ASTRONAUT ANNIE Blasts-Off! (illustrator interview + 2 giveaways)

One week from today, March 6, ASTRONAUT ANNIE releases. After writing nonfiction for 20 years, this is my first fiction picture book. So it’s thrilling to see Annie launch into the world! It’s also fun to share my interest/background in space with readers. (Back in my engineering days I worked on rockets.)


Annie is clever, resourceful, and determined. But what I admire most about her is that she doesn’t let anything stop her from pursuing her dream. And that dream, as the title eludes, is out-of-this-world!

Annie is excited about the upcoming Career Day at school and invites her family to attend. But until then, she has to keep a big secret — Annie can’t share what she wants to be before the “big reveal” at Career Day. Of course, that doesn’t stop her nosy family from asking for clues. Annie gives each family member a different clue, and every one thinks she’s interested in a field he or she loves and gives Annie a gift to use in her Career Day costume.


Problem is, Annie’s dream is very different than her family’s ideas.

But clever Annie finds a way to use all their gifts in her Career Day costume to pursue her dream.

As with most stories, Annie’s journey to publication was rather long. Thankfully her story benefited from many revisions and improved along the way. It also tried various titles — Annie’s Big Secret, Annie’s Career Day, and Samara’s Surprise to name a few.

Then on one of my momentous birthdays ending in zero, an incredibly thoughtful friend (Ellen Hughes) “published” ASTRONAUT ANNIE complete with my children’s illustrations. Although the print run was small —1 hardback — it was very well received!


Years later, I met the fabulous Nicole Tadgell at ALA during signings for two books we’d created together, FRIENDS FOR FREEDOM and WITH BOOKS AND BRICKS. That day we chatted about many topics, including the need for more books with diverse characters in nonfiction and fiction stories. For some reason we also started talking about Astronaut Annie.


Fast forward — I sent the story to Tilbury House, they loved it, and they asked Nicole to illustrate the book. Fortunately, she agreed!

Nicole also kindly agreed to answer a few questions for PBB about her striking watercolor illustrations for ASTRONAUT ANNIE.

1. You’ve illustrated many great books and your schedule is very busy. Why did you decide to accept this project about Annie?
I have illustrated many historical books, so it was great to have the chance to illustrate a story that takes place present day. As important as history is, I do feel there is a need for more books where the character happens to be nonwhite and race has nothing to do with the story.
2. Annie and her family feel very close to one another and genuine. Are any of these characters based on real people?
When I work on a book I immerse myself as deeply as I can into the story. The characters become real to me.
Of course I pull from my own childhood experiences – siblings, parents and grandparents.
The little brother’s antics are loosely based on my friend’s son!
 And his sister helped model as a typical 9 year old!
 Annie’s grandparent’s yellow house was inspired by a house I saw while on a walk near work.


3. What did you enjoy most about illustrating this book?

 Learning that I could still draw and go through enormous changes in my personal life – I moved, sold my house, my spouse passed away all during the time I worked on this book.

4. Did you encounter any unique illustration challenges in this project?

 Yes! I had never painted an astronaut or space before! That was fun.
The final scene was a challenge, but using a sequential graphic technique I feel helped move the action along.


Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your phenomenal talent with the book and your time for this interview!




Twitter: @nicoletadgell
Facebook: nicole.tadgell



I can’t think of a better way to end this post than to celebrate four ground-breaking women who achieved incredible firsts in space— Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Peggy Whitson, and Kathryn Sullivan. These women are also featured in ASTRONAUT ANNIE’s back matter pages, along with more enriching STEM content to encourage young readers.





* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Book & Author Skype Visit Giveaway * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Enter to win an autographed copy of ASTRONAUT ANNIE by leaving a comment on this post.

Teachers can enter to win a free Skype Author Q & A session for their class by leaving their school name and grade in the comments.

Winners will be selected on release day— March 6th! (Though the book’s available for pre-order now.)

Pssst!  You can also enter to win an autographed copy of ASTRONAUT ANNIE on Goodreads Giveaways!

And check out Astronaut Annie’s book trailer.

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“A solid, small step for diversifying STEM stories.” Kirkus
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Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. I would love to add Astronaut Annie to our Girls with Grit Library! We love “Dangerous Jane” and “Out of School and Into Nature”! Thanks for the chance to win!

  2. Suzanne ,
    I’ve read many of your books and own George Gershwin I look forward to reading Astronaut Annie as well.

  3. Jennifer Rumberger

    This looks like a wonderful book! Going on the to-read list!

  4. Wow! Going to grab this one next week, Suzanne. It looks wonderful.

  5. Congratulations! Looks like a wonderfully fun story!

  6. Oh, this looks fantastic. I have come to LOVE nonfiction picture books, and the art in this one looks particularly breathtaking.

  7. Ooh, I look forward to reading this book!

  8. Looking forward to adding this great title to our collection to go along with FRIENDS FOR FREEDOM and CLIMBING LINCOLN’S STEPS.

  9. What a fantastic book! I can’t wait to read it and look at the wonderful illustrations! Nicole, I’m so sorry to hear about your spouse. I hope this book brings you joy as you go through so many life changes. Congratulations to both of you on work well done!

  10. Kathleen Mazurowski

    Great interview. Can’t wait to read this inspirational book!

  11. What a clever story and beautifully illustrated book! Thanks for sharing!

  12. How awesome! I’m writing about Peggy Whitson now…love this female astronauts!

  13. This looks fantastic, Nicole!

  14. This looks like a perfect book for my granddaughter who loves space!

  15. Great interview, and it’s fun to see the lifeline of the book’s creation. Should make other writers look through old files to find something to re-envision.

  16. Can’t wait to read this!

  17. What a great giveaway — can’t wait fly with this book!

  18. Yea for girls. Working together we can do anything to make this world a better best!

  19. It’s always fascinating to more about an artist’s process. Thank you for sharing this story! Can’t wait to read it!

  20. Lovely interview! I am looking forward to reading this book and enjoying the wonderful illustrations.

  21. I love the watercolor illustrations. I can’t wait to read/see the book in it’s entirety.

  22. This will be a wonderful gift for my granddaughter, who will turn 7 a week after the book’s release, & who is interested in making a career in astronomy! Love the illustrations.

  23. Suzanne, I can’t wait to read the story.

  24. I’m really looking forward to reading this book, and the illustrations are so beautiful and inviting. Great work!!

  25. I love the combination of dream career and family love that propels this story. Can’t wait to read it!

    • We had a lot of fun with this well-meaning family who each had their own ideas for Annie. I also love how diplomatic Annie was able to use the gifts they gave in a clever way to pursue her own dream. Thanks for stopping in!

  26. Thanks for sharing- I look forward to this, and the illustrations are beautiful! Added to my wish list!

  27. Looking forward to reading this fun story Thank you the opportunity to win a copy.

  28. Very interesting post! Astronauts are dear to my heart. I taught 25 years at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School.

    • How wonderful you were at Christa McAuliffe School for so many years. I imagine there teachers share a lot about the brave astronauts who risk everything on each mission. I’ve done a great deal of research for 2 upcoming books about the Apollo missions and it’s nothing short of amazing what these astronauts do! (I also worked on rockets back in my engineering days, and the technology behind that machinery is phenomenal as well.)

  29. Looking forward to reading this one! Lovely illustrations and a “can-do” female main character!

  30. I enjoy reading about space topics and this young astronaut sounds fun to get to know. As a musician who plays many pieces by Gershwin I have to read your nonfiction book to learn more about the man.

    • Ooo, I’m a big space lover too! (Did you see the recent PBS specials about Mark Kelly’s year in space. It was awesome.) I hope you enjoy the Gershwin book. I learned a great deal about him during my research. He is fascinating!

  31. Another new title. How exciting. I was at the library today looking for some of your books.

    And the artwork looks stunning. Can’t wait to see this one in real life.

  32. What a great interview! Congratulations, Suzanne and Nicole–the book looks really inspiring!

  33. I can’t wait to read this – love the subject matter & the illustrations!

  34. Annie is a might girl! I look forward to reading this book to my granddaughters [ages 7 & 9]. Thank you, Suzanne & Nicole.

  35. What a perfect book to read for National Women’s month. I would love to share this book with my class. What a fantastic interview. Thank you for offering a giveaway.

  36. Suzanne, this book looks excellent! And thanks for this glimpse into the illustration process, Nicole. Looks like a stunning book!

  37. Beautiful illustrations. I enjoyed seeing the process n steps she took to illustrate this story. Excellent interview.

  38. Congrat’s Suzanne! This looks amazing and I love the premise. Also really appreciated seeing the background work from sketch to final with the artwork.

  39. Well, I’m completely intrigued and need to read this picture book!

  40. And I agree with Mike Boldt–love that you did that with the sketches/final art!

    • It’s also so interesting to me to go back and revisit the steps on a book, since it happens over such a long time period. It’s always fun to compare sketches with final art. Thanks for stopping by!

  41. Adding it to my list. I’m really enjoying fiction stories with back matter that expands the topic for kids. So helpful!

    • You know, I always put back matter in my nonfiction books (which is all my books until this one), so I didn’t even think about the fact that I was putting back matter with a fiction book. Huh. Guess it works! And guess I always have more to say. (My husband would agree with that statement!)

  42. Mary Edly-Allen

    Just found out you’re coming to Woodview’s Reading Night!!! Soooo excited!!! (And of course LOVE all of your books, but I have a personal fav that is connected to my fav Prez.)

  43. I love PBs with back matter. Looks like a great mentor text for writers like me. And Annie looks like a great role model for dream seekers.

  44. I’m an old Trekkie who gobbles up any science fact and fiction book I get my hands on no matter what the age level, so I will definitely be checking this one out. Thanks for sharing its background story, Suzanne and Nicole.

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