July 19 – Celebrating the Perseid Meteor Showers with Sandra Nickel

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Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com.

You can connect with Sandra on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Sandra, thanks so much for stopping by to talk about your latest picture book The Stuff Between the Stars, the beauty of summer nights, and your favorite childhood memory!

My favorite summer memory from my childhood is lying on a blanket at night and watching the shooting stars. Everything about it screams “childhood summer” to me. Warm nights. Fireflies. Grass pricking through the blanket. Late-night snacks. Pillows outside. The whole family together. Getting to stay up until midnight. And the incredible magic and wonder of shooting stars lighting up the sky. Each individual aspect is imbued with summer. But when you put them all together and add to the mix that it only happened once each August, it holds an incredibly vibrant and loved spot in my childhood memory box.

This year’s Perseid meteor shower—because in fact those shooting stars are shooting meteors—will be from July 17th to August 24th, with peak meteors expected to be around August 12th. For childhood memory-building, the must-haves are blankets, insect spray, a light-free yard, and late-night snacks. That said, a little preparation on your part will add richness and new discoveries to the experience.

The meteor shower is a great time to learn constellations. Why not brush up on those mythological pictures in the sky to prepare for the big night? There are many children’s books about constellations. One of my favorites is National Geographic’s classic Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations.

Gazing at the night sky is also a great time to open up your young stargazer’s mind. During school visits while talking about The Stuff Between the Stars and Vera Rubin, I show students this picture and ask what they see. If you’re not in a rush, take a moment and look.

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Credit: skysafariastronomy.com

What do we see?

The Moon

Stars

That bright spot is Venus

We see the stars because they burn. They are making their own light, like a summer campfire does. We see the moon because it reflects light from the biggest star around, the Sun. The same goes for the planets, like Venus. They reflect the Sun’s light.

So, we see the Moon, stars, and planets. And that’s pretty much all we see in the sky, right? But what’s there that we are not even thinking about? What are we looking right past?

Everything that doesn’t shine.

Before Vera Rubin, we thought, if it doesn’t shine, there’s nothing there. It’s empty space. And that’s the idea that Vera proved wrong. All that dark in the night sky makes up most of the universe. It’s filled with stuff. And that stuff is called dark matter. Not because it’s something scary, like turning to the Dark Side in Star Wars. It’s dark matter only because it doesn’t make its own light like stars or reflect light like planets.

Now, we still don’t know what dark matter is made of because we can’t see it or smell it or hear it. However, we know what it does. It has gravity. It has pull. And it holds the stars in galaxies together so that we can enjoy them on summer nights with family and friends.

With the end of July approaching, why not gather blankets, insect spray and your favorite late-night snacks to enjoy the meteor shower? It’s a wonderful way to fill a childhood memory box—and maybe even your adult one too.

What a wonderful, unforgettable way to spend a summer night! Thanks so much for sharing your memories as well as your love for the mysteries of our universe.

About the Perseid Meteor Showers

 

Active between July 17 and August 24 in the northern hemisphere, the Perseid meteor shower lights up the sky, thrilling astronomers and casual observers alike. The Perseids are particles released from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle when it interacts with our atmosphere. They get their name from the fact that the radiant (its point of origin) is located near the constellation of Perseus. The best time to view the showers is after midnight around 2:00 a.m., but they may be seen as early as 10:00 p.m. The best place to observe them is in an area with low light pollution. This year the Perseids reach their peak on the night of August 11 – 12.

NASA describes the Perseids as “very fast and bright meteors [that] frequently leave long “wakes” of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. They’re also known for their fireballs, which are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. The Perseids are one of the most plentiful showers, with 50-100 meteors seen per hour.

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The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Written by Sandra Nickel | Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

 

From the time she was a little girl, Vera Rubin had been fascinated with the night sky. As she gazed 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. As a young astronomer she presented her idea that “galaxies rotated around a center in the universe like the Big Dipper circled the North Star.” But when she presented her conclusions at a meeting of America’s top astronomers, they told her her ideas were “outlandish” and “ridiculous.” 

As a young mother, Vera worked on another question that interested her. She wondered if galaxies were scattered haphazardly or whether there was “a pattern to where they spun.” After many late nights 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, but America’s top astronomers continued to ignore her.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

While her children were growing up, Vera began teaching astronomy at colleges in Washington D.C. Other astronomers began hearing about her and wanting to know more about her ideas that had been dismissed in the past. More than anything, Vera wanted to view the sky from the observatory at the Carnegie Institution in the California mountains. She wanted this so much that she went to the Carnegie Institution and asked for a job. After she explained her work and theories to the other scientists, they gave her a job. Here she studied the “slow-moving stars at the edges of the galaxies.”

Vera next studied the Andromeda Galaxy and was astounded to discover that the stars at the edge of the galaxy didn’t move slower for being far away from its center of gravity; they moved at the same speed. She determined from this as well as from studying 200 other galaxies that there was something unseen at work between the stars. Vera believed this was “dark matter” and presented her findings to other astronomers. This time they listened, making her a prominent light in her beloved field.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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. 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. 

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. 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.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419736261

Discover more about Sandra Nickel and her books on her website.

To learn more about Aimée Sicuro, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Curriculum Guides and Activity Sheets for kids on Sandra Nickel’s website.

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Kids will love Sandra’s other book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez!

Ages 6 – 11

Lee & Low Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620143698

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You can find The Stuff Between the Stars at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 21 – It’s Global Astronomy Month

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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 perspectives, transcend borders, and improve lives,” The group’s goals are twofold: to inspire and empower a worldwide community of astronomy enthusiasts and educators through astronomy-related programs and to cultivate a diverse, international community dedicated to sharing the Earth’s resources equitably. To try to accomplish these goals, Global Astronomy Month brings people together with arts activities, 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.

The Little Spacecraft That Could: New Horizons’ Amazing Journey to Pluto and Arrokoth

Written by Joyce Lapin | Illustrated by Simona Ceccarelli

 

As the little spacecraft blasted away from the launch pad on January 19, 2006, she thought that her name—New Horizons—“was a brave-sounding name. And you had to be brave to fly to the edge of the solar system.” New Horizons was on her way to Pluto—the first spacecraft to do so. Zooming through space, her engines dropped away in stages. Free of these engines the little spacecraft, “no bigger than a small piano… streaked through space at more than 10 miles per second.”

While she soared, New Horizons wondered what she would find when she finally reached Pluto. She knew that everyone was counting on her to provide answers about this mysterious planet. People had a lot of questions, and New Horizons had a lot of time to ponder them. In fact, it would take her “nearly 10 years to reach Pluto.” Things were going well for New Horizons. She was on track and jogging along at 36,000 miles an hour… but then on August 24, 2006, astronomers decided Pluto wasn’t big enough to be considered a planet and demoted it to dwarf planet status.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Planetary scientists didn’t and don’t agree with this change, and New Horizons? She just wanted to complete her mission, and she had to concentrate on what came next—meeting up with Jupiter at just the right time to take advantage of this giant planet’s gravitational pull to speed up her trajectory toward Pluto. Carefully, New Horizons got into position. She sped faster and faster and was flung into space, heading toward her destination at “nearly a million miles per day.”

Now and for the next eight years, New Horizons would fly on autopilot while she took a well-deserved nap that would conserve fuel as well as her computers and instruments. Periodic wake-ups by the scientists on Earth made sure everything was going well. Finally, on December 6, 2014 it was time for New Horizons to wake up and go to work. She wouldn’t be landing on Pluto but doing a “flyby” 7,800 miles away from the surface of Pluto. At this distance the photographs she took would be clear and her other instruments for listening, smelling, feeling, and measuring other aspects of Pluto and its atmosphere would work too.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

New Horizons couldn’t wait to get started and began snapping pictures “from half a million miles out.” What people saw when she sent back her photos “sent the internet on fire.” It appeared that Pluto was holding a white heart—a valentine for Earth. “Everybody loved the dwarf planet with a heart!” This heart is actually a glacier made of nitrogen, which on Pluto’s cold surface forms ice instead of gas like on Earth

On July 14, 2015, New Horizons at last reached her optimal distance, and what wonders she uncovered! Towering ice mountains, valleys deeper than the Grand Canyon, “‘ice blades’ the height of New York City skyscrapers,” and “‘ice volcanoes’…that spew out icy slush instead of lava.” This was only the beginning of what scientists discovered. Measurements also showed that Pluto was larger than was thought—bumping it up “from second-largest dwarf planet to the largest.”

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

New Horizons also took pictures and measurements of Pluto’s moons and, after snapping one last picture: Pluto “‘crowned’ with the hazy blue glow of its atmosphere” while lit from behind by the Sun, New Horizons was off for Arrokoth, an object in the Kuiper Belt that hadn’t even been discovered when she blasted off from Earth all those years ago. A billion miles later, New Horizons reached Arrokoth on January 1, 2019. New Horizons continues to send information about this fascinating body, and because she’s still so “robust…her team wants [her] to visit an even more distant Kuiper Belt world in the 2020s. No one doubts she can do it.

In addition to the story about New Horizons’ journey, each page contains illustrated insets with detailed facts and information about the New Horizons spacecraft, Pluto, our solar system, how the planets were named, and more.

Back matter includes a timeline of New Horizons’ journey, an extensive glossary, a list of books for further reading and research, and a list of internet resources where readers can see videos and learn more about New Horizons and her mission.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Joyce Lapin’s thrilling true tale of New Horizons’ mission to Pluto and beyond lends pep and personality to this little spacecraft that the world watched blast off with the heart and anticipation of a parent sending their child off on their first day of school. Her engaging storytelling helps kids understand and appreciate the magnitude of New Horizons’ flight and all it has accomplished. Lapin’s clear descriptions of the various stages of the mission, scientists’ expectations, and the tricky maneuvering necessary to put New Horizons at the right place at the right time are delivered smoothly and concisely.

Scientific vocabulary and definitions are woven seamlessly throughout, enhancing the reader’s understanding without their losing any of the suspense. Kids will identify with the childlike nature of New Horizons’ confidence in herself and commiserate with her dismay when Pluto is demoted. Readers will cheer on this little spacecraft as her mission is expanded and will be excited to learn more about what New Horizons has already discovered and what she will find in the future.

Simona Ceccarelli’s illustrations are nothing short of phenomenal. Photographic in detail, Ceccarelli’s vibrant images take kids from the launchpad with the fiery rocket boosters produce clouds of smoke as the spacecraft climbs into the sky, into outer space, where they see how the engines disengaged to set New Horizons free to navigate past Mars, pick up speed from Jupiter (shown in its colorful, striped glory) and rocket past Saturn (the rocky debris of its icy rings clearly visible) to become just a dot in the black sky.

Ceccarelli also takes readers into the control room where graphs, screens, coordinates, and more line the walls and computers stand side-by-side on the desks and carefully observed by the mission’s directors. Images of the heart on Pluto include internet snapshots that will remind some readers of how the world reacted to the first images sent back by New Horizons.

The final images of Pluto, showing a landscape of ice blades, deep canyons, mountains, and swirling patterns of color and then backlit by the Sun, are breathtaking. The spacecraft itself is lightly anthropomorphized with expressive eyes and mouth and cable-thin arms. Drawn from all sides, the images of New Horizons give kids a good a look at this amazing spacecraft.

A sensational achievement in presenting the scientific and human accomplishments involved in the New Horizons mission as well as an exhilarating overview of our solar system, The Little Spacecraft That Could would be a stimulating addition to science units for elementary and high school students to spark a love for astronomy, engineering, research, and other related subjects. The book will be a favorite and is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 7 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454937555

Discover more about Joyce Lapin and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Simona Ceccarelli, her books, and her art, visit her website

Global Astronomy Month Activity

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Out-of-This-World Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

SUPPLIES

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

DIRECTIONS

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

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You can find The Little Spacecraft That Could at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 16 – Global Astronomy Month COVER REVEAL of The Universe and You

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The Universe and You

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

 

As the sun goes down and the stars come out, a little girl is tucked into bed in the midst of a beautiful celestial dance. Although Earth seems solid and still while she sleeps, it’s actually spinning on its axis and circling the sun. Joining Earth in this orbit around the sun are the other seven planets in our solar system, along with dozens of moons and millions of comets and asteroids. Containing our solar system is the wondrous Milky Way galaxy, with its billions of stars, just like our own sun, swirling and whirling around. And on from there are billions of galaxies with their own stars swirling, whirling into the ever-expanding space called our universe. When the sun rises, the little girl awakens on a brand-new day as the “moving, circling, and swirling” dance continues.

Through lyrical text, award-winning science writer Suzanne Slade takes young readers on an exploration of Earth, our solar system, the galaxies beyond, and finally the universe as a whole. Illustrated back matter includes scientific facts about our solar system.

Meet Suzanne Slade

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Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 books, including June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus. She lives in Libertyville, Illinois. Learn more about Suzanne at suzanneslade.com. You can connect with Suzanne on Twitter.

Welcome, Suzanne! I’m really excited to be talking with you about this inspirational book for little dreamers! What inspired you to write The Universe and You?

I’ve done a lot of research about space exploration in the last decade for various book projects, so space seems to be on my mind. (Plus, I’m a mechanical engineer who has worked on rockets.) In more recent years I’ve been working on a book about a woman astronomer, so was reading about stars/galaxies and visited an observatory. Then one morning I woke with the idea of a simple, lyrical bedtime book which starts with Earth, moves out to our solar system, our galaxy, and the universe.

The cover to The Universe and You is stunning! What was your first reaction when you saw it?

The illustrator, Stephanie Fizer Coleman, initially created 3 rough cover sketches to gather opinions. The sketch I liked best ended up as the cover design, so when I later saw it in full, glorious color I was blown away. Stephanie knocked this cover out of the park (and universe!).

In what ways did Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s illustrations surprise you or go beyond what you had imagined?

I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to what the child’s dreams might entail (though I knew they’d have to do with space). I love Stephanie’s creative and colorful depictions of the girl dreaming about soaring through space in a rocket and walking on the moon. I also adore the wonderful space items in the girl’s bedroom and the fantastic planets in the solar system! 

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

In college you studied engineering and actually worked on Delta and Titan Rockets. What is one of the coolest things you learned while working as an engineer on these rockets?

How a rocket works. It was fascinating to learn about the rocket “stages” needed to launch it from Earth, how a rocket soars through space, and much more.

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

You’ve written so many wonderful books about so many diverse people and subjects, including June Almeida, Virus Detective!, which was just released in March. What is your favorite part about writing STEAM books for kids?

My favorite part is introducing young readers to a fascinating STEM topic or person who has made a big impact in a STEM field. The challenging aspect of creating a picture book is to find an engaging way to present the story so it draws readers in and makes them want to find out more.

What would you like for kids to take away from this story?

I hope it inspires children to dream BIG dreams and boldly pursue those dreams!

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Books.

Meet Stephanie Fizer Coleman

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Stephanie Fizer Coleman has illustrated numerous children’s books, including You Are Mine, Porcupine. She lives in Scott Depot, West Virginia. Learn more about Stephanie atstephfc.com. You can connect with Stephanie on Instagram.

Hi, Stephanie! I’m thrilled for readers to get their first look at the breathtaking cover you designed for The Universe and You! What inspired this image? Can you describe your process of designing and finalizing this cover illustration?

Well, I can’t take all the credit, because Felicia, the art director on this book, had a clear idea of what would go on the cover. I knew the cover would feature some beautiful universe bits and of course, our smart and sweet main character too.

I worked up three cover options to start with, including one with the rocket ship, which is my favorite bit from the book. In the end, the image of the girl sitting on the moon with the Milky Way swirling behind her was chosen. We did a few more versions of the sketch, changing some little things like having her sitting on the Earth instead of the moon, and then it was off to final cover art!

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Did you have a passion for outer space prior to reading this story?

You know, I’ve always been more of a history buff, but my husband is a space nerd, so over the years a fascination with space has grown in me as well.  I could look at Hubble photos for hours!

Do you have a favorite spread in the book? If so, which one and why?

Both dream spreads, with the rocket ship, are my favorites! It was fun to think up what this girl would be dreaming about and to tie that in with the outer space theme.

One of my initial sketches for this was the girl as a little artist who loved painting planetary bodies and I was a little sad when it got cut, so instead I hinted at her creative energy by imagining the kind of rocket ships her dream self would create.

In the end, I’m so happy that both dream spreads involve the adorable rocket ship and our adventuring astronaut pair.

If you were going to visit outer space, where would you like to go?

This is tough because I’m obsessed with the Crab Nebula! How magical is the Crab Nebula? I mean, seriously. But also Jupiter is my favorite planet and I think I could orbit Jupiter for many years, totally engrossed in watching the rolling storms on its surface.

You have an affinity for flight of another kind too—birds! Several years ago you embarked on a project to paint a bird a day for one hundred days. Readers can see the original charming and beautiful 100 + 1 birds on your website as well as follow along with your current bird drawings on Instagram. What inspired you to do this project? Do you have a favorite bird?

I started the 100 Day project as a way to explore my style using a subject matter I already loved: birds! The simple shapes and vibrant colors lend themselves to creative exploration while feeling easy and approachable as a subject matter. My favorite bird is the chickadee and I try to sneak them into as many children’s books as I possibly can.

What do you like best about illustrating children’s books?

I love getting to illustrate the books that I would have loved as a child! There’s something special about making something that will show children how beautiful the world is and how magical nature is.

Thanks so much, Suzanne and Stephanie, for sharing the story behind The Universe and You! I’m sure readers can’t wait to see your book when it blasts into bookstores on August 15th!

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You can preorder The Universe and You from these booksellers

Anderson’s Bookshops | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, preorder from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 14 – It’s Global Astronomy Month

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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.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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.”

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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.”

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronomy-coloring-page-telescope    celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronomy-coloring-page-kids

Explore the Galaxies Coloring Pages

 

Indulge your love of star stuff with these printable coloring pages!

Looking through the Telescope | Studying the Stars | Milky Way Dot-to-Dot

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You can find The Stuff Between the Stars at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 26 – It’s Rising Star Month

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About the Holiday

Are you a rising star? Of course, you are! What is a rising star? It’s someone who shows great promise for the future. That sounds like you, right? Today, celebrate all of your special talents and knowledge that will take you far as you grow up. How far? Well, why not shoot for the stars? Get started on a new learning journey about those stars with today’s book.

Animals in the Sky

By Sara Gillingham

 

The weather’s warmer and the sky is dark. From your window or in backyard you can look up and find… what? Little ones know the sky is “filled with twinkling stars.” But do they “know that it’s full of pictures too?” Just like a dot-to-dot puzzle, “if you draw lines between some of the brightest stars, you can find animals.” These animals and other pictures made from stars have a special name: constellations. Youngest astronomers will shine while putting their scientific minds to work on the riddles that accompany each constellation and discovering the answer. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.

Riddle: “I have thick, shiny fur, and large, padded feet. I the winter, I like to take a long sleep in my warm den. What animal in the sky am I?”

If your little one guesses “a bear,” they’ll be grr-atified to learn that they’re right! In reward they learn about another well-known constellation that is part of the Big Bear.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Ready to try another one? Terrific! Riddle: “I have a tail that wags when I’m happy, a big wet nose, and a loud bark. What animal in the sky am I?” Anyone lucky to have one of these for a pet will know right away that connecting these stars makes the Big Dog. But readers will also discover the name of the that right where his dog tag would be is “the brightest star in the whole sky”––Sirius.

Five more clever riddles and facts about the Rabbit, the Lion, the Southern Fish, the Eagle, and the Wolf also await star-struck kids. A fold-out page at the back depicts ten more constellations named for favorite animals.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Sara Gillingham introduces the youngest stargazers to twenty animal constellations that will pique their interest in astronomy and all things space related. Her lyrical riddles for seven constellations give kids clues to their names with evocative descriptions that not only lead readers to the right answer but reveal facts about the real animals in nature. Her stylish presentation of connected stars on a navy-blue background, as crystal clear as a cloudless night, allows little ones to easily see the basic formation of the constellation. The page then folds out, and the outline is superimposed with an image of the animal inspired by the shape. The third page goes on to show the two floating in a star-sprinkled sky along with another interesting tidbit of information.

With a gold-embossed cover and sturdy pages, Animals in the Sky is fun to share for nighttime star gazing and as a spark for lessons on astronomy, science, space, history, and mythology. The book would make a beautiful gift for new babies, baby showers, new little siblings as well as a go-to favorite for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1838660246

Older children will enjoy the stunning Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations, also by Sara Gillingham. You can read my review here.

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You can find Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Phaidon Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877723

To learn more about Sara Gillingham, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Rising Star Month Activity

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Courtesy of education.com

Star Gazing Dot-to-Dot

 

What constellation do these kids see in the sky? Print and follow the dots to find out. Then color the picture! Then enjoy another page filled with star-studded fun!

Star Gazing Dot-to-Dot | Constellations Dot-to-Dot

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Older children will enjoy this printable Read the Stars Constellations Word Search

Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle | Read the Stars Word Search Solution

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You can find Animals in the Sky at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 15 – Museum Selfie Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was created in 2015 by Mar Dixon, a museum enthusiast, as a way to encourage museum visitors to be creative and have fun taking selfies while also emphasizing the importance of all types of museums to the community. This holiday is celebrated in museums around the world, with participants sharing their selfies on Twitter and Instagram. To celebrate, head to a museum near you with your kids and make some memories.

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum

By Jessie Hartland

 

A science teacher leading her students through a science museum stops at the display for the Peekskill Meteorite that fell to Earth in New York state on October 9, 1992. As she explains a bit about meteorites, one student raises his hand and asks, “But how did the meteorite get here—to the museum?” With that question the students—as well as readers—are off and running on an adventure of astro-nomical proportions as the teacher begins: “Hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, in deep, dark, cold outer space, there are vast fields of space debris flying around.” The smaller rocks are called meteors, and a meteor that falls to Earth is called a meteorite.

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2013, courtesy of Blue Apple Books.

The teacher sets the scene: “Here in outer space is a meteor…flying around and around and around”—for over four billion years! Then for some unknown reason the meteor changed direction and entered “Earth’s atmosphere over the state of Kentucky.” With a Hissssss and a Crack! the zipping meteor alerts a sleeping dog, who begins to bark at it. The space rock, trailing a fiery tail, zooms over a burger stand in Virginia, attracting the attention of some late-night snackers.

In Pennsylvania, a few seconds later, a high school football game suddenly turns historic as the meteorite, hissing and crackling through the sky attracts the attention of video cameras throughout the stands. Yes, this is the same celestial body “which was spotted by the Virginians, and yelped at by the dog as it zipped toward the Earth.”

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2013, courtesy of Blue Apple Books.

With a Crash, Bang, Boom, the rock hurtles downward. “Here is the teenager, who had been watching late-night TV at her house in Peekskill, NY, when she heard a tremendous CRASSHHH! She has rushed outside and discovered a huge dent in the trunk of her car and a smoking ‘rock’ nearby.” Wanting to discover the culprit of this vandalism, the teenager calls the police who summon firefighters to cool down the “rock.”

After hosing down the ‘rock’ the firefighters “start to suspect that the rock may really be a meteorite.” A geologist is called from Columbia University to examine the rock. “He confirms that what smashed the car is, indeed, a meteorite, which was cooled by Firefighters, investigated by Police, found by the Teenager, gawked at by Sports fans, buzzed about by Virginians, and arfed at by a dog as it raced toward the Earth.”

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2013, courtesy of Blue Apple Books.

Next, the Curator of Meteorites from the Museum of Natural History in New York City visits the geologist, hoping to obtain this special specimen for the museum. Soon, a Cosmologist develops a program about the meteorite that she presents at a museum symposium, explaining how this 26-pound meteorite crossed over 400-500 miles in just 40 seconds and collided with a car—a-one-in-a-billion chance. The Museum of Natural History secures the meteorite for its collection, and the Exhibits Team designs the “lighting, signage, and diorama for their newest acquisition.”

Which brings us back to the Ross Hall of Meteorites at the museum and the complete story of “the Peekskill Meteorite, which was…barked at tby the Dog, witnessed by Virginians, filmed by Sports Fans, found by a Teenager, poked at by Police, sprayed with water by Firefighters, validated by the Geologist, obtained by the Curator of Meteorites, summed up by the Cosmologist, presented by the Exhibits Team, and explained by the Science Teacher who says: ‘…and that’s how the meteorite got to the museum.’”

An Author’s Note following the text explains more about meteors and introduces Dr. Mark Anders, the Geologist mentioned in the book. A photograph of the car hit by the meteorite offers fascinating viewing.

In her entertaining and informative telescoping text, Jessie Hartland reveals in easy-to-understand steps the people and actions involved in bringing together a museum exhibit for a meteorite. The repetition of the important characters in this true, history-making drama combined with Hartland’s deft command of a vast array of synonyms makes reading each page a joy. Suspense grows as each stage of the meteorite’s trajectory from space rock to “star” exhibit builds on the previous one, exciting kids not only for the tale of the meteorite, but also for the displays they see when visiting a museum.

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2013, courtesy of Blue Apple Books.

Hartland’s folksy two-page spreads are a perfect match for the rhythmic text—both humorous and educational in their details. The meteor—zipping through the dark blue night sky dotted with stars, over a small town, above an out-of-the-way burger joint, and through the cheering sounds of a football game—leads readers on a page-turning chase until it crash lands on the bumper of the teenager’s car. Here, as the police write up their investigation on the left-hand page, the firetruck can be seen hurrying to the scene, siren blaring, on the right, even as raccoons and a cat take the opportunity of the distraction to make mischief.

Hartland’s depictions of the geologist’s office as well as the American Natural History Museum give readers a peek behind the scenes at the tools and displays used by scientists and museum workers. For kids who love museums, science, and fun wordplay, How the Meteor Got to the Museum is an absorbing addition to home bookshelves as well as school, classroom, and other libraries. Jessie Hartland’s other titles in this series—How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum and How the Sphynx Got to the Museum—are also highly recommended.

Ages 4 – 9

Blue Apple Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-1609052522

Discover many more books by Jessie Hartland as well as other artwork on her website!

Museum Selfie Day Activity

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Museum Coloring Pages

 

If you love museums, you’ll love these coloring pages of three of the most amazing museums in the world

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art | London’s British Museum | The Louvre in Paris

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You can find How the Meteorite Got to the Museum at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 25 – It’s National Reading Month and Interview with Illustrator Scott Brundage

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About the Holiday

No matter whether you live in a house or an apartment, in a city, in a small town, or on a farm, you can travel anywhere through books. The magic of reading lies in its ability to transport readers through history, into emotional landscapes, and to far-away places – even into outer space as today’s book shows!

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of The First Men Who Went to the Moon to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The First Men Who Went to the Moon

Written by Rhonda Gowler Greene | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

As Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin enter the spacecraft, they wear excited smiles and wave. “These are the first men who went to the Moon.” Panning back to where the enthralled crowd watches from across the water, watch as a rocket roars skyward, trailing flames. “This is the spacecraft, Apollo 11, that lifted off and soared through the heavens / and carried the first men who went to the Moon.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The astronauts get a view of Earth as they reach for the blackness of space. The Lunar Module Eagle touches down on the surface of the Moon in “…the Sea of Tranquility / where the astronauts made history….” First Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin descended onto the Moon carrying an American flag. “This is their mark, a ‘leap for mankind.’ / And this is the flag they left behind / there in the Sea of Tranquility.”

In a spectacular show of human achievement, the Command Module Columbia returned in a “…splashdown that brought them home, / safe and sound from a vast unknown, / where they made their mark, a ‘leap for mankind.’” With ticker tape parades attended by thousands of people, the astronauts were celebrated in New York City and Chicago.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In addition to Rhonda Gowler Green’s poem, many of the double-spread illustration contain facts about the mission, features of the Moon, the astronauts’ work, and splashdown.

Back matter includes information on where the Eagle and Columbia are now; more facts about the mission, the astronauts, and the equipment; resources; and a list of other books for young readers.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mirroring the circular mission that took the astronauts to the Moon and back, Rhonda Gowler Greene’s lyrical verses build on each other, overlapping to create depth in her storytelling and awe in the scientific achievement of NASA in 1969. As the poem reverses, readers engage in the feeling of pride and relief that Americans and people all around the world experienced as they watched Columbia splash down safely into the Pacific Ocean. Greene peppers the story with beautiful images take readers from “swirls of clouds” to a  “desolate land” to “the dust of lunar ground” and helps them recapture the mystery and amazement of those days 50 years ago.

Scott Brundage’s illustrations are remarkable for their detail and ability to transport readers to the heart of the Apollo 11 mission. Today’s children, familiar with satellite images and feeds from space and who have grown up with the International Space Station, cannot fully appreciate with what wonder and trepidation the world watched the mission on television. Choosing a variety of perspectives, Brundage allows kids to watch the rocket launch from the pad in Florida, look out of the spacecraft’s window as the astronauts leave Earth behind, see the Eagle light up the Moon’s surface as it lands, and view Neil Armstrong take that first step onto the Moon. Space lovers will want to linger over every two-page spread to take in all of the minute details as well as the inspiration that space stirs in the dreams of many.

A lyrical and gorgeous tribute to the Apollo 11 mission for its 50th anniversary, The First Men Who Went to the Moon would make a lovely addition to home, classroom, and public library collections for science and space lovers, STEM lessons, and story time.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364121

Discover more about Rhonda Gowler Greene and her books on her website.

To learn more about Scott Brundage, his books, his art, and more, visit his website.

You can download and print a fun The First Men Who Went to the Moon Activity Sheet!

Meet Illustrator Scott Brundage

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Scott Brundage’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, the Washington Post, and many others. He is the illustrator of A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet. He lives in New York City.

Today I’m happy to be talking with Scott Brundage about capturing the beauty and mystery of space, his talent for humor, and the surprising start to his art career.

The First Men Who Went to the Moon, written by Rhonda Gowler Greene, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Your illustrations are astounding for their perspective and sense of action that captures the thrill and wonderment of the time. Can you talk about the research you did, how you approached creating these images, and your process?

Well thank you for those generous words about my work. I’m happy people have responded to the illustrations so positively. 

When researching this book, I was lucky enough to have A is for Astronaut fresh in my mind. The Apollo 11 mission is a bit more specific than A is for Astronaut, being a specific time and year, but I’d already learned a lot about how to find good NASA references. 

I faced the same challenge as last time: since NASA’s photography is public domain and already gorgeous, what could I bring to this book that hasn’t been seen already? I couldn’t riff as much as last time, but I could at least try to capture what it might have been like to be in the Apollo 11 crew’s shoes (space boots?). Some illustrations  also were simply trying to capture the emotion that Rhonda Gowler Greene was expressing with her words. The moon is beautiful, but distant, cold and still. I wanted to show all of that if I could.

Which illustration in the book is your favorite and why?

I think the spread on pages 22-23 is my favorite, the one depicting all the footprints in the shadow of the planted flag. I like when I can get away with not quite showing the subject of a painting, but the audience knows what they’re seeing. And without getting too

artsy, I thought it was a good metaphor for the book itself. We went to the moon, left our mark, and came back. The footprints are still there on the cold surface in the shadow of our flag.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gower Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What were your favorite books as a child and whose art or illustration work did you admire growing up?

I had to ask my mom for this answer. I don’t remember having a favorite, all I could think of are cool picture books I appreciate now as an adult. Turns out, according to my mom, I much preferred to just look through our encyclopedia and then report dinosaur facts to whoever would listen. 

How did you get into illustrating children’s books and what do you enjoy most about the work?

I got into picture books relatively organically, having touched on almost every other type of illustration market first. I started out doing small illustrations for magazines and newspapers. That slowly led me to book covers and middle grade chapter books that had a lot of interior black and white illustration. Along the way, I would help a couple independent authors with their self-published picture books. After a while, I just had a stack of children’s picture book illustrations in my portfolio. So when my agent asked if I was interested in doing a picture book with a real publisher, I was more than ready to jump in. 

Picture books are great because you can really chew on a subject or set of characters way longer than you can for a book cover or spot illustration. I know way more about how space suits work, I’m familiar with a weird number of features on the International Space Station, and know exactly what color suits the Apollo 11 crew were wearing in their ticker tape parade. It’s really fun to get that deep for a book. 

Is it true you got your start professionally by designing a bicycle helmet? How did that come about? What was your design?

This is true. My first paying gig was a Bell Helmet’s kid’s helmet design. My art school instructor, the great children’s book illustrator Brian Biggs, had a contact with the designer at Bell Helmets and set up a contest among his students to submit designs for a possible helmet. They’d pick the winner and see if it could get produced. I send in two designs, one of happy robots on an alien landscape, another of cute little lizards attacking a city. Somehow both designs won the contest  The timing, however, was a little unfortunate for the lizards attacking the city since it was just after 9/11, but the robots ended up adorning the heads of dozens of kids nationwide.

I was fortunate enough to review A is for Astronaut: Blasting through the Alphabet—your picture book with author and former astronaut Clayton Anderson. I was blown away by the stunning details—including spacecraft, the NASA control room, and space itself—on every page. What kinds of choices did you make in creating the illustrations to make the information come alive for kids? 

A is for Astronaut was a blast to work on. I had a bit of freedom in interpreting each chapter, so a lot of it was figuring out I could make an image portray the idea of each letter clearly. For the more straightforward words like galaxy or blastoff, showing how it is to be a kid experiencing those awe-inspiring event/sights for the first time. And, when possible, if I could find a way to blend two words/ideas into a single spread, that was even more fun. 

Your editorial illustrations have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and other publications, and you’re now working as an animator for the Showtime series Our Cartoon President. Do you have a natural knack for humor and infusing it into your art or how did that develop? 

When I was in school, I was really into dark scary artwork and literature. Loved creepy drawings and painting, reading horror stories, listening to dark music. I tried my hand at doing some moody paintings in oil about serious subjects. But, my personality is that of a very silly man. And if you looked at my sketchbooks at the same time, it was all goofy drawings to make myself and others laugh. Eventually I realized I should just lean into what came naturally, and that was the funnier whimsical stuff. I’m definitely much more suited to making a weird face, taking a photo of myself, then applying that face to a character than I am at trying to scare someone.

What’s up next for you?

I’m just starting up a new picture book about a guy and his dog. No astronauts this time around.  

And I’m also working on the second season of Our Cartoon President. 

Thanks, Scott! It’s been so great chatting with you! I wish you all the best with The First Men Who Went to the Moon and all of your work!

You can connect with Scott Brundage on

His website | Twitter | Instagram

The First Men Who Went to the Moon Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The First Men Who Went to the Moon written by Rhonda Gower Greene | illustrated by Scott Brundage

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from March 25 through March 31 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National Reading Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-maze-puzzle

Rocket to the Moon! Maze

 

Help the rocket find its way through space and land on the moon in this printable puzzle!

Rocket to the Moon! Puzzle | Rocket to the Moon! Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-first-men-who-went-to-the-moon-cover

You can find The First Men Who Went to the Moon at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Books

Picture Book Review