Interstellar Alchemy: Turning Crushed Dreams into Stardust by Deborah Underwood
Imagine you’re a little girl. Your dad takes to you to planetarium shows on the college campus where he teaches. You love everything about the shows, from the silhouette of your town around the rim of the dome to the fact that the night sky somehow, miraculously, is brought indoors. You especially love listening to the astronomer’s voice as she guides you around the heavens. You decide you’re going to be an astronomer when you grow up!
So when you’re old enough to start reading books about astronomy, you do. The first book you pick up mentions a male astronomer. You laugh your head off and say, “Men can’t be astronomers! Astronomers are women!”
Then you get to the next astronomer’s name—it’s male, too. As is the next one. And the next. And the next. And…you feel your dream deflating. You have the unhappy realization that the female astronomer you know is the exception, not the rule.
As you may have guessed, that kid was me. And even at that tender age, I knew that being the exception was hard. I was smart, profoundly unathletic, and introverted—the triple crown of Elementary School Doom. The survival skill that worked best for me was blending in: not raising my hand, not calling attention to myself. So a career where I would stick out because I was female? Not a huge temptation. I revised my plans.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if half the astronomers’ names in those books I read were female. Would I be an astronomer now? Who knows? But that experience taught me a profound lesson about how quickly kids form ideas about what is and isn’t possible. And it taught me how critical it is that they see people like themselves in books.
Fast forward: now I write books for kids, hooray! My skills are probably better suited to this career anyway, plus I can work in pajamas. But that fascination with the night sky stuck with me. It pulled me into Star Trek geekdom in junior high, it meant I was delighted when I got to write a nonfiction astronomy book years ago, and it guided my desire to write Interstellar Cinderella.
Many of the stories I read when I was young had protagonists like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White who were passive—even comatose!—during critical plot points. So I wanted to give kids a smart, strong, active Cinderella, a Cinderella with her own interests and her own non-prince-related desires. I was fascinated with mechanical things when I was a child, so giving Cinderella an obsession with rocket repair seemed like a fine plan. And if the prince’s ship broke down and she had to rescue him? All the better!
Interstellar Cinderella has a bit of help in the book (from her fairy godrobot and her robotic mouse pal Murgatroyd), but she very much directs her own fate. She doesn’t let concern about what others think guide her actions. She’s the kind of girl I wish I could have been, the kind of woman I’m trying to be—and the kind of girl I wish I’d read about when I was six.
Deborah Underwood is the author of The Quiet Book (a New York Times bestseller and one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010) and The Loud Book. Deborah lives in San Francisco.. You can find her on Twitter as @ and online at www.deborahunderwoodbooks.com.
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