Chapter One: STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT
Once the stars started to shimmer in the ebony sky, we headed outside. Mom set up the telescope in our backyard. We huddled around it, waiting for our chance to gaze into the dark blanket of night.
My little brother, Jackson, went first. He squeezed one eye shut and pressed the other against the glass.
“It’s not working right,” he said, like he was ready to give up.
“It takes practice,” Mom replied. “You can do it. Keep going.”
Mom said when she was little like Jax, she tried to use her dad’s telescope over and over. Then, one day, the lessons he gave her clicked. She could see planets, constellations, nebulas. Baby steps: That’s what she always says gets you to a goal. One foot in front of the other.
“Here, Jax,” I said, giving him binoculars. “Remember how to use these?”
“Wow,” he responded. “Everything looks so close!”
“You’re up, Jada,” Dad said.
I peered through the lens at sparkling diamonds of light and thought about my hero Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first Black woman astronaut. How did she feel flying on a space shuttle? What did Earth look like from way up there? Was she nervous to be so far from home, or thrilled by the adventure? I think I’d be a mix of both—full of excitement at exploring, and maybe missing my family, too. I’d love to ask her what it was like one day.
“Spot anything cool?” Dad asked.
I got a chill when I saw what looked like a lemonade-colored star. It didn’t twinkle and had rings around it. I gasped. Was that what I thought it was?
“Mom! I think I see Saturn.”
Mom took a peek.
“Exactly right,” she said, smiling.
“Can I see it again?” I stared and stared and never wanted it to end. Mom calls me a sky-watcher-in-training. She’s teaching me to see the wonders of space.
After everyone got a turn, it was time for bed. I headed upstairs and pulled out my Dream Big journal, where I keep a list of my goals. Near the top were “go to space camp” and “visit the Grand Canyon.” I pulled out my four-in-one pen, clicked to purple, and added a new goal: “meet Mae Jemison.”
I looked at my poster of her in a space suit, head held high. I smiled, made a wish, turned off the light, and snuggled in my daybed. Glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling turned my room into a galaxy. I drifted to sleep imagining I was on a rocket to the sky.
At school, my teacher, Miss Taylor, introduced a new project.
“Has anyone ever been to a wax museum that’s filled with statues of famous people?”
A couple of hands shot up.
“What if the statues could talk?”
the museum for me,” said my friend Simone.
We laughed. Each morning, Simone appears on our classroom TV screen for BE News
, the morning announcement show for our school, Brookside Elementary. I could just see her interviewing the statues and getting the scoop. She knew how to work it.
“We’re going to create a living museum,” Miss Taylor said. “Each of you will pick someone who has made a difference, do research on their life, and make a display. In a couple weeks, you’ll pretend you’re statues that have come to life and talk about the important things you’ve done. Your families can even attend.”
The beads on my braids sung as I bounced in my seat. I already knew who I wanted to be. I’d hoped to play Mae Jemison in last year’s Black History Month play, but I froze at the audition. I could see the lines in my mind, but it was like someone zipped my lips shut. Nothing came out but a squeak. Now, I was getting a do-over. I pictured Mae Jemison smiling on my poster. This was my chance to make her proud.
I turned to my buddy Lena, who sat beside me.
“Who are you going to be?”
“A writer,” she replied. That’s what I thought she’d say. Lena had notebooks filled with fantastic stories. She even had one published in a magazine for kids.
“Okay, let’s line up to go to the media center,” Miss Taylor said. “Time to find some inspiration.”
“I need someone fierce,” Simone said, striking a pose. Her shirt had a sequined star that shined like she was on stage. “Bold and brilliant like me.”
We laughed and headed down the hallway. The media specialist, Mr. Agyeman, had stacks of books ready. We zipped over like bees zooming to a field of flowers. The room buzzed as everyone looked for their perfect fit for the project.
“Whoa, slow down, friends,” he said. “I appreciate your enthusiasm. But don’t worry. The books aren’t going anywhere.”
My heart skipped when I saw the picture book Mae Among the Stars
. I found a cozy spot and read about Mae Jemison as a little girl, dreaming of seeing Earth from space. She worked hard as she grew up and achieved her goal.
“Any more about Mae Jemison?” I asked Mr. Agyeman.
“Do I have more?” he said, gesturing to the packed shelves all around. “Ask and you shall receive.”
He pointed out books filled with biographies of famous people. In one, I learned that Dr. Jemison’s favorite subject was science, like mine. She enjoyed trying her older brother’s and sister’s experiments. In another, I found out that she started college at sixteen and learned to speak several languages.
But then a funny thing happened. The more I read about how incredible Dr. Jemison was, the more I got a sinking feeling. She was amazing. Maybe too
amazing. Did I have what it took to bring her to life?
“Check it out,” Miles said, showing me his book, Ticktock Banneker’s Clock
. I saw that he was saying something else, but all I could hear were my thoughts. What if I wasn’t the best person to play Mae Jemison? What if I didn’t measure up?
“Jada, isn’t that cool?” Miles asked.
“Huh?” I said as I tuned back in. “Sorry. What did you say?”
“Benjamin Banneker made the first clock in America. He taught himself how to do it and carved it out of wood.”
At the end of our media center visit, Mr. Agyeman asked us to share our picks.
“I want to be Stan Lee,” Carson said. “He’s the man. He created superheroes like the Hulk.”
“I picked Laurie Hernandez,” Gabi said. “She won gold with Team USA at the Olympics and silver on the balance beam.”
I raised my hand.
“Dr. Mae Jemison?” I planned to say it loud and proud, but it came out like a question.
“You sure, Jada?” Mr. Agyeman asked.
“Let’s hear it again. With confidence this time.”
“I will be Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space.”
I said it like I meant it. Now, I just had to make it come true. Chapter Two: TRAILBLAZERS
I decided to learn everything I could about Mae Jemison. I had to get it just right. I read articles about her online, and watched videos of her talking. She said that a character on Star Trek
inspired her. Seeing Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, a Black woman, flying on a spaceship made her dream of doing it, too. I smiled wide and raced downstairs. I knew someone who loves that show.
“Mom, did you know that Mae Jemison watched Star Trek
just like you?”
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “I used to watch reruns of the original series with my dad. You can’t help but imagine yourself in space, too.”
I tried to picture Mom as an astronaut wearing an orange NASA suit and boots. It was fun imagining her shooting through the stars.
“What made you want to be a librarian?” I asked.
“I decided to help kids explore new worlds through books. Did you know that actress Nichelle Nichols almost left Star Trek
? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay.”
“Dr. King? He was a fan?”
“Yes ma’am,” she said. “She continued in her role in the series and in movies, going up in rank from lieutenant to commander. What she did was bigger than play a part on a TV show. She helped kids around the nation dream big dreams, just like how Dr. Jemison is inspiring you. One day, you’ll inspire kids, too.”
I got a queasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t know about that. Nichelle Nichols and Mae Jemison were trailblazers. I wasn’t even sure I could do a good job on my project.
“Did somebody say Star Wars
?” Jax said, running into the room with his lightsaber drawn. It glowed purple and hummed as he sliced the air.
“No, Jax, we were talking about Star Trek
“Jedis rule,” he said and dashed away.
I went to my room and looked over my notes. Mae Jemison did so much. She was a doctor, engineer, astronaut. Where should I start? I sighed and leaned my cheek against my fist.
Dad knocked on my open door and came in with a big grin. How did he always know when I needed a boost?
“Guess who’s speaking at Duke University?”
“That’s no fun,” he said. “Here’s a clue. She was on the space shuttle Endeavour
and her number one fan lives in our house.”
I jumped up and squealed.
I felt like I was floating with stars swirling around me. I couldn’t believe it.
“You got it. The tickets are free. I’ll try to get some as soon as reservations open.”
I rushed over and hugged him. Then, the project popped back into my mind. I really needed to nail it, now that I might actually have the chance to meet her. How could I look her in the eye if I messed up?
Copyright © 2021 by Kelly Starling Lyons; Illustrated by Nneka Myers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.