Journey to the Stars: Kalpana Chawla, ­Astronaut

Beaming Bks. Feb. 2024. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781506484693.
Gr 1-3–This expansive biography follows the journey of Kalpana Chawla from her small-town childhood in India to her academic work in aeronautic engineering to her career with NASA as an astronaut. Wallmark and Mirchandani provide snapshots of the tenacity and consistent hard work Chawla put into realizing her goal of space flight, inspired by rooftop viewings of airplanes flying overhead. They also take care to include glimpses of Chawla’s personal life and the ways she incorporated her heritage into her daily experience—furnishing her home with Rajasthani decor and joining a local Bharatanatyam dance company. Ghosh’s artwork shines when it focuses on cultural detail, but elsewhere lapses into digital blandness, with smoothed color gradients fading into empty white backgrounds. Adult readers not previously familiar with the astronaut’s life may begin steeling themselves for a mature conversation at the mention of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which famously and tragically disintegrated while reentering the atmosphere in 2003. However, the moment never arrives: the story closes on a triumphant tableau of Chawla (during an earlier mission) gazing serenely out of the shuttle window at the Earth below, having “achieved her dream of going into space.” The authors do refer to the event briefly in the book’s back matter, but its absence from the story proper leaves this depiction of a life of determination and achievement feeling somewhat truncated.
VERDICT An enjoyable, if unnecessarily incomplete, picture book biography.

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