Artist’s conception of Earth’s solar system (not to scale).
A good book about space can feed a kid’s obsession or inspire a brand new interest in exploring the wonders of the universe. Here are Space.com writers’ and editors’ suggestions of great books about space exploration and space science for kids.
(We are constantly reading new and classic space books to find our favorite takes on the universe. Our recently-read books in all categories can be found at Best Space Books. You can see our ongoing Space Books coverage here, and a list of kids’ books for the summer here.)
Books for Younger Readers
‘The Darkest Dark’ (Little, Brown and Co., 2016)
By Chris Hadfield, Illustrated by the Fan Brothers
Age range: 4-8
Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has flown three space missions, commanded the International Space Station and traveled the world speaking about what it’s like to fly in space. But before that, he was a young child afraid of the dark while dreaming of exploring the moon. The story of his struggle with that fear is gorgeously illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan, known as the Fan Brothers, who tuck little, menacing aliens into the shadows young Chris’s bedroom, and an about-the-author page at the end describes his path to becoming an astronaut for readers who might share that dream. ~Sarah Lewin
Space.com talked with Chris Hadfield about his hopes for the new book here.
‘Look Inside Space’ (Usborne, 2012)
By Rob Lloyd Jones, Illustrated by Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusiná
Age range: 3 and up
For parents of young kids (I am one such parent), Usborne’s prizewinning “Look Inside Space” is a must-have to share the history and wild technology of space exploration with starry-eyed tots. The book uses cute illustrations and more than 70 artfully arranged flaps to explore the history of human spaceflight and the basics of stars, planets and other astronomical objects. “Look Inside Space” has a rugged cover (to withstand toddler tantrums), but care must be taken with some its more delicate nested flaps. It is enjoyable to all space fans, but is especially good for pre-school and Kindergarten-age kids just starting out to explore space on their own. ~ Tariq Malik
‘Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery’ (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/Abrams, 2013)
By Margaret A. Weitekamp, with David DeVorkin, Illustrated by Diane Kidd
Age range: 6 and up
If you’re like me, there’s a special place in your heart for Pluto, be it a planet or a dwarf planet. In “Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery,” authors Margaret A. Weitekamp and David DeVorkin take young readers on a guided tour of astronomer Clyde Tombaugh’s historic sighting of Pluto in 1930 to the planet’s reclassification to a dwarf planet in 2006, with Kidd’s entertaining illustrations leading the way. How did Pluto get its name? It’s in there. What exactly is a planet? This book has it covered. Even NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which visits Pluto in 2015, makes a cameo. For the older set, a kicker photo spread on the people and telescopes, as well as a Pluto glossary, make this book an essential for budding astronomers but may be best for kids age 8 and up. ~Tariq Malik
‘Little Kids’ First Big Book of Space’ (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2012)
By Catherine Hughes and David Aguilar
Age range: 4-8
This book, by Catherine Hughes and David Aguilar, is a great way to introduce young children to Earth, the solar system and beyond. It features gorgeous images — both photographs and illustrations — and explains tough concepts (such as black holes) in simple, easy-to-understand text. There are also some great tips at the back of the book about how to spark or further kids’ interest in space science and exploration. ~Mike Wall
Books for Older Readers
‘Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space’ (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)
By Tam O’Shaughnessy
Age range: 10 to 14
Sally Ride is celebrated as the first American woman to fly in space, and she made her mark later in life as a science writer and STEM popularizer before her death at 61 — but before that, she was a young tennis star and a college student aiming to be a professor. This kids’ photobiography, written by Ride’s long-term partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, brings all those eras into vivid focus with extensive photographs and tidbits placed through an engaging narrative of her life. Aspiring astronauts and young space fans will enjoy the look into Ride’s personality and growth as well as the space travel facts and figures, and for adults too this book offers a rare look at the famously private astronaut’s life from someone who knew her better than anyone. (Read a Q&A here with author Tam O’Shaughnessy and see a few pages from the narrative.) ~Sarah Lewin
‘Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet’ (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015)
By Buzz Aldrin, with Marianne J. Dyson
Age range: 8-12
Kids can hop aboard the first expedition to Mars in this new book by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, written with author, physicist and former NASA flight controller Marianne Dyson. Aldrin’s tale about a trip on the “Aldrin Cycler” spaceship to Mars covers the history of Mars exploration, the steps needed to get there and the process of building out from the first tentative toehold to a permanent colony on the planet. It’s full of countless specific details — exactly what the first explorers will and won’t need to bring along, the best and most entertaining modes of transportation once there and exactly why the first habitats will be round and bubble-like, to name a (very) few. The book is also peppered with hands-on activities to demonstrate aspects of the journey and the planet’s conditions. This book is not Aldrin’s first proposing a mission to Mars, but this one is carefully calibrated to get young, curious children excited about the prospect. (Read more about the new book here) ~Sarah Lewin
‘Max Goes to the Space Station’ (Big Kid Science, 2013)
By Jeffrey Bennett, Illustrations by Michael Carroll
Age range: All ages
How many children’s books can you honestly say have been to space? Jeffrey Bennett’s tale (Get it? It’s about a dog) about a dog called Max and his adventures to the International Space Station is not only an accurate look at what life in space is like — it actually joined the station’s library in 2014 as part of the Story Time from Space project. With illustrations by famed space artist Michael Carroll, “Max Goes to the Space Station” takes the titular pooch on a voyage to the station by way of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center, with readers learning all sorts of fun facts about spaceships, the space station and life in weightlessness on the way. Max even helps the station crew through an emergency. The book is great for kids of all ages, and includes “Big Kid Boxes” on the science of space for older kids age 8 and up. Bennett has also written “Max Goes to the Moon” (another space traveler) and tales that send Max to Mars and Jupiter. ~Tariq Malik
‘A User’s Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty’ (Wiley, 2010)
By Dave Goldberg
Age Range: 10 and up
“A User’s Guide to the Universe” may be one of the most entertaining science books I’ve ever read. Overflowing with jokes, cartoons and a general sense of silliness, the book is a 5th- or 6th-grade-appropriate introduction to fascinating topics like time travel, life on other planets and the Big Bang. Hitting that oh-so-hard-to-reach sweet spot between entertaining and educational, the book offers up a surprising amount of science and never condescends to its audience. It’s the perfect book for kids who are curious about big questions, but I’m betting it will also serve as a great resource for adults who want a fun and easy introduction to the science of the universe. ~Calla Cofield
Don’t see your favorite space book on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+.