At some point, every child considers a career as an astronaut; it must be among the top five answers to the perennial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It makes sense that writers of children’s books have embraced space travel; a few classics even predate real-life space missions, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince, and H.A. Rey’s Kirkus-starred 1957 book, Curious George Gets a Medal, in which the lovable protagonist successfully completes a mission to become “the first space monkey.” Indie authors, too, have created kids’ books in which their young characters travel to the stars. Here are three, all recommended by Kirkus Indie:

Jo Ann Jeffries and Lukas Kaiolohia Bob’s 2021 novel, Astronaut Kids, featuring illustrations by David Faber Rosenberg, tells the story of five American children selected for a voyage to the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They all have their own cool research projects: 10-year-old Kai from Hawaii is studying how weightlessness affects his pet cat, among other things, while 13-year-old Texan Greg is working on a time-travel device. Not everything goes as planned, however, and the children must work together to deal with unexpected difficulties. Kirkus’ reviewer notes that “the book fairly vibrates with enthusiasm—and employs many exclamation points—but also takes science seriously, modeling teamwork and depicting realistic problems.”

The fun 2022 picture book When I Was a Baby, I Went Up to Space, by Ezra Dutch Kimsly, with illustrations by Mike Cañas, is a bit more whimsical in its tale of a baby who’s accidentally launched into space after his big sister ties his highchair to a flexible tree branch, flinging him into orbit. Among other things, he sees a bear (the constellation Ursa Major), a toucanlike satellite, astronauts “dancing” during a spacewalk, various anthropomorphic planets, and the moon—complete with the cow, dish, and spoon from the “Hey Diddle Diddle” nursery rhyme. Young readers need not worry about the young narrator, though, since he safely returns to Earth with his parents none the wiser. Kirkus’ reviewer praises the cartoon illustrations and the story’s sly humor, as in one notable background gag: “Pluto asking ‘Hey guys, am I in or out?’ will amuse parents who grew up with nine planets to name.”

Vincent on Mars (2024), by author/illustrator Marc Eliot Davis, is another memorable space-based picturebook, albeit with subtler charms. Here, a young boy named Vincent has a vivid dream in which he finds himself in a red desert with gravity that’s much lighter than what he’s used to—as evidenced by the great leaps he’s able to take. He’s an artist, so he paints what he sees, including a crater below a blue sunset. It’s soon clear that he’s on the red planet Mars, and he imagines its craters full of water giving life to lush vegetation. Kirkus’ reviewer calls the work “visually dazzling”: “Davis’ full-color, painterly illustrations are truly stunning (reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, of course), with swirling skies and softly hemispherical detail; visible brush strokes add dimension and nuance.”

David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.