Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed. Illustrations by Stasia Burrington

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed. Illustrations by Stasia Burrington

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmen.  Illustrations by Stasia Burrington

Picture book for ages approximately 4-8

Published January 9, 2018

“If you can dream it….”

Not so much a biography but a testament to the power of supporting a child’s dreams. Mae Among the Stars introduces us to a young girl, who hopes one day to see the Earth from space. With warm, inviting illustrations, we follow our young dreamer as she reads about space, creates astronaut costumes and spaceships, and draws pictures of what she might see as she dances among the stars. At school, when Mae shares her plans to become an astronaut, she is ridiculed by her classmates and discouraged by her teacher who suggests she pursue nursing, “a good profession for someone like you.”  A despondent Mae returns home and there, receives the refrain of support and encouragement of her parents. Our heroine’s spirit restored, she vows to wave to her parents from space one day. And she did. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman accepted into the NASA’s Astronaut training program and in 1992, finally flew in space.  

This little picture book has drawn criticism from adult reviewers with a variety of grievances such as not enough information about Jemison’s accomplishments, how she reached her goal, and an overly simplistic view of how one becomes successful.

But I still love this book. Why?

The insensitive teacher who is ultimately proven wrong, the powerful demonstration of resilience that comes when young people receive consistent messages of belief and support, and the underlying message that every child has the right to dream.   

Best Books for Grads

Best Books for Grads

If there is magic in the universe, books are the evidence! My greatest pleasure is sharing my love of books, and I can talk books all day long, even with complete strangers.

So when it comes to gifting, there’s no surprise that my #1 “go-to” is of the literary variety. Is there an occasion for which for which a thoughtfully chosen book isn’t the perfect gift? Weddings, get-wells, birthdays, new babies, even an expression of sympathy…a book is an unforgettable remembrance that not only marks the moment, but also acknowledges something unique about the recipient. It’s both an expression of affection and, an affirmation of who we are, or aspire to become.

There are hundreds of packing/purchasing lists for the college-bound and yes, they really do need laptops, sheets, multi-plug power cords and a bag to hold their laundry. But let’s be real, the most important gear a young person takes to college is his or her mind, and you can help get it primed for the experience with a well-chosen book.

With seven, first-generation mentees heading off to college this year, here are seven of the top titles on my shopping list. Something perfect for every type/style of grad.

The Naked Roommate: And 101 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College.

Harlen Cohen.

A perennial favorite, this one tackles all of the usual questions and a few of the “too embarrassed to ask” variety as well. In 10 years of gifting this one, I’ve yet to have a grad not love it.


The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between.  Nora Bradbury-Haehl.  

Plenty of practical advice for the freshmen year, framed within questions of faith, service and one’s own spiritual journey.  


Been there, Should’ve  Done That. Tips for making the most of college. Suzette Taylor.

“Small bite” tips in a relaxed, easy-read format.


Letters to a Young Poet.  Rainer Maria Rilke

Timeless classic that inspires us to know our own heart.


Assume The Worst. The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear. Carl Hiassen

Snarky and fun – just like the books many of remember as young readers. And a lot of good advice, too.


Build Your Dream Network. Forging Powerful Connections in a Hyper-connected World J. Kelly Hoey

How to build a network is one of the most important skills we can help a young person develop, especially embedding it into the college experience.


The Good Vibes Coloring Book. Thaneeya McArdle

A fun gift with a subtle message of support. The changes and pressures of the transition to college can be stressful. A little doodling/coloring might just be the right stress buster when it’s needed most. Full of playful images and positive messages.


Life On Mars by Jon Agee

Life On Mars by Jon Agee

Life On Mars by Jon Agee

Picture book for ages approximately 4-8

Published January 1, 2017

Young children are curious and creative in their quest to understand the universe, and Jon Agee has drawn an absolutely charming story of the ageless question, “is anybody out there?” 

In LIFE ON MARS, a young astronaut lands on Mars in search of life. Our fearless little explorer sets off from his spaceship with a box of cupcakes (a gift for whomever or whatever he might encounter) and starts his trek across the beautifully drawn, desolate landscape of the red planet.

As he hikes along, what he can’t see is the tall, pointy-eared Martian hovering in the background, and we are “in on the joke” as it follows the boy on his quest. The next details of the story include a yellow flower and the aforementioned cupcakes, however, if the two meet is for you to discover! 

Obviously, evidence does not support the presence of a giant cuddly creature on Mars (or yellow flowers) and that may be a problem for some. Yet evidence did not support the veracity of the adventures of Buck Rogers or the fantastic voyages of Jules Verne, which inspired many of the early astronauts and NASA engineers to pursue the stars.

For myself, I love the whimsical adventure story – particularly the lovely detail of our voyager packing cupcakes to offer in greeting. The book also subtly delivers the message that there is power and satisfaction in pursuing the answers to your most important questions, which if instilled early, can inspire a life-long learner.

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