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Get Your Head INTO the Clouds

Breaking Through the Clouds written by Sandra Nickel and illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.


We've all looked up at the clouds, imagining different shapes, admiring their fluffiness, or running for cover when they turned dark.


Joanne Simpson was that child too, and her curiosity led her into a life with her head in the clouds quite literally. Described as "too stubborn" and "too smart," Joanne used her stubbornness and intelligence to pursue her dream of earning a doctorate in meteorology when no other woman had and at a time when men said they never would. While breaking through the clouds, she was also breaking down barriers.


Sandra Nickel brilliantly weaves meteorological vocabulary throughout the text, not only in describing her studies and her career, but also in reference to the turbulent and absent relationship with her mother. Readers first see Joanne when she is five years old and already a very independent child for that age. Young readers will marvel to learn how she was sailing and flying an airplane on her own by the time she was 16 years old. And, her autonomy and determinations never let up.


Helen Perez Garcia's realistic illustrations in gouache take readers back a hundred years with a retro color palette of reds and turquoise that add to the emotion, inspiration, and events of the text.


An author's note, bibliography, and timeline conclude this fascinating picture book biography.


Imagine It!


To try to understand anything fully, one must observe it, think about it, and react to it.


Joanne Simpson observed clouds from below while lying on the ground or in her boat, side by side while in her plane, and even from above via satellite images. She kept lots of notebooks about what she experienced.


Imagine something you want to know more about: clouds, rain showers, flowers, trees, etc...


Observe your choice from as many angles as you can. Each time, look really hard. What do you see? But also, how does it feel (if you can touch it)? How does it smell (if there is a scent)? Does it make a sound?


Think about all the details you notice. For example, is the rain warm or cold and why? Is the flower drooping or blooming and why? Don't worry about having the "right" answer. Just try to find a reason for why it could be like that in your opinion.


From the story, it sounds like Joanne let herself get lost in the clouds each time she needed peace and solitude. How does observing and thinking about your choice make you feel?


On a piece of paper, or in a notebook like Joanne, write a few sentences or draw a picture of something that fascinated you in your observations.


Imagine ... you could become an expert!

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