One of my favorite quotations is from the astronomer Carl Sagan. “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.” I hope you will find something incredible in the HMNS book list for April, featuring books about astronomy.
Gazing at the sky, both during the day and at night, can provide endless hours of entertainment and awe. Who has not lain on their back in the summer grass and watched the changing cloud formations? The constantly moving shapes provide each person the chance to use their imagination. “Do you see that tree?” “What tree? I see a bear.” But at night things are different, as the sky is full of stars with patterns of their own.
A beautiful book about the night sky is Zoo in the Sky, a Book of Animal Constellations, by Jacqueline Mitton and illustrated by Christina Balit. This exquisite book begins:
“When the sun sets, darkness falls. The stars appear one by one. Then the sky turns
to a picture puzzle. What is hiding in the patterns of the stars? Some people say they
only see squares and squiggles, lines and loops. But imagine hard, and the sky comes
Are you hooked? I was. Ms. Balit’s colorful illustrations are incredible, and Ms. Mitton’s words provide the explanations. Leo the Lionis pictured on the cover. Ms. Mitton explains the constellation:
“Leo the Lion is king of the beasts and lord of the sky. In February and March he looks
down from a throne high up the heavens. Stars in his mane shine like jewels in a crown.”
You will also meet The Great Bear, the Little Bear, the Swan, the Fox, the Scorpion, the Wolf, the Bull, the Great Dog, the Hare, the Goldfish and the Flying Fish, the Whale, various birds and the Dragon.
Ms. Mitton has written numerous books on astronomy, but three other books similar to Zoo in the Sky are Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations, Kingdom Of The Sun: A Book About the Planets, and Zodiac: Celestial Circle of the Sun, all beautifully illustrated by Ms. Balit. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of these books—you might even decide to share it with children!
A totally different look at the heavens is provided by Tish Rabe who has written There’s No Place Like Space!, a Cat in the Hat Learning Library book. Ms. Rabe begins in the style so familiar to all Dr. Seuss fans:
“I’m the Cat in the Hat,
and we’re off to have fun.
We’ll visit the planets,
the stars, and the sun!
Sound familiar? The Cat, his two willing passengers and Thing One and Thing Two visit all the planets, and you learn an interesting fact about each one.
“Travel to Jupiter
and you will find
it is bigger than all
other planets combined.”
You also learn a nonsense sentence to help remember the names of the planets in order:
“Mallory, Valerie, Emily, Meetzah just served us nine hundred ninety-nine pizzas!”
(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) The book also contains a glossary and table of contents, and is a cute way to introduce the youngest astronomy fans to the wonders of the universe.
No trip to outer space could be more fun than a field trip with Ms. Frizzle’s class on the Magic School Bus. In The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole, the class is attempting to visit the planetarium – which is closed for repairs. As the bus is returning to school it tilts back and the roar of rockets is heard. “’Oh dear,’ said Ms. Frizzle. ‘We seem to be blasting off!’” and another adventure begins. Besides learning about weightlessness, the reader learns facts about the planets, sun and moon. For example:
“Earth’s clouds are white because they are made of water vapor.
Venus’ clouds are made mostly of a deadly yellow poison called sulfuric acid.
Mars looks red because there is a lot of rusty iron in its soil.
The sky looks pinkish because of red dust in the air.”
Although a wayward asteroid cuts Ms. Frizzle’s tether and the Magic School Bus zooms away with the children, the students and teacher are eventually reunited for the return to school. Later, the class prepares a chart of planets listing the name, size, length of rotation, length of a year, how far from the sun, how many known moons and whether or not there are rings. Although listed as a planet in There’s No Place Like Space, Pluto is not on the students’ chart because Pluto is explained as a plutoid, not a planet.
Like all Magic School Bus books, this needs to be read carefully with attention paid to each illustration. For example, a student holding a ball and walking around a lamp illustrates a planet rotating around the sun. Or a student standing on a scale shows the difference between weight on
Earth and weight on other planets. (If you weigh 85 on Earth, you weigh 215 on Jupiter or 14 on the Moon.)
And remember, day or night, your imagination can enable you to travel to the planets—and beyond where “something incredible is waiting to be known.”