Start with a Book

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Books and activities for summer reading and learning from Reading Rockets

Start With a Book: Books and activities for summer reading and summer learning

Space Rangers! A book-based science adventure

Explore, read, play, invent, build and learn — all about stars, our solar system, and space exploration.


Welcome to Space Rangers!

The best way to get kids learning is to build on their curiosity and interests. The Space Rangers program is kid-centered with an emphasis on inquiry and creativity.

A 5-day program: adapt it to fit your schedule!

We’ve designed the program to be user-friendly and adaptable. Use the materials each day for five days in a row, or once a week for five weeks (or any other way you like) to add hands-on learning to your summer programming. The materials are designed for elementary aged children, but can be adapted for older or younger kids.

Space Rangers Toolkit

The toolkit includes 5 topics for exploration through fiction and nonfiction books, hands-on activities, new vocabulary, and fun writing prompts. Each topic also includes recommendations for kid-friendly websites and apps. A space exploration timeline, a list of inventions from space, complete book and vocabulary lists, as well as printable name tags, journal covers, certificates, and Growing Readers tip sheets are included in the Appendix.

Note: Be sure to view and print from Adobe Reader (or an alternative PDF reader), not your web browser.

If you want to choose individual sections of the Space Rangers toolkit, just select any of the links below to download and print a PDF.


All of these resources are available in the Space Rangers toolkit, but we've made the PDFs available here for easy access and printing.

Getting yourself ready

  • You’ll find an introduction to the concepts covered and recommended books for each day, as well as a list of questions to guide explorations and experiments, and a list of "space words" that kids might not be familiar with.
  • Start by gathering books from the list provided from your library.
  • Choose fiction and nonfiction books from the list provided.
  • Read them through before you read them to the kids so you know what happens, and can spot any unfamiliar words or concepts you’ll need to explain. Also, look for places to ask questions while you're reading to engage listeners.
  • Think about which other parts of the program you’d like to do after reading the book(s).
  • An activity is always a good idea, but you may also want to include writing, exploring related websites and apps, and going on a field trip, too.

Learning with the kids

  • Introduce the theme for the day and ask kids what they know about it. (See "Activating background knowledge" below)
  • Read one or more of the books aloud and ask questions. Listen carefully to the kids’ answers. By reading to them and asking questions, you’ll get them thinking about the topic, and what they want to learn. You’ll also increase their understanding and excitement. Read another book and repeat.
  • Choose a hands-on activity to let kids explore theme. By doing an activity, the kids get to use the concepts and new words they have learned.
  • Look for a local connection. How can you connect the ideas in the books or the activities with the kids’ personal experience? Think about stargazing on a summer night.
  • Keep asking questions throughout and listening carefully to your kids’ answers.
  • Encourage kids to write about what they are learning or curious about by using one of the writing prompts in the toolkit.
  • Provide access to books about the topic for kids to look at on their own.
  • Show kids websites and apps that they can use to learn more about the topic and give kids time to try them out.
  • Take a field trip to further explore your topic for the day or theme for the week.

You can choose any of the components, all of them, or just one or two, but we recommend that you always Start With a Book.

Photo © Lawrence Hall of Science

Connecting the days and concepts

Ideally, you’d look through all five days of materials in advance and map out which books and activities you’d like to do. That will make it easier to help kids connect the ideas and activities each day, creating a big picture. You don’t have to implement all five days, but if you do, it will make a stronger impact if you help kids connect what they are learning from day to day.

Activating background knowledge

Ask kids what they know about the topic when you are getting started. For example:

  • Have you ever looked at the sky at night? What did you see? Have you seen the Moon seem to change shape?
  • What is the solar system and why is the Sun at the center of it?
  • How big is the solar system? How big are all the planets?
  • What is the surface of the Moon like? Where do all the craters come from?
  • What is gravity? Is there gravity in space? On the Moon?
  • What's it like for astronauts to live and work in space?
  • How does a rocket get into space?
  • How do scientists make sure a spacecraft can land safely on Mars or the Moon?

You can use some of the questions from the “Questions to guide explorations and experiments” if you like. Reading books and talking about them is another great way to activate kids’ background knowledge.

Review big ideas from the day before and then make a connection. For example:

  • “Yesterday we talked about the solar system and how all the planets orbit the Sun.
  • Today we’re going to look at the Moon and what happens when it orbits around our own planet Earth.
  • As the Moon orbits around the Earth, the half of the Moon that faces the Sun will be lit up. We call the different shapes of the lit portion of the Moon that we see from Earth "phases of the Moon." Have you ever seen a full Moon or a crescent Moon? Those are two phases of the Moon."

This is a great time to check to see if your kids understood the ideas you introduced the day before, answer their questions, or identify things they’d like to explore more.

Review and teach new words

When you are pre-reading your books or looking at activities, websites, apps, or field trips, look out for words kids might not know. Take time to talk about those words and tell kids what they mean. You can do this before you read or do an activity or while you are reading or working hands-on.

Start your Space Rangers adventure!


Space Rangers certificate

Download and print this certificate, to acknowledge participation by your young Space Rangers! We hope they'll want to continue learning about their place in the solar system and the wonder of space exploration.


Space Rangers toolkit authors

Tina Chovanec
Tina is the director of Reading Rockets, an award-winning national literacy initiative from WETA, Washington, DC's flagship public broadcasting station. She also created and manages Start with a Book, a summer reading and learning project.

Rachael Walker
Rachael has more than 20 years of experience developing partnerships with nonprofit organizations, corporations, and public agencies to benefit at-risk children and families. She launches national campaigns, coordinates special events, and develops original content for the National Education Association, Random House Children’s Books, PBS, and WETA’s Learning Media initiatives (Reading Rockets, Colorín Colorado, and AdLit.org). Visit Rachael at Belle of the Book.

Eileen Hanning
Eileen has more than 20 years of experience designing and implementing reading and hands-on-learning programs for at-risk children and training adults to help kids learn. She currently applies her curriculum design and children's book knowledge creating content, coordinating special events, and designing and implementing training as an independent consultant. Some of her clients include Reading Is Fundamental, Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia, Random House, and the American Psychological Association. Eileen holds a master's degree of education in curriculum and instruction from Trinity University in Washington, DC. Visit Eileen at Read Learn Reach.


The development of the Space Rangers toolkit was made possible by a generous grant from the Park Foundation.