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How to Eat in Space - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Tubes of paste and MREs are a thing of the past. Today chefs and space agencies around the world are working to create nutritious and tasty foods for the astronauts aboard the ISS. But what's the big deal? How hard is it to get food to the station or to make meals in space? This humorous STEM picture book explores the differences and unique aspects of eating in space.

Book Cover - two astronauts floating in the International Space Station. One upright eating pizza  and one upside down eating a cookie.

How to Eat in Space


Author: Helen Taylor


Illustrator: Stevie Lewis


Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2023)


Ages: 4-8


Nonfiction


Themes:

Eating in space, living on the space station, astronauts, and growing food in space.


Synopsis:

A kid-friendly, accessible, and humorous picture book about the sometimes complicated task of eating while in outer space—spoiler: it's not as simple as it seems!


Without a kitchen, plates, or cups, eating in space isn’t easy. When food floats (and so do you), remember:

1. Be patient: Preparing a meal without gravity’s help takes time.

2. Avoid crumbs: They get everywhere!

3. Clean up after yourself: Today’s stray snack could become tomorrow’s smelly surprise.


Once you learn the dos and don’ts, you’ll be eating like an astronaut in no time!

This fact-filled look at the sometimes complicated task of eating while away from Earth will show young readers what it's really like to live on the space station, with engaging back matter that takes a deep dive into the topic and features photos of real NASA astronauts!


Opening Lines:

Welcome to the space station.

You’re just in time for breakfast!

Heads up—you’re speeding through

space at a whopping five miles per

second without a grocery store in

sight. Or a kitchen. Or even a plate.

Oh, and everything floats!


But don’t worry.

With these tips and

tricks, you’ll be dining

like an astronaut in

no time. Remain calm and . . .


What I LOVED about this book:

The initial illustration's wonderful perspective of floating in on the heels of these astronauts and the text's second person address - "Welcome to the space station. You’re just in time for breakfast!" - brings the reader right into the space station, as if a new member of the diverse international crew all ready to learn the rules of eating (and living) on the International Space Station. What a wonderful way to get kids of all ages hooked!

Internal spread - an astronaut at the back end of a capsule, suspended in air with a laptop on his knees and a juice pouch waves hello to and astronaut floating in from a shaft to the right and one floating in from in front of the reader.

Text © Helen Taylor, 2023. Image © Stevie Lewis, 2023.


With a very kid-friendly voice, Helen Taylor explains a few of the challenges - no grocery store, no kitchen, no chairs, and no heavy foods ("You're 250 miles above Earth," after all). Sorry watermelon. Helen and Stevie Lewis certainly spark our curiosity by saying "You have hundreds of items to choose from" and showing an astronaut pulling a metal box labeled "breakfast" out of a slot, next to similar boxes labelled "Fruit Nuts/ Meat Fish/Desert Snacks." Hundreds of items in these boxes? Interesting and intriguing. Then we see an astronaut floating by a portal with a flat, cellphone sized packet of eggs. I think kids will enjoy seeing all the ways familiar foods are so different, when you eat in space.


There are few kids who could resist the idea that your food could float off your spoon and you'd have to chase it. Or accidentally, SPLAT a fellow astronaut. Helen's light-hearted text, "Go ahead and play with your food. But don’t go overboard— secure those blobs and globs before . . ." and Stevie's humorous illustrations make this such a fun way to explore eating on the space station.

Internal spread - on the upper left an astronaut watching two blobs of food float away from his spoon . On the lower left, the astronaut demonstrates squeeking shut a straw to keep liquid in the drink pouch. On the right an astronauts food escapes her fork and splats into the side of another's face.

Text © Helen Taylor, 2023. Image © Stevie Lewis, 2023.


It's not all fun and games, though. Even a small crumb could damage instruments or a fellow astronaut's eye. But seeing how all the condiments, utensils, and foods have to secured with Velcro or bungies to the table and the creative ways the astronauts try to shake things up to avoid the monotony of eating "a lot of tortillas," (no crumbs) it sure does look like meal times on the space station are fun. Especially if pizza ingredients come up to the station as a surprise from ground control.


In addition to the amazing details of cooking and eating on the station, Helen examines the experiments and practicalities of growing fresh food - like lettuce. I love how much information is succinctly and wryly interwoven into the text and illustrations.

Internal spread - on the left, clay and fertilizer packets with plant starts. On the right, an astronaut harvesting some lettuce from a growing chamber.

Text © Helen Taylor, 2023. Image © Stevie Lewis, 2023.


GROW YOUR OWN SALAD.

Ahhh, the satisfying crunch of fresh lettuce. Up here, loose soil could cause

chaos, so your seedlings will emerge from pillows of clay and fertilizer.


They’ll grow toward electric lights because windows are scarce. Plus, the

Sun rises and sets sixteen times a day—once for each lap around Earth.


At harvest time, save a sample to study—you are conducting a

scientific experiment, after all. Then clean the remaining leaves

(who knows what else might be growing on there) and enjoy!


Helen and Stevie also explore how water is conserved and reused (see Stevie's impressive image in Helen's interview on Monday) and waste disposal. A real issue when collection can be "weeks or months away" and you're living in a small, contained area. The intricate details of the wires, devices (like the water injector), control panels, international flags, and greetings, and all the many hand and toe holds make it feel like you are getting a working tour of the station. While the ending continues the light tone, the illustration is stunning and mind boggling. Wonderful, in-depth backmatter provides lots of additional information on safety, water, taste, fresh food, variety, treats, and the future of space travel. One of my favorite parts is the collage of amazing photographs of astronauts eating (or playing with food) on the space station.


This a terrific book for any space-crazy kid and adult, for budding chefs and biologists curious about current experiments for feeding future space missions, and anyone who loves narrative nonfiction. It's a wonderful book packed with facts about the challenges and fun of eating in space.


Resources:

Chocolate pudding in a plastic bag with a pile of freeze dried strawberries  in front.

- try some freeze-dried food or make your own astronaut pudding.


- watch astronauts actually make food on the space station in videos (here), (here), and (here).


- what food would you miss most as an astronaut? What food would you try to make for astronauts?


If you missed the interview with Helen Taylor on Monday, find it (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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