The Wonders of Outer Space in Picture Books

Did you know that the 12th of April, 1961 was the day the first human flew into space? That human was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, who crewed the Vostok 1 as it orbited the earth.

This first journey into space was a huge achievement for humankind and launched what we call the space age. The 12th of April is now known as the International Day of Human Space Flight and to celebrate we’ve picked out some of our favourite books about planets, stars and outer space.

As Yuri Gagarin would say, off we go!

A tour of the universe

Planetarium by Raman Prinja, illustrated by Chris WormellPlanetarium by Raman Prinja,
illustrated by Chris Wormell.

Planetarium by Raman Prinja is a fascinating book which takes readers on a tour of the universe. Prinja, a professor of astrophysics at UCL, uses clear, simple language to explain the wonders of space. He covers everything from constellations, to planets, solar systems and galaxies. With engaging bits of information and mesmerising illustrations by Chris Wormell, Planetarium will inspire children to look up at the stars and want to learn more.

Both Prinja and Wormell wanted this book to have a slightly old-fashioned look. Reading Planetarium feels like walking through an old-timey museum, but one filled with 21st century discoveries. Wormells' lino and woodcut techniques really add an old, almost vintage look to the book and the illustrations are out of this world. The detail and rich colours in every image show the beauty of the cosmos, while the sheer size of these illustrations conveys the immensity of the universe.

Planetarium by Raman Prinja, illustrated by Chris Wormell

Chris Wormell uses a woodcut technique to create
old-fashioned looking illustrations.

While writing this book, Prinja hoped to replicate the experience of going to an actual planetarium. This makes this a great book to read during lockdown while museums are still closed. As well as being full of fascinating facts and beautiful pictures, Planetarium will get children excited about one day getting to go to a real planetarium and learning more about space.

An alternative history

Armstrong by Torben Kuhlmann

Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a
Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann.

We all know the story of Neil Armstrong and that historic first step he took on the moon, but what if he wasn't the first one to get there? In Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the MoonTorben Kuhlmann reimagines the history of space travel. 

Most of the mice in this book are happy to believe that the moon is made of cheese, but one little mouse is intent on discovering the truth. In this epic adventure he learns about the science of flying, he experiments with breathing apparatus in a fish bowl, and he very narrowly escapes a terrible fire. 

Torben Kuhlmann: Armstrong, The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the MoonThe illustrations are so realistic you almost believe this could have happened!

Kuhlmann's illustrations bring an amazing level of realism to what would otherwise be a fairly farfetched story. Through the precision of the mouse's tiny blueprints and the details of the small, everyday objects he uses in his experiments, Kuhlmann convinces his readers that a mouse truly could make it the moon, and beat us to it at that!

In a humorous twist at the end of the story, Kuhlmann suggests that human scientists were influenced by this mouse's discoveries and inventions. In this story it seems that without one tiny mouse and his big dreams, Neil Armstrong would have never set foot on the moon.

Torben Kuhlmann: Armstrong, The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the MoonIt was "one small step for man" but it
would be a GIGANTIC step for a mouse!

Starry starry nights

Sue Soltis: The Stars Just Up the Street, illustrated by Christine DavenierThe Stars Just Up the Street by Sue Soltis,
illustrated by Christine Davenier.

Space travel is an incredible feat, but it's not for everyone. Some of us don't fancy the three day commute to the moon and are perfectly happy looking up at the stars from our own back gardens.

In The Stars Just Up the Street by Sue Soltis, little Mabel loves to look at the stars from her bedroom window. As she counts how many she can see each night, her grandfather tells her about when he was a child and he used to see thousands of stars in the sky.

Sue Soltis: The Stars Just Up the Street, illustrated by Christine DavenierMabel brings her community together for a magical night of stargazing.

Inspired by her grandfather's memories, Mabel decides to try and organise a night of stargazing. She visits the Mayor and rallies her local community until they all join together to turn out the town lights for one magical night of looking up at the stars.

Christine Davenier's luminous illustrations capture the quiet beauty of the night sky and show readers the peace that comes from taking the time to look up once in a while. In addition to this, The Stars Just Up the Street is an inspiring story about community, team work and perseverance. Mabel shows children that if they put their mind to something, they can achieve it. 

A little bit of stardust

M.H. Clark: The Man Made of Stars, illustrated by Lisa EvansThe Man Made of Stars by M. H. Clark,
illustrated by Lisa Evans.

Of course it's important to learn about the science of space - planets, solar systems, black holes - but there will always be something a bit magical about the cosmos, and there is nothing wrong with that. In The Man Made of Stars, M. H. Clark presents stars, not as balls of hot gas, but as acts of kindness that turn into beautiful lights.

Lisa Evans' ethereal illustrations are filled with starlight and every page seems to glow from within. These luminous illustrations pair perfectly with Clark's simple yet enchanting story about a mysterious man who hangs the stars in the sky. 

M.H. Clark: The Man Made of Stars, illustrated by Lisa EvansLisa Evans' illustrations glitter like starlight.

The message behind The Man Made of Stars is just as beautiful as the illustrations. The man made of stars explains to the little boy that humans are made of "kindness and possibility and brilliance" and these qualities are what make the stars in the night sky. When we show each other love and kindness, that is what makes the stars shine. This charming book will not only show children the wonders of the night sky, but also the power of small acts of kindness.  

New constellations

Dream Animals by Emily Winfield MartinDream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin.

In this captivating bedtime story Emily Winfield Martin takes readers on a journey through the night sky and into dreamland. Within the first few pages, Martin reinvents astronomy for her own magical purposes. She reimagines the constellations as "animals from long ago" that carry little dreamers away to dreamland through the "maps made of starlight".

Martin's graceful rhymes and creamy illustrations create a soft sleepy atmosphere in Dream Animals that makes it perfect for reading to little children before bed. As they drift off they can think of the stars in the sky and imagine what their dream animal might be.

Emily Winfield Martin: Dream AnimalsWhat would your dream animal be?

Most of the adventures in Dream Animals are not quite space travel, but with her soft, lyrical text and fantastical illustrations, Martin shows children that in their imagination they can go anywhere. Whether they dream of going to mermaid tea parties under the sea or of flying up to the moon and the stars, there's nothing children can't do when they close their eyes and dream.

Emily Winfield Martin: Dream AnimalsWe can go anywhere we like in our dreams.

Although only a few people have had the incredible experiencing of traveling into space, the magic of good book can take you on an adventure wherever you please.

We hope you enjoyed reading about these books. You can browse more of our beautiful picture books here.