Libertyville author's "Astronaut Annie" to blast into orbit next year
The children's book "Astronaut Annie" is about a girl who creates her own space suit and wears it for Career Day at her school. The book ends before we see if our hero's ambitions are realized -- but this spring, "Annie" will be in space.
The book, written by Libertyville author Suzanne Slade, is one of five selected to be read on the International Space Station by the Story Time From Space organization.
A rocket on a resupply mission will carry the book to the space station where it will be read aloud by an astronaut.
"It was very, very exciting to hear it was selected," Slade said. "The competition was stiff."
So far, about 20 other children's books have been read by astronauts in orbit, all on video for children to watch.
In Slade's book, each member of Annie's family is curious what profession she will represent. Annie gives each one a different clue and the adults envision her dressing for the interests they are passionate about. Everyone tries to help her -- her sporty mother gives her high-top sneakers; her star baker grandma gives her oven mitts. Annie ends up using the gifts as part of her space suit.
Patricia Tribe, the founder of Story Time From Space, said "Annie" stood out from the pack because it is a story that kids can relate to.
"Everyone has had Career Days and has dreamed up different careers they want to be," Tribe said. "And at the end she chooses the best-ever career, being an astronaut."
Tribe, who was the director of education at Space Center Houston, the visitor center of the NASA Johnson Space Center, said she started Story Time From Space to get science into classrooms through a reading and literacy program. She said the program has been popular and that educators across the country play the videos for their students.
"Astronaut Annie" is Slade's first work of children's fiction. Her other titles, more than 50 in all, are biographies of important people, like Martha Washington and Frederick Douglass, or nonfiction books that teach children about concepts like recycling or facts about animals.
With "Annie," though, Slade wanted to tell her young readers to dream big.
"In my mind it's about how children use the support and encouragement from their families to achieve their own dreams," Slade said. "I wanted to tell children to pursue their own passions. Annie does all of that."
Asked if she sees herself as an Annie, someone who follows her own passions, Slade said she supposes she is.
Math and science were her favorite subjects, so Slade studied mechanical engineering and started her adult life building rockets for satellites at McDonnell Douglas in California.
"I pursued engineering even though there were no engineers in the family," Slade said.
Slade followed another passion after she and her husband Mike moved to Libertyville. She was reading a book to their children Christina and Patrick and wondered what it would be like if she wrote one of her own.
"I didn't tell anyone about my children's books dream because it seemed so out of reach," Slade said.
After taking some writing classes at the College of Lake County, Slade began writing stories and pitching them to publishers. It took eight years and 80 rejection letters before her first book was published.
Last month Slade autographed a copy of "Annie" and mailed it to Story Time From Space to be processed for space travel. Tribe said the plan is for the books to be launched on an Orbital Sciences rocket scheduled to resupply the ISS in April.