July 19 – Celebrating the Perseid Meteor Showers with Sandra Nickel

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Sandra-Nickel-headshot

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Sandra-Nickel-moon-picture

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-cover

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-window

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-observatory

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nacho's-nachos-cover

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-cover

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-cover

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-launch

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-robotic

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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-control-room

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-pluto-heart

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-cover

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-cover

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Suzanne-Slade-space-headshot

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! 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-interior-1

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-interior-3

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-interior-2

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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-interior-4

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

Meet Stephanie Fizer Coleman

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stephanie-fizer-coleman-headshot

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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-initial-cover-sketches

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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-universe-and-you-cover

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-cover

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-window

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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-young

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-outlandish

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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-galaxies

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-observatory

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-cover

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

 

February 4 – Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket Blog Tour Stop

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sadie-sprocket-builds-a-rocket-cover

About the Holiday

I always love celebrating kids’ creativity, imagination, and smarts and today’s book has all three! If you never want to say goodbye to January’s “Creativity Month” and am looking forward to Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science and Engineering Month and National Ideas Month in March, then you’ll want to add Sadie Sprocket to your reading list.

Thank you goes to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m also excited to be teaming with them for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket

Written by Sue Fliess | Illustrated by Annabel Tempest

 

Sadie Sprocket wanted to travel. Not your regular vacation kind of travel but the kind that would take her across the galaxy. “So one day Sadie drew a map / to navigate the stars. / ‘It’s time to leave the Earth,’ she said, ‘and travel straight to Mars!’” She chose her crew—a bunny, bear, and owl—and began building her rocket ship with parts she got from the junkyard.

When the rocket was finished, Sadie and her crew were ready to blast off. Her family, friends, and even reporters gathered to see “this space-bound girl with smarts and skill / would soon make history.” They basted off on their journey that would take one hundred days. To pass the time the crew of four tried playing cards, and checkers and chess, but the pieces just floated away, so they read and cooked instead.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sadie-sprocket-builds-a-rocket-bedroom

Image copyright Annabel Tempest, 2021, text copyright, Sue Fliess, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Soon, when Sadie looked out the window, Earth was no more than a dot while Mars came into view. When it was time to land, Sadie directed her crew to land on level ground. On the surface of the red planet, they gathered samples and put them into bags and then when they were done, they planted yellow flags. After a few selfies, Sadie knew it was time to go, but a storm blew up and “the rocket wouldn’t budge.”

Sadie, Bear, Bunny, and Owl got out and dug the landing gear free, but when they tried to leave Mars again, the sand swirling in the air was so thick, they couldn’t see. When the storm abated, they thought flying would be a snap, but the rocket didn’t work. Sadie grabbed her tools and they went to work sweeping sand from the circuit board and repairing the wires. Finally, Sadie said, it is “‘time to Blast!’” / They zoomed by stars and asteroids / and made it home at last.” When she landed back on Earth, Sadie learned she “had rocketed to fame,” but one trip was not enough. She now had Neptune in her sights, but clever Sadie Sprocket new she’d “need a bigger rocket.”

Following the text is “Sadie’s Notebook,” which contains facts about Mars and short bios on seven pioneering women in space.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sadie-sprocket-builds-a-rocket-building

Image copyright Annabel Tempest, 2021, text copyright, Sue Fliess, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Sue Fliess’s jaunty story about Sadie Sprocket, a young go-getter who doesn’t let things like gravity or obstacles get in the way of her dreams of discovery offers inspirational motivation for children who have big (or smaller) aspirations. Sadie’s confidence in herself and in science jumps off the page as she talks to the press and her supporters at her launch, gathers samples from the surface of Mars, and documents her finds. When the sand storm disrupts her return to Earth, she doesn’t give up the mission, but rallies her crew and fixes the problem. And does Sadie rest on her laurels? Nope! Like any inventive kid, she has her sights set on the next big adventure. Fliess’s pitch-perfect rhymes and quickly paced rhythm make the story an entertaining read aloud.

In her bright, active-packed illustrations, Annabel Tempest gives Sadie a cheery, self-assured look as she studies, makes plans, and builds her rocket. Kids will eagerly follow her steps as she gathers her supplies and gets to work. As Sadie, schematic in hand, directs her crew, kids will have fun seeing how she makes clever use of a wheelbarrow and appreciate the spacesuits and fitted helmets for each crew member. Images of the circuit board will appeal to tech-loving kids, and pictures of the rocket shooting across the galaxy will thrill readers. Any kids looking for inspiration to decorate their rooms will find plenty of ideas here too.

A lively story to encourage creative and science-loving kids, Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket is a terrific book for exciting story times and to enhance STEM lessons in school and at home. It is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542018036

Sue Fliess is the author of more than thirty children’s books, including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, illustrated by Mark Chambers; Shoes for Me!, A Dress for Me!, and Books for Me!, all illustrated by Mike Laughead; and Let’s Build, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto. She lives with her family and their two dogs in northern Virginia, where they admire the moon, stars, and sometimes even planets from their backyard. You can connect with Sue on www.suefliess.com | Twitter | FacebookPinterest

Annabel Tempest is the illustrator of a number of picture books and board books. She holds a degree in fashion and textiles and has worked as a freelance illustrator on everything from maps and packaging to greeting cards and children’s books. She lives in the beautiful Somerset countryside in the UK with her husband and a houseful of muddy boys and dogs. You can connect with Annabel on annabeltempest.comInstagram | Twitter

Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Two Lions and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket by Sue Fliess | illustrated by Annabel Tempest

To enter:

This giveaway is open from February 4 to January 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 11. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

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

Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket Book Tour Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-to-mars-maze

Blast off to Mars! Maze

 

Can you help the rocket navigate its way to Mars in this printable puzzle?

Blast off to Mars! Maze | Blast off to Mars! Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sadie-sprocket-builds-a-rocket-cover

You can find Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 1 – International Music Day and Interview with Author Gary Golio

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-cover

About the Holiday

International Music Day was established in 1975 by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist and conductor  – widely considered to be one of the great violinists of the 20th century – to promote the art of music across all segments of society and to apply the UNESCO ideals of peace and friendship among all people, with an exchange of experiences and mutual appreciation of all cultures and their aesthetic values. To celebrate today’s holiday, listen to your favorite music and take some time to discover a new style – it might just become a favorite too!

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

 

As readers open the cover to Dark Was the Night, they discover a date: 1977. In this year Voyager I was shot into space carrying “a precious Golden Record, a message to the Universe from Planet Earth.” The record contained pictures of the people and things that make up our life, sounds we hear every day, music from Navajo chants and West African drumming to Beethoven and Chuck Berry. There was also one “ghostly song, about loneliness and the night….a tune of light and hope” from a blind man named Willie Johnson.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-baby

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Who was Willie Johnson? In 1897, he was a newborn baby in a small Texas town wrapped in his mother’s love. narrator picks up the thread of Willie’s story when he’s become a small boy who “loved to sing” and play the cigar box guitar his father made him. But that joy was interrupted when “your mama died, and some light went out of your life.” Then at seven or eight, Willie became blind, “and that’s when things got darker still.” But Willie rose above these hurdles. His blindness didn’t keep him “from singing in church, or on street corners.” Using his voice to uplift people brought him “back in the light.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-choir

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

He sang blues and learned how to play a slide by running the edge of a pocketknife along the steel strings of his guitar. “This made a sound like someone laughing or crying, as if the guitar had a voice of its own.” He traveled from town to town in Texas, wherever farmers came to socialize and shop, setting up on street corners and collecting the coins people tossed into his tin cup. Little by little, people grew to know his name. “Then a man from a music company heard you sing. You were given the chance to make a record….”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-street-corner

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

On that record listeners heard “the sound of one human being reaching out to all the others, telling them not to be afraid of the dark.” That first record was a hit, lauded for its unique sound. One song in particular, “Dark Was the Night,” “touched people deep in their souls” and made Willie “a shining star.” The light Willie brought to people has never dimmed; in fact it continues to shine through the darkness on Earth and through Space.

Back matter includes a discussion on what is known about Blind Willie Johnson and what still remains a mystery as well more information about Voyager I and why Johnson’s song Dark Was the Night was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record. A link to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, where readers can access Voyager I—The Golden Record is also included.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-song

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Gary Golio’s ethereal tale of the life of Blind Willie Johnson and his song, which has touched and continues to move so many people, is a stirring tribute to a unique artist and the power of music to change lives. Golio’s use of the second person creates a poignant personal bond between the story and reader, which allows children to put themselves in Willie’s shoes and believe that they, too, can inspire others with their talent and life. Golio’s lyrical storytelling flows with the cadence of the blues, and his evocative vocabulary brings Willie Johnson’s voice and times fully to life for young readers.

E.B. Lewis transports readers to early 1900s Texas in his stunning watercolor paintings rendered in soft washes of grays, blues, and greens punctuated with yellows that reflect the hope and light that spurred Willie on and flowed from his music. As his mother holds him in her arms as a baby, the landscape outside the window blazes with gold that reflects on Willie’s and his mother’s face. As children learn about Willie’s blindness, the page turns dark, except for a swatch of light across Willie’s eyes, representational, perhaps, of his inner sight that sustained him.

Among the realistic depictions of his farm home, the outskirts of a Texas town seen from a train, and a bustling city, where Johnson plays on a street corner to an appreciative audience, his tin cup hanging from a tuner on his guitar, are transcendent images of Willie performing, his face always lifted to the light. As people gather around a radio listening to Blind Willie Johnson, light once again streams into the shop, and as Golio describes how “Dark Was the Night” becomes a hit, Willie is bathed in a golden glow, his face euphoric with the joy of singing.

At once sensitive, rousing, and inspirational, Dark Was the Night is a beautiful book about one man’s talent and dream that will resonate with all readers. The book is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524738884

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about E.B. Lewis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.”

Meet Gary Golio

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gary-golio-headshot

Gary Golio is the author of the New York Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrixwinner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with the multi-talented Gary Golio about Dark Was the Night, his love for writing and art, his father’s influence in his life, and the power of music.

Welcome, Gary! To start off, can you tell readers about your journey with this Dark Was the Night from idea to publication?

A few years back I was listening to some early blues songs, and came upon Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.” The song stunned me—and gave me the chills. I knew of Willie’s connection with the Voyager I space probe, but had no idea that blues aficionados and amateur music sleuths were devotedly digging for details of his life through the decades. So much mystery surrounded this man—revered by Jimmy Paige, Eric Clapton, and Lucinda Williams—but what intrigued me the most was that, after dying in poverty and being forgotten, Willie and his work enjoyed a revival of interest during the 1960s Folk Movement. Then, in 1978, “Dark Was the Night” ended up on Voyager‘s Golden Record, hurtling through space. And what that said to me is, you never know how a life, and its effect on others, will play out. It’s a hopeful message that inspired me to write the book.

Your father was an artist and you have worked as a fine-artist since you were a teenager. Can you talk about what inspired you to begin writing picture books? Did you always like to write?

My father is an ongoing inspiration in my life. He was a talented amateur artist who provided me with a real-life example of the Art Spirit by how he thought and created. Most importantly, he was a skilled improviser, and didn’t allow himself to be limited by what he didn’t have, something that’s always meant a lot to me. As for writing picture books, I mostly read comics as a boy, and I think it was that combination of pictures and text that really struck a chord. For me, the picture book is a modern descendant of cave painting, Egyptian wall art (images + hieoroglyphs), and Etruscan/Pompeian murals: using words and pictures to tell a story.

In your Author’s Note you talk about the dearth of knowledge about Willie Johnson’s life. Can you share one thing you learned about Willie that didn’t make it into the book?

Willie has a unique voice that somehow manages to balance the rough and the tender. There’s raw power there, but also delicacy, which is very rare. So Willie was in New Orleans at one point—during a recording session there in 1928—and the story goes that he began singing “If I Had My Way I’d Tear this Building Down” in front of the Customs House. A crowd had gathered, listening to him, and a police officer reportedly became so worried—thinking Willie was instigating a riot—that he considered arresting the man. That’s the power of music—to rouse, protest, and stir up human souls—and it’s easy to see why it threatens authority and institutions.

Dark Was the Night is your eighth biography of a musician or entertainer for children. Could you discuss what drew you to write about these musicians?

While there are no actual musicians in my family-of-origin, my parents, grandmother, and maternal aunt all had strong musical interests. Each exposed me to very specific genres and musical tastes—from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole (whom I adore), Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley. Many of these people were Black, and many were strongly influenced by blues and jazz, and I have vivid memories of watching them on TV with my beloved grandmother, even at five and six years old. That openness to all kinds of music really shaped me, and growing up I looked for clues, in the lives of artists, that would help me find my own path and direction. So my books often focus on the early years of an artist’s/musician’s life, highlighting the roots of their artistry—what inspired and shaped them—to provide young readers with roadmaps, of sorts, to a life in the arts.

In addition to being an artist and writer, you also admit to being “a pretty good musician” – something you share with kids on school visits that sound awesome. Which instruments do you play and how do you incorporate music into your book events?

I play acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and very simple piano, but love above all to improvise. Since my first book on Jimi Hendrix came out, I’ve used the guitar (both electric and acoustic) to demonstrate a wide range of effects and possibilities (Hendrix and Santana), but also to accompany singalongs I did for my Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie book. At one school visit, the entire fifth grade and I sang “This Land is Your Land” in Spanish, which was both meaningful and fun.

Each of your books has such distinctive illustrations from incredible illustrators. Can you talk a little about E.B. Lewis’s gorgeous illustrations in Dark Was the Night and how he captured your story and Willie’s personality?

E.B. is truly a master of illustration, and specifically of the watercolor medium. His real superpower, however, lies in his ability to convey human feeling, to mysteriously imbue a person or setting with mood and life. That’s remarkable—reminiscent of watching my father draw an American Indian on horseback, straight out of his head—and it’s what lends E.B.’s work both its power and subtlety. Not surprisingly, he has a real love for human beings, a quality fed by his passion for traveling and teaching all over the world. Though we only met at a bookstore panel five years ago, Earl and I have become close friends, and spend a lot of time on the phone collaborating about the joining of text and image. He’s a pleasure to work with, and his art for Dark Was the Night is truly sublime. This book also gave him the chance to bring his use of color (in his own words) to another level, something that will be obvious to anyone who knows his artwork and sees the new images.

From your bio on your website, you sound as if you were a pretty inventive kid – creating all sorts of cool electronic devices. And I love your story about being “shocked” to find books with Van Gogh’s paintings in them as a child and how formative that was. Could you discuss the importance of nonfiction, and biographies in particular, to children?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gary-golio-childhood-photo

My father could fix most anything, and it was that spirit of improvisation and inventiveness that led me to create little electronic gadgets a la James Bond and The Man from Uncle. For a time, I wanted to be an inventor or electrical engineer, but Art won out. As for van Gogh, watching Lust for Life with my dad had a HUGE impact on me, and seeing a book in the middle school library with all those paintings reproduced made it clear to me—even at 10 years old—that there was gold in reading about the lives of artists.

While I love fantasy, myth, and good stories, the thing about nonfiction is that you’re reading about real people—with all their talents and troubles—and so it’s easier to believe that if someone else muddled through to achieve something, you can also. That’s why I don’t shy away from talking about a person’s “faults” and failures (particularly in my books about John Coltrane and Billie Holiday), because I want kids to see that great people and artists are just as human as everyone else.

What’s up next for you?

Author-wise, I’ve a book coming out next year on the revered jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins (based on many phone conversations we’ve shared), to be illustrated by the great James Ransome. I’ve also sold, just this year, two new picture book texts: one on Roy DeCarava—a gifted artist who photographed the people of Harlem in all their humanity—and another on Walt Whitman, focused on his remarkable and moving nursing experience during the Civil War. After that, who knows where Destiny will lead me?

International Music Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-musical-instruments-word-search

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle

 

International Music Day celebrates all types of music and instruments. Can you find the eighteen different instruments in this printable word search puzzle?

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle | I Love Music! Word Search Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-cover

You can find Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars at these booksellers

The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, NY | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 30 – National Women’s History Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-cover

About the Holiday

Women have been inventing, discovering, questioning, challenging, and changing the world in the same ways and for just as long as men have—but often without recognition, the ability to take jobs in their fields of expertise, or equal (or even any) pay. This month’s observance serves to educate people on the amazing women who have blazed trails in the past and those who are continuing that tradition today. As we close out National Women’s History Month, we take a look at a book about one woman who has broken many barriers throughout her life and continues to inspire children and adults.

Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison (Work It, Girl! series)

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

Focused, intelligent, courageous, and giving, astronaut Mae Jemison is an inspiration to millions of kids and adults around the world. Through her captivating biography, Caroline Moss introduces readers to this accomplished woman in ten engrossing chapters that, through pivotal events, dialogue, and thoughts, reveal Mae’s dreams, motivations, and triumphs. Paced in short, impactful chapters, this biography reads like a novel yet imparts factual information that will entice readers to learn more about Mae Jemison and careers in science.

Sinem Erkas punctuates this personal narrative with her stirring 3-D cut paper artwork. Vivid colors and  action-packed imagery, take readers along on Mae’s journey from childhood dreams of “sailing off into space on a rocket ship” to the day she fulfills that dream and beyond. Images of Mae completing experiments in college and medical school as well as detailed depictions of Mae inside the space shuttle working and interacting with other astronauts will have children lingering over the pages.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-star

Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In the first chapter, children meet Mae as a young girl and her parents who took her dreams seriously, instilled in her a strong work ethic, and guided her on her way to the stars. Is a splinter science? In Chapter 2, readers learn how an infected injury led Mae and her mom to “do a science experiment with the infection” that taught her “so much about doctors and science and health…. Mae was also excited to realize this was something that truly interested her.” Excited to share her research and discovery at school, Mae instead felt those first feelings of doubt when her teacher discouraged her goal of becoming a scientist.

In Chapter 3, children sit in on this class, but also follow 9-year-old Mae home, where her mom tells her “‘It does not matter what anyone thinks…. What matters is that you work hard, set goals, and do your best to achieve them. What matters is that you believe in yourself.” It’s also at this time that Mae watched the Apollo moon landing and thought that maybe someday she go into space too.

When she was 11, Mae discovered dance. She not only discovered it, she discovered she loved it and was good at it. Would Mae decide to become a dancer instead of a scientist? Or, Mae wondered, could she do both? Her mom gave her a bit of perspective that made sense to Mae and “helped her to prioritize her goals and dreams.” What was that advice? You can read about it in Chapter 4.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-constellations

Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Chapters 5 and 6, Mae is getting closer to her goal as she goes off to Stanford University at age 16 and then on to medical school at Cornell University, from which she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1981. After grad school, Mae spent a few years in the Peace Corps overseas. When she came back, she learned that “NASA was accepting applications for astronauts. She thought of Sally Ride, a trailblazer; the first American woman in space. She was inspired.” The application was long, and so was the wait to hear back. When she finally got the letter and tore it open, she learned that “out of 2,000 people, she had been accepted to the NASA astronaut program!” She also “realized quickly that out of the fifteen people selected for the 1987 NASA program, she was both the only Black person and the only Black woman.” After her training, she was given a job in the Cape Canaveral, Florida, Kennedy Space Center, “using her math and science knowledge to work with software for shuttles.”

You know that Mae Jemison did go into space, so when does she blast off? In Chapter 7! Young future astronauts will discover what she did before that momentous trip, and in Chapter 8, they’ll read about microgravity, what experiments Mae worked on, how she slept strapped to the wall, what she ate, and other details of her eight days in space.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-science

Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Chapter 9 relates what Mae has done after leaving NASA. Her teaching career and the Dorothy Jemison Foundation she began were fostered by “a pull inside her to get in front of young people to impart this wisdom. She wanted to create a better world than the one she lived in as a little girl. She wanted kids, especially girls, to know that the world needed them, and the world of science definitely needed them.” As the leader of NASA’s 100 Year Starship Program, Mae’s doing just that. Read about it and be inspired to shoot for your own stars in Chapter 10.

Quotes by Mae Jemison and motivational snapshots are highlighted throughout the text. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Mae Jemison’s life on becoming a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about science, their passions, staying motivated, making a difference, and what they want their legacy to be. There is also a list of books, websites, and organizations for further reading and exploration.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-night-sky

Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Compelling and personal, Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison is a biography young readers won’t be able to put down. The book is highly recommended for homeschooling and home libraries as well as for school and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245150

Discover more abouCaroline Moss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sinem Erkas, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-blast-off-into-space-like-mae-jemison-cover

You can find Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review