you have a favourite astronaut or scientist?
I loved learning about Mae Jemison’s story when I worked on Fantastically Great Women Scientists and their Stories. Because her achievements are such an important milestone for women, and for women of colour in space history, I really wanted to give her own double page spread in this picture book. (I also loved that she made scientific observations of how tadpoles develop in space … space tadpoles could star in a whole other book!)
What’s your favourite fact about space?
While researching animals who went into space for the overlooked pioneers spread I learnt that in the late 1960s, the first Earthlings to orbit another world were … two tortoises from the Soviet Union who flew around the moon and back home again! (Felicette the Parisian street cat turned space cat is also one of my favourite space animals featured in the book. I’ve drawn her wearing a beret with her space helmet.)
Do you have any advice for readers who have dreams of exploring space?
I know that only a handful of humans have ever made it into space – but I genuinely believe if you have a dream and are determined to follow it wonderful things can, and do happen. Reach for the stars and follow your dreams, who knows where they could take you … to the moon? To Mars? I can’t wait to see!
And remember, you don’t actually have to go into space to explore it. All you need to do is look up!
What topic will you look at in your next book in this series?
I am currently working on We Are All Inventors. It’s been incredible to learn just how much inventions have changed, and are changing the way we live. (I’m also having a lot of fun designing my own bonkers inventions for the book!)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My illustration and writing journey began as a child. Mostly in my local library (thanks to my dad, a lifelong library user). I thought the library was amazing, you turn up and get to take home a pile of books – for free! What could be better than that? Bored by the lack of real-life mystery and feeling inspired by a particularly thrilling issue of The Beano I decided to have a go at creating my own comic.
It was a publishing success. I sold (I say sold loosely, ‘gave away’ would be more accurate) three copies to some friends who lived on my street. I knew it was the right decision to abandon my dreams of being an archaeologist and focus on having a job that involved drawing all day. Since then I’ve illustrated for a range of brilliant authors and been published as both an illustrator and a writer.
I’m a little bit related to the incredible suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. She was – wait for it – my great, great, grandfather’s, brother’s, son’s wife. So while I can’t claim to have suffragette blood running in my veins, I can say that Emmeline’s astounding story has followed me all my life. She has undoubtedly influenced my work. That connection certainly made me realise that a book really should exist that told the stories of great women from history. Especially in an accessible way for young readers.
When I’m not doodling, writing and drawing I work with children and teachers. I share my own journey, the stories of great women and inspire and ignite a love for reading.