November 30 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

For little learners, picture books provide one of the best ways to interact with facts about all kinds of subjects. Loaded with illustrations or photographs that let kids see exciting and beautiful details, nonfiction picture books bring to life science, history, biographies, nature, and so much more of the world around us. This month, take a look for nonfiction picture books about your child’s passions to add to your home library.

Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations

By Sara Gillingham

 

If you have a young astronomer in the family and are looking for a book that will make their eyes twinkle like stars on a clear, dark night, Sara Gillingham’s magnificent guide to all eighty-eight internationally recognized constellations is a must. Combining information on how and where to find each constellation, the fascinating stories and/or myths surrounding them, and stylistically gorgeous illustrations, Seeing Stars offers children and adults not only a resource to use when stargazing, but a sit-down-and-explore beauty to enjoy any time.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Seeing Stars opens with brief and illuminating discussions on what constellations are, who invented them, using asterisms and brightest stars to find a constellation, which constellations are visible when and where, and the art of stargazing.  A chapter on the ancient constellations takes in the signs of the zodiac (I’m an Aquarius and learned that the famous water carrier of the sign is none other than Ganymede, who in ancient Greece was “considered the most beautiful man alive…. One day, in the middle of a quiet life tending sheep, Ganymede was snatched by an eagle and taken to Zeus” who put him to work as “the official cup-bearer to the gods.”).

In this section, readers will also find the constellations created from “well-known stories, characters, animals, and sacred objects” as well as the  heroes and gods of Greek mythology. Here, readers learn about Hydra, the water snake. Hydra, the largest constellation, covers one fourth of the sky in a “twisting line” that at one end curves inward to make a “small irregular polygon” that serves as the serpent’s head. She was “so wretched that even her breath could kill someone,” and was vanquished by Hercules in the second of his labors. Pegasus, Persius, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, and Orion are just a few of the other well-known figures from the ancient world.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Next, come the modern constellations mapped by European explorers and named for exotic and even mythical creatures in the late 1500s and 1600s. One of these early astronomers was Elisabeth Hevelius, considered to be one of the first female astronomers. Colorful birds of paradise inspired these stargazers to name a small cluster of stars that “make a line with a narrow V on the end, much like the point of a beak” Apus (from the Greek word apous or “footless”), after some European navigators believed the birds had no feet.

What constellation outlines an animal with a “long neck like a camel and a body that is covered in ‘spots’”? Camelopardalis, of course! Or you may be more familiar with this animal’s more common name: giraffe. Chameleons, doves, dolphinfish, cranes, lizards, lions, and lynx also appear in our skies but there’s room, too, for the more whimsical, like Monoceros – or unicorn – and the phoenix.

Modern constellations also pay homage to invention and discovery. These include Caelum, the chisel, named for an engraver’s tool invented in the 1600s to “carve fine lines into printing plates” for book production; Circinus, the compass; Microscopium, the microscope; Telescopium, the telescope; and Pictor, the painter’s easel.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

A Resource section provides information on tools for stargazing, eight circular maps that chart the constellations seen from the northern and southern skies over three-month increments throughout the year, an illustrated guide to asterisms, resources for further reading, and an extensive glossary and index.

Each constellation is highlighted with a two-page spread. The left-hand page is attractively divided into four sections that provide an image of the constellation created from lines connecting stars in three different sizes that indicate their brightness, tell where the constellation is found and it’s proportion to other constellations, a circular map that spotlights the constellation among others nearby, and a paragraph on the story or myth surrounding the constellation. On the right, the image of the god, animal, or object that inspired the constellation floats on a midnight-blue background and contains within it the stars that make up the constellation connected to show its shape. The brightest star in the constellation is highlighted.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Sara Gillingham’s writing style is knowledgeable and entertaining, opening up the world of astronomy to experts and novices alike with the kind of storytelling that captivates while it teaches.

Special mention must be made of the dazzling cover and dust jacket, which together recreate the depth of the night sky. The shimmering gold cover, splashed with the image of the Milky Way, shines through the tiny laser-cut “stars” on the deep blue dust jacket, making a stunning and interactive introduction to this well-crafted book. Kids will love finding and naming the constellations they see on the cover after reading about them inside.

Perfectly conceived and executed, Seeing Stars is a book the whole family can enjoy and will spark many trips outside to gaze at the stars with new interest and understanding. The book would make a much-cherished gift for astronomers, armchair stargazers, space buffs, and those who love mythology and history. It’s a terrific addition to home, classroom, and public libraries and would be just as at home on the coffee table as on the bookshelf.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Phaidon Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877723

Discover more about Sara Gillingham, her books, and her art on her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle

 

Sometimes the constellations can seem hidden among all the other stars. Can you find the names of eighteen constellations in this printable Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle?

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

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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

Picture Book Review

July 20 – National Moon Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday celebrates July 20, 1969, the day when astronauts first walked on the moon. Six hours after landing on the moon with his fellow astronauts, Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder and stepped onto the moon’s surface. Watched by millions of people on TV, this monumental human achievement ushered in the technical advancements we enjoy today. To celebrate, why not share that historic moment with your child and read up on the people who helped make that mission possible—like the subject of today’s book!

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing

Written by Dean Robbins | Illustrated by Lucy Knisley

 

“Margaret Hamilton loved to solve problems.” When she looked around, she saw many things that made her wonder “why?” Instead of going with the status quo, though, she came up with her own answers. Some things she questioned were why girls didn’t play baseball and why there were so few women doctors, scientists, judges and other professionals. So Margaret joined the baseball team and studied “hard in every subject at school—reading, music, art, and especially mathematics.”

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Image copyright Lucy Knisley, 2017, text copyright Dean Robbins, 2017. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

From her father who was a poet and philosopher, Margaret learned about the universe. She wanted to know “how the planets moved, when the galaxies formed, and why the stars shone.” She loved to gaze “at the night sky in wonder.” She especially wanted to know more about the moon—how far away is it? How many miles is its orbit around the Earth? What is its diameter?

In school, Margaret found it fun to solve “harder and harder math problems” in algebra, geometry, and calculus. “And then she discovered computers!” She realized that she could use computers to solve so many of her questions about the universe. She began writing code and called herself a software engineer. After starting with simple mathematical problems, Margaret moved on to writing code that “could track airplanes through the clouds,” predict the weather, and perform functions they never had before.

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Image copyright Lucy Knisley, 2017, text copyright Dean Robbins, 2017. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

In 1964 she joined the team at NASA that was working on sending astronauts to the moon. In writing her code, “Margaret thought of everything that could happen on a trip to the moon.” What if the spacecraft went off course or lost power? What if one of the astronauts made a mistake? Margaret wrote code that could solve all of these problems and more. Soon Margaret was leading a team of her own as “Director of Software Programming for NASA’s Project Apollo.”

She was instrumental in helping Apollo 8 orbit the moon, Apollo 9 hook up with another ship in space, and Apollo 10 come “within nine miles of the moon’s surface.” When NASA was ready to land people on the moon, Margaret wrote the code. She thought of every problem that could arise and included a solution. The printout of her code stood taller than she was.

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Image copyright Lucy Knisley, 2017, text copyright Dean Robbins, 2017. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

On the day of Apollo 11’s launch, Margaret was in the control room while the world watched on television. It took four days for the spacecraft to reach the moon. Finally, the lunar module, Eagle, separated and was ready to make the landing. But just as it was about to descend, an astronaut flipped a switch that sent the Eagle’s computer into overload.

Had Margaret “prepared for this problem? Of course! Margaret’s code made the computer ignore the extra tasks and focus on the landing.” Slowly the Eagle approached the surface of the moon and touched down. “The Eagle has landed!” Neil Armstrong announced to an amazed audience. In NASA’s control room, everyone cheered. “Margaret was a hero!”

An Author’s Note with more information about and photographs of Margaret Hamilton follow the text.

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Image copyright Lucy Knisley, 2017, text copyright Dean Robbins, 2017. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

With excellent examples from Margaret Hamilton’s childhood and adult life, Dean Robbins presents an accessible and compelling biography that reveals, from the beginning, Margaret’s curiosity, confidence, and convictions. Robbin’s focus on Margaret’s hard work, her excitement at discovering computers, and her leadership at NASA creates a narrative that is inspirational for all children. His emphasis on positive, affirming events in Margaret’s life is welcome, allowing girls and boys to realize that through dedication and self-assurance, they can achieve their goals just as Margaret—a superb role model—did.

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Lucy Knisley’s bright, supportive illustrations, full of thought bubbles of Margaret’s ideas and wonderings, give readers the kinds of details that will spark their imaginations and help them understand and appreciate Margaret Hamilton’s many gifts and expertise. Images of mathematical problems give way to lines of code, helping children see the connection between what they’re learning at school and future careers. Kids interested in space exploration will be enthralled with the illustrations of the NASA control room and lunar launches.

For kids interested in computer science and other sciences, biographies, and history, Margaret and the Moon is an excellent addition to home as well as classroom and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399551857

Discover more about Dean Robbins and his books on his website.

To learn more about Lucy Knisley, her artwork, books, and comic, visit her website.

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. 

National Moon Day Activity

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

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 Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review