Picture Book Weekends: Star Stuff

snowathomeThis computer is out to get me. Seriously. I was without it for FIVE days because that’s how long it now takes to put a battery into a Mac laptop. I won’t rant about that topic anymore, but really? REALLY?  Anyway, I finally got my baby back last week. Last night I was about to plug it in to charge and discovered a split in the charging cord. So, now I have a great, brand spanking new battery, but my power level is on the verge of nothing because I can’t recharge. Another trip to the Apple store ahead.

But it’s a beautiful snowy day here in New England. Except if you check the weather. Until an hour ago, the report still said it wasn’t snowing. But what I see out my window is that big, fluffy kind of snow that drifts in the wind and makes you want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. (Of course, I want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea every day. But that’s another story.)


This weekend’s (delayed) picture book recommendation is Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson. While I gave the book to my kids when I bought it, the reality is that it was really a gift for my husband.

My husband LOVES “Cosmos” and Carl Sagan and all things space and science. He was definitely born to be an engineer. Listening to him talk to the kids about math and science makes me so happy, because I want them to not only learn the concepts, but understand why it is exciting and magical and important. (I was a bio major and so these topics are also near and dear to my heart.)

I adore this picture book because, like so many of my favorites, it is smart and thought-provoking and treats kids like human beings who can think deep thoughts and make sense of things.

The book opens with a Carl Sagan quote, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

The book introduces us to a young Carl Sagan, growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY. With very few words, and simple, elegant drawings, Sagan’s curiosity about the world is captured beautifully. The text deftly changes pace, beginning with a slow, building cadence to points where the language seems to leap with excitement, speeding you through as if you are racing for information like Sagan. Then it slows again, becomes almost contemplative, as Sagan’s thoughts and goals become deeper.

Even the layout changes as the ideas get bigger. After a few traditional page designs, the book suddenly turns to a two page vertical design, highlighting the idea of the expansiveness of space. Then it returns to traditional designs, and then opens up again to a two page layout. There is even a fold-out spread that provides three full pages of vertical space.

This is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the idea of thinking big and being aware of just how very big the world beyond is. And when life seems overwhelming, just remember, “The Earth and every living thing are made of star stuff.” — Carl Sagan

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”   —- Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Books in past “Picture Book Weekend” posts: 365 Penguins and The Gigantic Turnip.
Other posts about picture books included The Red Book, Dog Loves Drawing, and Iggy Peck, Architect.

Published by Katrina Ávila Munichiello

KAM is a freelance writer, editor, and lifelong lover of books. She was the kind of kid who woke up before sunrise to read before school and her passion for books has never waned. After nearly a decade of work in public health and the non-profit sector, she became a stay-at home mom. The twelve years since have allowed her discover a new life’s ambition — writing. She published her first book “A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time,” a collection of essays written by tea lovers around the world, in 2011, and has had articles and essays featured in outlets including Yankee Magazine and Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. She served as Senior Editor of Tea Magazine. She currently writes picture books and middle grade books and is loving every minute of making them better. She is a member of NESCBWI, Vice President of Friends of the J.V. Fletcher Library and advisor of an elementary school Newspaper Club.

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