Deborah Lee Rose is the author of the new children’s picture book Astronauts Zoom!. Her many other children’s books include Scientists Get Dressed and Beauty and the Beak. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: Why did you decide to write an alphabet book about the International Space Station, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year?
A: When I was researching my most recent children’s book, Scientists Get Dressed, I found thousands of photos of astronauts doing all kinds of things on the space station—from spacewalking to eating pizza to taking photos of Earth.
Photos from NASA and other international space agencies inspired me to start writing Astronauts Zoom! even before I knew Nov. 2, 2020 was the 20th anniversary of astronauts continuously on the International Space Station.
I had also been wanting to write a new alphabet book for a long time, since my first alphabet book, Into the A, B, Sea, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year too.
Once I decided on the title Astronauts Zoom!, I knew the book should capture what astronauts really do while they’re zooming in orbit around Earth.
The process of creating my children’s books has often started with a title idea, like Scientists Get Dressed or The Twelve Days of Kindergarten.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising or fascinating?
A: By amazing chance, I was working on the book when astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch made their historic all-woman spacewalk from the station.
Watching their livestreamed EVA (extravehicular activity), I learned how carefully planned and executed every move is on a spacewalk—with constant communication back and forth between the astronauts and Mission Control on Earth.
In addition to watching live and recorded videos of astronauts outside and inside the International Space Station, I read astronaut interviews to find out how it felt to be away from Earth, what they did in space besides work, and why seeing Earth from space changed their lives.
I learned SO much doing this book, which I why I love writing about STEM, especially as a human endeavor. Here are just a few of the things I didn’t know about astronauts and the International Space Station as I started the book:
When astronauts go on spacewalks, they sometimes ride on the space station’s huge, external robotic arm. That AHA! is captured in the NASA spacewalk photo chosen for the book cover.
Astronauts appear to float because they’re also falling in free fall towards Earth, at the same speed as the International Space Station itself is falling towards Earth.
Astronauts who look like they’re upside down on the station don’t feel upside down. Most of the photos in the book could be turned “upside down” and still be correct!
Astronauts find lots of ways to have fun and relax on the space station—reading, doing sports with unusual moves like soccer somersaults, throwing pizza parties, dressing up as superheroes, and watching and taking photos of Earth far below.
Q: What do you see as the importance of the International Space Station, and what do you see looking ahead for it?
A: Through peaceful collaboration, astronauts from around the world have helped make and continue to make countless scientific discoveries and engineering advances on the space station.
I hope their extraordinary cooperation can inspire people on Earth to work together, to solve the hugest problems of our time like protecting people from COVID-19 and protecting Earth from climate change.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope kids (and the adults who read to them and teach them) take away the fun of playing with language. I took poetic license to phrase two of my favorite spreads for the book: L-M-N-O/Astronauts love to make pizza, but need a space oven; V-W-X/Astronauts view Earth from space. “Wow!!!” they exclaim.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on virtual author visits that let me talk to kids and adults anywhere in the world. To arrange a virtual visit, I can be contacted via my website at www.deborahleerose.com.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Astronauts Zoom! includes lots of STEAM ideas for creating a “space station” learning and fun environment anywhere.
Here is one idea using a fantastic resource for photos from space, the TERC Windows on Earth project which is a partner of the ISS National Lab’s Space Station Explorers (https://www.windowsonearth.org/Featured-Galleries/Best-New-Images/i-GM8TGRj).
Using real photos of Earth taken from the space station, you can create/decorate your own “cupola” (dome) area—for reading, doing space-themed projects, or trying hands-on STEM experiments.
The cupola is the area of the International Space Station where astronauts can look out through multiple windows to see huge vistas of Earth below or space all around.
Photo credits: Astronaut spacewalking, hurricane forming, astronauts “rightside up” and “upside down,” astronaut looking out from cupola, and astronauts with pizzas, all NASA; astronaut taking photos, ESA/NASA; spread from Astronauts Zoom! text ©2020 Deborah Lee Rose.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah Lee Rose.