Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist Book Poster Image
Inspiring memoir of trailblazing Latina rocket scientist.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Acevedo credits Girl Scouts with giving her confidence, skills needed to dream big, so it's not surprising she wants to introduce the organization to readers who may know little or nothing about it. Acevedo gives an insider look at what it's like to be part of a Brownie or Girl Scout troop --  everything from what's involved in earning badges (a Science badge started her on her way to career as engineer) to the life lessons learned from selling cookies (planning, persistence, creating your own opportunities).

Positive Messages

You can dream big and make those dreams come true.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Sylvia is obvious role model, her mother is also a powerful example of perseverance, determination. An immigrant from Mexico, she was raised in a culture that believed a husband always made decisions. But when her husband refused to move to neighborhood with better schools, she wouldn't back down. She learned English, studied for and passed her citizenship exam. Inspired by confidence Sylvia was building through participation in Girl Scouts, her mother became a volunteer, learning to run a successful cookie sale, even forming a troop for girls from a school for children with special needs.

Violence

Sylvia's father had a temper; she reveals that he sometimes hit his wife and children. She describes an incident in which she refused to address him as "sir" and he hit her repeatedly with a belt. Another time she and her older brother stop her father from hitting their 4-year-old brother.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Emphasis on value of joining Girl Scouts and selling Girl Scout cookies. Sylvia loves watching The Mickey Mouse Club, Wild Kingdom, and The Parent Trap (1961)

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sylvia Acevedo's memoir, A Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist, chronicles her life from a childhood in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the 1960s and '70s to becoming one of the few female rocket scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Acevedo describes growing up first in a close-knit Latino community filled with extended family and then in a neighborhood and school where she was one of the few Latino students and she struggled to fit in. While her parents put a high value on education, it was still a time when expectations for girls centered around marriage and family rather than career. She writes at length about her years as a Brownie and then a Girl Scout and credits the organization with giving her the confidence and encouragement she needed to fulfill her dream of going to college and becoming an engineer. Readers may be shocked when Acevedo reveals late in the story that her father sometimes hit his wife and children and describes the time he repeatedly hit her with a belt. Acevedo is currently the CEO of the Girls Scouts of the USA.

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What's the story?

Sylvia Acevedo's PATH TO THE STARS was not an easy one. She was raised in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the 1960s and '70s -- a time when girls who wanted to become engineers or scientists were easily dismissed and the idea that a Latina girl might aspire to such things was almost inconceivable. But she did have a few things working for her. Sylvia's father was a chemist with a passion for books and libraries, and her mother, who had immigrated from Mexico and struggled early on to learn English, was determined that her children get the best education possible. That meant leaving their close-knit Spanish-speaking neighborhood when Sylvia was in second grade and moving to a new neighborhood with better schools. As one of the few Latino students in the school, she more often than not felt isolated and unwelcome -- until she met another girl named Sylvia who was a Brownie and who invited her to join the troop. While working on her Girl Scout Science badge, Sylvia built a model rocket and began to see new possibilities for her future. In high school she set her sights on becoming an industrial engineer and earned a scholarship to New Mexico State. She then went on to become a rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Labs, where she worked on the Voyager mission's fly-by of Jupiter and its moons and the Solar Polar/Probe missions.

Is it any good?

This compelling and deeply personal autobiography of a pioneering Latina rocket scientist is sure to inspire any young girl who's an aspiring scientist or engineer. Path to the Stars focuses primarily on Acevedo's elementary and junior high years, and some readers may be disappointed that Acevedo didn't write more about her life in and after college.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenges a "nerdy" girl like Sylvia faced in Path to the Stars. Do you think things have changed since Sylvia Acevedo was in school? Are girls in your school encouraged to pursue an interest in math and science?

  • Have you (or your parents) ever been the new kid at school or on a sports team? How hard was it to make friends and find a place to fit in?

  • Male and female roles were pretty defined in Sylvia's family ... until she decided to learn how to fix the family car. What's it like in your family: Are there things that only men and boys do and things that only girls and women do? Is there something you'd like to try, but you get the message that "only boys/girls do that"?

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