A good book about space can feed a kid's obsession or inspire a brand new interest in exploring the wonders of the universe. If you're hoping for a holiday gift, you're in the right place: Here are Space.com writers' and editors' suggestions of great books about space exploration and space science for kids.
(Space.com staff are constantly reading new and classic space books to find our favorite takes on the universe. Their recently-read books in all categories can be found at Best Space Books. You can see ongoing Space Books coverage here.)
Books for Younger Readers
'Here We Are' (Philomel Books, 2017)
By Oliver Jeffers
Age range: 3-7
"Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth," the latest picture book by bestselling author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, is many different things. It's a love letter to his newborn son. It's a toddler-friendly guide to the big, blue marble we call home. Or, as Jeffers' editor joked, it's a book for "new babies, new parents and misplaced humans." But most of all, it's a manual for how to be a standup human being, one who is tolerant, respectful and unfailingly kind.
Jeffers's jewel-toned renderings, liberally sprinkled with details that invite closer inspection, evoke the planet's immensity with warmth and gentility. Yet for all its enormity — at least, from our vantage point — Earth barely registers in the vast expanse of space. We are impossibly fragile. And, for better or worse, we're all in it together.
"We may all look different, act different and sound different … but don’t be fooled, we are all people," Jeffers writes. "There is enough for everyone." ~Jasmin Malik Chua
Read a discussion with the author on the book's inspiration here.
'A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars (Greenwillow Books, 2017)
By Seth Fishman, Illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
Age range: 4-8
In "A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars," Seth Fishman Tackles the numbers that permeate everything around us. Not just any numbers, mind you, but enormous numbers. Gigantic, mind-bogglingly tremendous whoppers of numbers. Numbers that the human mind can scarcely comprehend.
Accompanied by delightful illustrations by Isabel Greenberg, Fishman makes infinitesimal figures like the number of seconds in a year (31,536,000), the distance between the Earth and the moon (240,000 miles), and how many people go shoulder-to-shoulder every day on our big blue marble (7,500,000,000) relatable to the four-to-eight age group.
"A child isn't necessarily going to get the number of raindrops in a thunderstorm (1,620, 000,000,000,000)," Fishman said, "but maybe it'll help them connect with what the word 'trillion' means because they know what a thunderstorm looks like." He also throws in fun facts that pint-size readers will take delight in. Who knew that a great white shark has about 300 teeth? Or that we might eat up to 70 pounds of bugs in our lifetime? Fishman's numbers will thrill, amaze, and elucidate. ~Jasmin Malik Chua
Read an interview with the author here.
'I am Neil Armstrong' (Dial Books, 2018)
By Brad Meltzer, Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
"I Am Neil Armstrong," a new children's book by bestselling author and History Channel host Brad Meltzer, shows kids how never giving up got Neil Armstrong all the way to the moon. Meltzer artfully captures Armstrong's journey all the way from childhood through his historic first steps on the lunar surface. But Meltzer doesn't just focus on those famous steps. He begins the story decades before the Apollo 11 mission with a very young Armstrong trying to climb to the top of a silver maple tree. After falling and getting back up, Armstrong continued this pattern of determination throughout his career. Armstrong's story of inspiration is masterfully executed in this colorful, delightful biography. ~Chelsea Gohd
Read more about the new book here.
'Margaret and the Moon' (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017)
By Dean Robbins, Illustrated by Lucy Knisley
Age range: 4-8
In "Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing," Dean Robbins outlines the pioneering software engineer's life, from the backyard of her childhood home, where she posed a million questions about the night sky, to the hallways of NASA, where she led a team from MIT to develop the onboard flight software that would land the first men on the moon. When an accident threatened to abort the Apollo 11 moon landing, Hamilton swooped in to save the day with her smarts and preparation. At a time when women were expected to stay in the home and raise children, Hamilton’s role in the Apollo program was "revelatory," according to Robbins. He said he hopes his young readers will find a strong role model in Hamilton, who solved problems large and small with creativity and fearlessness. "In my wildest dreams, readers of 'Margaret and the Moon' will grow up to make the next great breakthroughs in whatever they choose to do," he said. ~Jasmin Malik Chua
Read an interview with the book's author here.
'Looking Up!: The Science of Stargazing' (Simon Spotlight, 2017)
By Joe Rao, Illustrated by Mark Borgions
Age range: 6-8
For first through third graders who are curious about the night sky, Joe Rao's fact-filled early-reader chapter book will satisfy basic questions about the sun and the moon, the stars, the planets, comets and meteors in an engaging, age-appropriate manner. The centerpiece of the primer, however, is the section on the total solar eclipse that will take place across the United States on Aug. 21, 2017. Rao debunks the notion that viewing an eclipse at the moment of totality — that is, the few minutes when the sun is fully engulfed by the moon — is harmful to the naked eye. Once the sun is totally covered, you can look and "be amazed at one of Mother Nature's most spectacular sights," he writes. But turn away once the sun starts peeking out lest you be blinded, or use one of the safe viewing techniques he recommends to continue observing the spectacle. ~Jasmin Malik Chua
Read Space.com's interview with Rao about the book here.
'The Darkest Dark' (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 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
'CatStronauts' (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017)
By Drew Brockington
Age range: 7-10
"CatStronauts: Mission Moon" by Drew Brockington Credit: Little, Brown and Co.
Blast off on a space adventure with the most adorable space travelers in the cosmos: the CatStronauts! The graphic novel series tells the story of some incredible spacefaring felines — Major Meowser, Pom Pom, Blanket and Waffles — as they venture to the moon, Mars and beyond. In "Mission Moon," the gang solves a global energy crisis by building a solar power plant on the moon. In the second book, "Race to Mars," they blast off again in an attempt to beat the CosmoCats to the Red Planet. ~Hanneke Weitering
Books for Older Readers
'Max Goes to Jupiter' (Big Kid Science, 2018)
By Jeffrey Bennett, Nick Schneider and Erica Ellingson, Illustrated by Michael Carroll
Age range: 7 and up
In the updated edition of "Max Goes to Jupiter" (Big Kid Science, 2018), written by Jeffrey Bennett, Nick Schneider and Erica Ellingson and illustrated by Michael Carroll, the grandpuppy of the original Max from "Max Goes to the Moon" (Big Kid Science, originally published 2003, updated in 2013) and "Max Goes to Mars" (Big Kid Science, originally published 2006, updated in 2015) steps into his namesake's space boots, both literally and figuratively.
Tori, the little girl from the moon and Mars books, is all grown up and leading the first manned mission to the king of the planets as its chief scientist. And little Max, who grew up listening to stories of his grandpa's galactic adventures, is going along for the ride. While he's a bigger scamp than his forebear was, his playful instincts ultimately stand the crew in good stead. Max, just like in the original 2008 edition of the book, is a good boy.
The "big kid boxes," sidebars that present behind-the-scenes concepts that the story introduces, have been revised to accommodate findings from NASA's Juno mission in 2016. But the book overall is set to give kids of any age an appreciation of science and exploration. ~Jasmin Malik Chua
Read more about "Max Goes to Jupiter" and get a sneak peek of its pages here.
'Chasing Space' (Amistad, 2017)
By Leland Melvin
Age Range: 8-12
This astronaut's memoir tells a truly inspiring story of how one unsuspecting football player from a small town in rural Virginia wound up flying in the Space Shuttle Atlantis on missions to the International Space Station. Leland Melvin started his career playing professional football in the NFL, but when an injury prevented him from playing, he went to school to become an engineer. It wasn't until a recruiter from NASA grabbed his arm at a career fair that Melvin realized he could be an astronaut. He has since retired from the astronaut corps and now he dedicates his time to helping young women and minorities get involved in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) so they can realize and live up to their full potential.
This young readers' version of Melvin's book is adapted to be a shorter and easier read than the adult book. It includes 16 pages of color photographs and three do-it-yourself experiments for kids to learn how to build small rockets and study the chemistry of candy. ~Hanneke Weitering
Space.com spoke with Leland Melvin about his incredible life story and work to make STEAM more diverse and inclusive here.
'Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space' (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)
By Tam O'Shaughnessy
Age range: 10-14
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!