About the Holiday
Instituted by Astronomers Without Borders, a group who sees in our shared sky an opportunity to create “a global community that appreciates, studies, and shares the wonders of the universe, to broaden perspective, transcend borders, and improve lives,” Global Astronomy Month brings people together with arts events, parties, and special events. To find resources, such as April sky maps in English and Spanish, and more information on how you can participate, visit the Astronomers Without Borders website.
Thanks to Abrams Books and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be hosting a giveaway of the book. See details below.
The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
Written by Sandra Nickel | Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro
Vera had always been fascinated with the night sky. As she gazed up through her bedroom window, she saw when “the stars were stirring, and something bright stirred in Vera too.” She began studying everything she could about the stars, planets, and how they interacted in the night sky. She even made her own telescope from a cardboard tube and a lens. At seventeen Vera began attending Vassar College as the only astronomy major in her class. Here, she could use the school’s telescope whenever she wanted.
While at Vassar, she fell in love with Robert Rubin, a mathematician. They married and soon Vera was going to have a baby. During her pregnancy, she explored an idea she had: “was it possible that galaxies rotated around a center in the universe like the Big Dipper circled the North Star?” By the time her son was born, Vera decided she was right. Vera presented her conclusions at a meeting of America’s top astronomers. They thought her ideas were “outlandish” and “ridiculous” and told her so. “Vera felt like the smallest, slowest star on the edge of their galaxy” and wondered if she’d “ever really be an astronomer.”
After Vera had a baby girl, she decided to concentrate on a new question that she thought would be fun. She wondered if galaxies were scattered haphazardly or whether there was “a pattern to where they spun.” After many months of staying up late into the night doing calculations, Vera determined that galaxies were “clumped together like dew drops on a spider’s web.” This was a major discovery; one that earned her a doctorate in astronomy. Instead of criticizing her, America’s top astronomers ignored her.
Vera had two more children, and as her family grew she dreamed of observing galaxies from a mountaintop like the senior astronomers and watch gravity work within galaxies. She began teaching astronomy at colleges in Washington D.C., and other astronomers began hearing about her and wanting to know more about her ideas that had been dismissed in the past. More than ever Vera wanted to view the sky from an observatory in the mountains—one like the Carnegie Institution had in the California mountains.
One day she went to the Carnegie Institution and announced that she would like a job there. When the director and other scientists learned about her work and theories, they were so impressed that she landed a job. While the other senior astronomers worked on other questions, Vera studied the “slow-moving stars at the edges of the galaxies.”
In Arizona Vera studied the Andromeda Galaxy and the stars on its outside spiral. What Vera found was astounding. Instead of moving slower at the edges of the galaxy because of waning gravity from the center, these stars moved at the same speed. She remembered that earlier astronomers had theorized about a mysterious, unseen “dark matter” with its own gravity that “might be at work in the universe.”
Vera believed dark matter “could fill the space between the stars.” In fact, she was sure it was there by the way the stars moved. Once again, when Vera revealed her findings, most astronomers didn’t want to believe it. They didn’t want to believe that all this time they’d only been studying a small fraction of the universe. After Vera studied two hundred more galaxies, the astronomers had to agree that she was correct. At last “Vera was no longer at the edge of astronomy, she was at it’s very center.”
Backmatter includes an Author’s Note detailing more about Vera Rubin’s work, a timeline of Rubin’s life, resources on quotes found in the text, and a selected bibliography.
Sandra Nickel’s straightforward and comprehensive storytelling gives kids a well-rounded view of Vera Rubin’s life as she doggedly pursued a career in astronomy despite all the naysayers and snubs along the way and made an astounding discovery that still baffles scientists today. Rubin’s inspirational example will resonate with young readers and give them a pathway to accomplishing their own goals. Nickel does an excellent job of explaining the complex ideas Rubin studied, theorized on, and wrote about, allowing readers to fully understand her impact on the field of astronomy and our understanding of the universe. Nickel’s lyrical prose is also sprinkled with metaphors that link Rubin’s feeling and life changes to the night sky she loved to observe.
Through Aimée Sicuro’s mixed-media illustrations, readers follow Vera Rubin as she matures from a curious child who loves watching the night sky to a college student to a mother to an astronomer making discoveries that changed the way scientists understood the universe. Her detailed images give kids visual representations of Rubin’s work and ideas, including a complex mathematical calculation she works on while her family sleeps and her idea that galaxies were clumped together. Depictions of the Palomar Observatory will thrill space buffs and show readers why Rubin so wanted to study the sky from a mountain top. The final image of a group of children gazing up at the night sky as a shooting star flashes by offers an inspirational quote from Vera Rubin.
A superb biography that will inspire and nurture young minds, The Stuff Between the Stars is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 6 – 9
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419736261
Discover more about Sandra Nickel and her books on her website. You can also find curriculum guides and activity sheets to download on her site.
You can connect with Aimée Sicuro on Instagram.
Watch the book trailer for The Stuff Between the Stars!
Global Astronomy Month Activity
Explore the Galaxies Coloring Pages
Indulge your love of star stuff with these printable coloring pages!
You can find The Stuff Between the Stars at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, order from
Picture Book Review