Blast Off!: How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America Into Space

by Suzanne Slade (Author) Sally W Comport (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

The inspirational story of Mary Sherman, the world's first female rocket scientist, who overcame gender barriers and many failures to succeed.

Growing up in the 1920s on a dirt-poor farm in North Dakota, Mary Sherman's life was filled with chores--until she finally began school and discovered she loved to learn.

Mary excelled at science, especially chemistry, and leaped at the chance to work in a laboratory during World War II designing rocket fuels. And when the US decided to enter the space race, Mary was chosen over her male colleagues to create the fuel to launch a rocket carrying America's first satellite.

With courage and perseverance, Mary's hard work and calculations paid off, opening up a brand-new frontier for exploration. This STEM biography of an unsung and courageous woman in science will inspire and motivate young readers.

Kirkus Reviews

A respectful, important tribute to an instrumental rocket scientist.

Horn Book Magazine

An engaging introduction to one woman's mostly unheralded contributions to American space flight. 


Slade follows Mary Sherman Morgan from a North Dakota farm to a lab in California, where her 'passion for chemistry' drove her to become 'the rocket fuel expert, ' and to develop the powerful-yet-stable fuel that put Explorer I into orbit in 1958

School Library Journal

Gr 1-4--Determination, passion, and intellect help fuel Mary Sherman Morgan from good to great! Morgan grew up in humble beginnings working on the family farm: "Until one day the sheriff and a social services woman came calling. They said eight-year-old Mary belonged in school. It was the law!" Once Morgan entered school, her passion for learning and especially science was sparked. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and she was forced to drop out of college due to the lack of funding. That didn't stop her from continuously seeking knowledge. When one door closed, Morgan looked for and worked hard for another to open. She eventually ended up at NASA, part of a mostly male workforce, but that didn't stop her from pursuing her dreams. Trial and error led to her big discovery of the correct fuel for America's first satellites. Slade dispenses the facts of Morgan's early years with ease, never glossing over the hardships, but they don't stop the story any more than they stopped this heroine. Comport's illustrations set the era with architecture and clothing, capturing the thrills of the dawning space age, and always capturing Morgan with an inner light despite adversity. VERDICT For all biography shelves, especially those covering the early days of the space program. Morgan's hardscrabble origins will inspire others to reach for the skies.--Amanda Austin

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Slade introduces a little-known hero of the space race in this dynamically illustrated portrayal of rocket fuel scientist Mary Sherman Morgan (1921-2004), a key figure in developing the propellant that powered America's first satellite into space in 1958. A chronological narrative details Morgan's late start to school, at age eight, before tracing her early career and diving into the excitement of the top-secret task that required the lab's "best man"--Morgan. Wern Comport's vivid multimedia illustrations depict Morgan and other engineers at work in images that teem with equations, data tables, formulas, and slide rules. While the book presents as a biography, an author's note clarifies that a need "to creatively fill in a few gaps" renders the book, instead, historical fiction. Regardless, Mary's example of perseverance and glass ceiling-shattering delivers a motivating message for would-be scientists. Back matter concludes. Ages 7-10. (Apr.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Suzanne Slade
Suzanne Slade is the author of over 150 children's books, including Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, a Sibert Honor book; and Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, a Junior Library Guild book. An engineer by training, she worked on rockets and cars before beginning her writing career.

Edwin Fotheringham is the award-winning illustrator of many picture book biographies, including Eleanor Makes Her Mark, Full of Beans, Blue Grass Boy, What to Do About Alice?, and Those Rebels, John & Tom. He is also the illustrator of the Tony Baloney series by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Illustrator website
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Calkins Creek Books
Publication date
April 20, 2022

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!