Build Your Stack: Audacious Stories of Human Spaceflight - National Council of Teachers of English
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Build Your Stack: Audacious Stories of Human Spaceflight

This post was written by NCTE member Susan Gustafson as part of Build Your Stack,® a new initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.


The story of humans’ greatest endeavor is not found in the fiction section of our libraries. It cannot be found in the action and adventure stacks nor the fantasy stacks. To find our most audacious story, we must walk the aisles of the nonfiction section.

There we find the story of heroes overcoming inconceivable obstacles on daring missions. There we find the story of our ultimate exploration of the unknown. There we find the story of human spaceflight.

Unity. Courage. Discipline. Sacrifice. Ingenuity. Danger. Redemption. The story of human space exploration is a real-life hero’s journey.

For reading teachers, it is an opportunity to explore the organizational structures and stylistic elements authors of nonfiction narratives use to tell nonfiction stories. Stories of space exploration are also opportunities to connect to other content areas. They naturally link to astronomy units in science or study of the Cold War in social studies.

With NASA celebrating Apollo’s 50th anniversary this year, these stories continue to embolden future scientists, mathematicians, and artists to explore the final frontier. For more earthbound readers, the stories spark inspiration to set their own course.

Below are space exploration recommendations for middle grade and middle school classrooms.


Chasing Space Young Readers’ Edition by Leland Melvin and Laurie Caulkholven

This memoir tells the remarkable story of Leland Melvin growing up in Virginia, being drafted by the NFL, and becoming an astronaut. Twice he traveled on the Atlantis to help build the International Space Station. Melvin’s discipline, determination, and character will inspire the next generation of explorers.

(Note: Leland Melvin’s appearance at the 2017 NCTE Convention inspired R. Joseph Rodriguez to write a post on how “interconnected and interdepending we are as educators across the disciplines. Read “Reaching for Space: The Science of Language Arts.” )



Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade. Illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez

Free-verse format and illustrations make this a stand-out selection about Project Apollo. From President Kennedy’s declaration in 1961 to the Eagle landing, it tells the events of the nation’s audacious goal of landing us on the moon.




Endurance, Young Readers Edition: My Year in Space and How I Got There by Scott Kelly

From restless student to American Hero, Scott Kelly shares the journey of his year spent aboard the International Space Station. This captivating memoir explores the awe and adversity of living in space, and calls readers to follow their dreams.






Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly

This book honors the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. These four mathematicians were a few of the hundreds of African-American female mathematicians working at NASA from WWII through the Space Race. The book details their perseverance to make their mark on American history.



Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Team Moon pays homage to the 400,000 people who worked together to land humans on the moon. Sections of the book detail problems and solutions of the Apollo 11 mission. Stunning photographs enhance the reader’s comprehension of the book.




To the Moon!: The True Story of the American Heroes on the Apollo 8 Spaceship by Jeffrey Kluger with Ruby Shamir

The story of the daring Apollo 8 mission is brought to life through detailed accounts of the training, mission, and personal lives of the astronauts and their families. To the Moon strikes a balance between the technical details of space flight and the human stories of the mission.





Susan Gustafson is a middle school reading and language arts teacher in the Chicago area. She is also certified as a reading specialist and is pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership. You can follow her on Twitter at @MiddleMsGus.