Dozens of science- and history-themed events are planned in February around 'Rise of the Rocket Girls'
This winter, community members can fly model rockets, meet pioneering female scientists and do the hand jive — all as part of the 11th-annual Lake Oswego Reads.
The popular citywide reading program launches on Jan. 9 with the giveaway of a nonfiction book that has inspired more than 30 events throughout the month of February: Nathalia Holt's "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars."
The Lake Oswego Public Library will hand out 800 complimentary copies of the book to library card holders from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Monday, according to program coordinator Cyndie Glazer.
"Lake Oswego Reads is going out of this world this year, celebrating space and the pioneers of the space program," Glazer says. "This book really has something for everyone."
This year's LO Reads selection is the first to incorporate STEM, a curriculum focused on educating students in science, technology, engineering and math. Many of the events based on the book will revolve around STEM topics, as well as women's history and 1950s culture.
'A compelling story'
Glazer says choosing a book this year was tough. The LO Reads committee — made up of librarians, community leaders, high school English teachers and high school students — read 28 books to find the one for this year's program.
The committee always looks for books that could interest a wide audience but that haven't already been read by most people, Glazer says. The story needs to provide ample opportunities for relevant events and activities, she adds, and should be appropriate for high school readers as well as adults.
Last year's selection, Timothy Egan's "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher," was an immensely popular account of turn-of-the-century photographer Edward Curtis and his efforts to capture images of the continent's original inhabitants before their old ways disappeared. The year before, the committee selected Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See," which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, among other awards.
This year, the group eventually landed on "Rise of the Rocket Girls." Published in 2016, it tells the true story of the women — called "human computers" — who launched America into space, breaking the boundaries of both gender and science along the way.
In the 1940s and '50s, when the newly created Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, the company didn't turn to male college graduates. Instead, it recruited an elite group of young women who — with only pencil, paper and mathematical prowess — transformed rocket design, helped create the first American satellites and made the exploration of the solar system possible.
Based on extensive research and interviews with all living members of the team, "Rise of the Rocket Girls" offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science. It looks not only at where the U.S. space program has been, but also into the far reaches of space where it is heading.
"We couldn't believe this was a true story," Glazer says. "It's a compelling story... and it's all about space exploration — the past and the future."
Glazer says she hopes the book — the first selection authored by a science writer — will draw newcomers to Lake Oswego Reads and further the program's goal of strengthening civic pride, fostering discussion among the city's residents and bringing the community together through the common bond of reading.
With the library undergoing renovations this year, many of the events will take place at the Lakewood Center for the Arts and other venues. Most will still be free, though, thanks to the financial support of the Friends of the Lake Oswego Public Library, the Lake Oswego Rotary Club and The Lake Oswego Review. And they are all designed for a variety of ages, from children to adults.
Events for all
On Monday, the library will serve popcorn and Tang at the book launch — Glazer says those who read the book will understand why. Community members can then look forward to the dozens of events Glazer and her team have planned.
On Feb. 1, Lake Oswego resident Mary Kaiser will speak about her 30 years of work as a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center; on Feb. 4, Mad Science will dazzle kids with science experiments about the power of gas; and on Feb. 6, local artists will explain their visual interpretations of the book at the Lakewood Center for the Arts.
Other events include a demonstration model rocket launch with Oregon Rocketry, a '50s dance and demonstration with Step It Up Studios and a variety of space- and science-focused discussions.
Author Nathalia Holt will visit Lake Oswego on Feb. 8 to talk about her book at the Lake Oswego High School auditorium. Holt is a science writer with a Ph.D. who also wrote "Cured: The People who Defeated HIV." Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science and Time.
Her latest work has been praised as "an immersive, evocative narrative that effectively brings an all-too-forgotten history to life." It has appeared on the best-seller lists of both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, was an Amazon Best Book of April 2016 and one of Entertainment Weekly's "10 Best Books You Have to Read in April."
Glazer says that when she emailed Holt and asked her to speak, she responded right away.
"It's very exciting to have an author who is thrilled that we're reading her book," Glazer says.
IF YOU GO
What: Lake Oswego Reads kickoff and book giveaway
When: Monday, Jan. 9, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Lake Oswego Public Library, 706 Fourth St.
Details: Lake Oswego Public Library cardholders can pick up a free copy of "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars" while supplies last.