Rocket builder and author shows the way for girls and minorities

Elkhart Truth photo Children’s book author Suzanne Slade on Saturday told children at the ETHOS Innovation Center the story of how her book Astronaut Annie was sent to the International Space Station and read by an astronaut earlier this year.

ELKHART — A Goshen native whose book about a girl dreaming to become an astronaut has been read at the International Space Station helped children at the ETHOS Innovation Center prepare their own dreams for blastoff this weekend.

Suzanne Slade, a mechanical engineer and rocket builder turned children’s book author, told local children the story of how one of her books, “Astronaut Annie”, was flown to the International Space Station earlier this year by SpaceX.

Slade has written more than 100 children’s books, also including “A Computer Called Katherine,” which is the true story of mathematician Katherine Johnson – known from the movie “Hidden Figures”  – who counted and computed her way to NASA and helped put a man on the moon.

Telling the story of Annie, Johnson and Slade is important, the author believes, because that makes it easier for girls and minorities to imagine that their futures could lie in science or space exploration, which are fields that have been dominated by white men, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.

“I wanted to write a story that would inspire young readers, particularly girls, to know that they can pursue any career they want,” Slade said.

“Women and minorities have not been encouraged to go into those fields at times, and we know that when people of different backgrounds work together in engineering or any other field, it’s a very good result. You get a much better collaborative effort.”

Slade said that her writing career has many highlights, including interviewing the fourth man to walk on the Moon, Alan Bean.

“But having this book read by a woman astronaut, Anne McClain, means more to be, probably, that anyone would know,” she said.

Astronaut Annie was chosen by Stories From Space to be sent to the space station, where McClain caught the book floating in the air as she glides in front of the camera in zero gravity before reading to children on Earth.

Slade was excited that McClain was the astronaut chosen to read this particular book.

“I loved the fact that now the readers can see this woman astronaut in space reading about a girl wanting to be an astronaut,” she said.

The author, who now lives in Chicago, grew up in Goshen and is a product of Goshen Community Schools, where students have heard the story of Annie, as United Way of Elkhart County, Goshen Community Schools and Elkhart Community Schools have brought in Astronaut Annie for the Real Men Read, Spring into Reading and Reading Camps.

In those programs, grouped together as Read United, community members volunteer to read for and speak with children in the school systems.

United Way director of education Mona Livingston said that having adults from the community do that helps children get positive adult role models other than just parents and teachers and, of course, it encourages reading.

“Reading out loud is the single most important thing you can do to spark that love for learning and to build those connections in a child’s brain,” Livingston said.

Sharon Sarber, who is the volunteer engagement specialist for Read United, said having a rocket builder turned children’s author who is from the local area come to talk about following your dreams helps children believe.

“I think that when kids can see and meet that person in real life and then see the presentation showing how ‘Astronaut Annie,’ the story, made it to the space station, that just solidifies that seed of interest in a child’s mind,” Sarber said.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus

If you want to volunteer

Email Sharon Sarber at ssarber@goshenschools.org to volunteer for Read United in Elkhart and Goshen.

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