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I Am Neil Armstrong: Ordinary People Change the World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
I Am Neil Armstrong: Ordinary People Change the World Book Poster Image
Science-rich picture bio tracks first "small step" on moon.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As an introduction to the story of the first moon landing by people, I Am Neil Armstrong is packed with historical detail, as well as explanations of the engineering and problem-solving by many scientists and others that made it all possible. Tech- and space-loving kids will appreciate the detailed discussion of rocket launches, life in gravity-free environments, and the like.

Positive Messages

Armstrong's "one small step" translates to a strong message that "every journey begins with a first step," and also the importance of training, preparation, and hard work to make that one small step lead to success. Being calm and not giving in to fear and panic is a frequent theme, as is the importance of teamwork. Much emphasis on NASA and the space program as the product of the work (and lives) of many people, without which there would have been no "small step" on the moon.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Man-on-the-moon Armstrong embodies persistence, courage, hard work, determination, and problem-solving in this tale -- as well as a lifelong love of airplanes and flying that sets the course of his life early on. He's also a humble guy who works in a team and gives credit to numerous others, including Hidden Figures' Dr. Katherine Johnson.

Violence & Scariness

As a child, young Neil climbs a tree and falls 15 feet to the ground. Later, as a pilot in combat, he's seen calmly reading bailout instructions and parachuting out as his one-winged plane plummets to the ground.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Neil Armstrong is part of Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos' Ordinary People Change the World series of picture book biographies. It takes its pint-sized subject from childhood on a farm (and a lot of hard work to finance his fondness for airplanes) to a career as an engineer and pilot in the military before becoming an astronaut and taking that memorable "one small step." There are strong messages not only about the importance of that first small step, but also of working hard and preparing yourself so that one step is a good one. Also learning from your mistakes. Teamwork and collaboration are big themes, as Armstrong is the first to point out that his memorable step would never have happened without the dedication, hard work, and lives of many others. Space-loving kids will appreciate the details about rockets, low-gravity environments, the astronauts' grueling training program, and the like.

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What's the story?

The bright-eyed, pint-sized narrator of I AM NEIL ARMSTRONG grows up on a farm and fascinated by airplanes. Working a lot of hard, dirty jobs to pay for it all, young Neil goes from model airplanes to flying lessons, earning his pilot's license before his driver's license. A successful career (along with some harrowing near-death experiences) as an engineer and pilot in the military leads him to become an astronaut in the fledgling U.S. space program -- where his own hard work and that of many others all come together for "one small step" on the moon.

Is it any good?

In this '"Ordinary People" entry, Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos do a great job of spotlighting the 1969 lunar landing through the eyes of its central figure. In the years between aviation-crazed farmboy childhood and first step on the moon, I Am Neil Armstrong's title character works hard, focuses on patience and problem-solving, and gives lots of credit to others along the way. In the process, there's a lot of detail about the science and technology of space travel, which will thrill some young readers but may bore others.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how space travel seems in I Am Neil Armstrong. Why do you think people want to go into space? Do you have any favorite stories about space travel?

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you were really scared, but instead of panicking you tried to stay calm and figure out a solution? What happened?

  • Have you ever worked on something that involved a whole lot of people working together to get it done? What was it? How did it turn out?

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