The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space by Candy Wellins and Courtney Dawson

Hello, Candy Wellins! Thank you for stopping by Watch. Connect. Read. to share The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space's cover. What are three things you want everyone to know about Edward White?

Candy Wellins: Just three? Ok here goes…

1. Many consider Edward to be one of the fittest astronauts to ever join the NASA program. He played soccer and ran track at West Point. He competed in the 1952 Olympic trials in the hurdles and missed the team by one tenth of a second! Also, NASA’s astronaut facilities did not originally include a gym. It was Edward who insisted they have one for astronauts to use in training.

2. Edward was reminded several times during his space walk of the timeline for coming back into the aircraft. And several times he politely ignored the countdowns as he admired the “tremendous” view. He also delayed by saying he was busy taking pictures. Unfortunately, there was a problem with his camera and none of the pictures Edward took that day turned out. Luckily the photographs taken by Pilot Jim McDivitt developed and we have some wonderful pictures of Edward’s space walk.

3. Edward died only 18 months after his space walk. For his second mission, he was chosen to be among three astronauts in NASA’s first Apollo mission. The goal of the Apollo program was to land a man on the moon. A fire broke out during a launch rehearsal in January 1967, killing all three astronauts on board. Edward, along with Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, were the first NASA astronauts to die on the job. 

When did you first become interested in writing a picture book biography about Edward White?

Candy Wellins: Not that long ago! In 2018 I was teaching a middle school astronomy class. We got into a discussion about the US/Soviet Space Race and students were asking who all of America’s first astronauts were (first man in space, first woman in space, first to walk in space and first on the moon). I knew the answer to every question except who was the first to walk in space.

I looked up the answer on a break and read a short paragraph that ended with Edward’s quotation when he reentered the capsule: “This is the saddest moment of my life.” My picture book brain immediately started buzzing. My kids tell me it’s the saddest day of their lives at least twice a week! I knew young readers would totally connect with Edward’s story.

At the same time, I didn’t feel like this was my story to tell. I had just discovered him and I am far from a space expert. But the story would not leave me. That summer my family was vacationing in Florida and we took a very impromptu trip to NASA. We didn’t have a map and just wandered into a building at random. I looked up and there was a huge picture of Edward White looking down on us (we had stumbled into an exhibit on his Apollo 1 mission). That felt like fate nudging me along.

I researched a bit at NASA and did more when I got home. Later I attended a Picture Book Writing Intensive at the Writing Barn to finalize a first draft. I kept revising through the fall and we sold the book to Philomel in early 2019, less than a year after I first heard his name. 

It’s been a bit of whirlwind, but this story is thoroughly researched and full of heart. I was able to contact Edward’s two children and they read the story and helped us get every detail correct. I feel like this is a great representation of his life.

Illustration Credit: Courtney Dawson

Please finish the following sentence starters.

Courtney Dawson’s illustrations are fun, but very accurate too. My favorite scene in the book is the White family’s reunion after Edward’s space walk. His daughter, Bonnie, gave us a family photograph (it’s included in the back matter) and Courtney did an awesome job recreating it.

The Gemini IV mission was the first time astronauts were able to “call home” and chat with their families. The White children were excited to hear about their dad’s space adventure, but all he wanted to talk about was his son Ed’s baseball game.

Saturdays Are for Stella tells the story of a fictional family who is bound together by love and traditions. When the matriarch dies, her grandson must find a way to hold tight to her memories. The Stars Beckoned touches on many of the same themes of unwavering family love and cherished moments together.

Story is our way of understanding the world around us. I feel blessed to be able to tell stories that help young readers process their own experiences and feel connected to others.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I’m working on next. My next project is a humorous graphic novel about a real animal—one I’m pretty sure has never been written about before. Look for an announcement about that coming soon!

Yay! Congratulations, Cindy! 

Edward White was the first American astronaut to walk in space. But before his spacewalk, he was just a boy who loved the stars. As he grew up, he would look up at the night sky in wonder—he knew that, one day, he would visit the stars themselves. In this touching and poignant picture book biography, we see how Edward’s passion for the stars shaped the course of his life, and how he came to realize, even in the depths of space, what was ultimately most important to him—his family.

With backmatter containing photos and more information on Edward’s life, Candy Wellins and Courtney Dawson deliver a book that is as much a feast for readers’ eyes as the stars were for Edward’s.

Candy Wellins ( is a former elementary school teacher who now spends her days as a full-time mother and author. Candy lives in Central Texas. Follow her on Twitter @candy_wellins and on Instagram @candywellins.

Courtney Dawson is a freelance illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She has a background in animation and a deep love for picture books. You can follow her on Instagram @courtneyjdee.


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