In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Guest Blogger: Stars and Outer Space

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I'm looking forward to having a chance to check out more kidlit blogs next week, once the grading slows down.  (I'm looking forward to a lot of things after the end of this little crunch period.)  For today, we have another wonderful guest blogger: my friend Holly, mom of Eleanor's best friend Ian.  Your last post mentioned the blog Book Loving Boys, which among other things takes up the question of what books boys are drawn to.  I hate to admit it, but in our experience there's been a definite difference.  While Eleanor is All Narrative, All The Time, Ian is much more into nonfiction.  Here's what Holly has to say:

I’m sometimes a bit jealous hearing about what books are in circulation over at Annie’s. All my attempts to get Ian to read The Wizard of Oz, or Rapunzel, or my childhood fave, The Wonder Clock, have been met with “Leave out the scary parts.” Which leaves pretty much the title pages. But I’ve come to love reading endless books about how asphalt is made and feel pride at not stumbling when reading through lists and lists of saurases and ceratopses.

His recent obsession is space, and he is madly in love with the A True Book series by Elaine Landau, each about a planet in our solar system (or a dwarf planet). They are pretty heavy handed with flashy graphics, but that, combined with the really beautiful pictures, good pacing, and very clear but somehow not heavy descriptions of basic principles make them very exciting to read. Instead of relying on corny cartoons or retched puns (don’t get me wrong, we read our share of Magic School Bus, too) they rely on the interest in the subject itself to carry you along.

Our other current favorite is Find the Constellations, Second Edition (yes, Pluto deniers, now with Updated Solar System Information!) by good old H. A. Rey. It starts with the Big Dipper and shows how you connect the stars to make a picture, then goes into what a light year is, names of stars, the zodiac, and has very lovely seasonal star charts which we’ve played with a lot. As well as, to my joy, bits and pieces of the back stories of some of the leading constellations, like Orion. We even got through the story of Andromeda, which is pretty scary!

But here’s the part that gets me:
“Do you see the little curlicue near Andromeda’s knee? This is the famous Nebula of Andromeda. You see it on clear, dark nights, a wisp of faint, hazy light. It is tiny yet it’s worth looking for: it is the most distant object -- the farthest-away thing -- anybody can see with the naked eye. And this wisp of haze looking so small is in reality the biggest single object you can see. It is a galaxy, a gigantic swarm of stars, a hundred billion of them, far, far out in space.”

I can’t help wondering if Ian thinks of all of it as just an elaborate fiction, given that he’s never even seen the Big Dipper. Here in Brooklyn we are lucky to see two or three stars in the whole sky. When I point one out he says “that’s the Andromeda Galaxy” and I just nod and tell him the other one’s Betelgeuse.

More, certainly, for us to check out.
Love, Annie


  1. We are in Brooklyn, too and my son loves reading non-fiction books about the night sky. Maybe that is because those stars and planets are so elusive in city nightscapes.

    He loves all of the books in the "True Book" series.

  2. I'm going to have to check those out. My 8-year-old son prefers fiction (the more adventure, the better), but is fascinated by outerspace. His grandmother kept buying him dinosaur books when he was younger "because that's what all little boys like," but apparently I have the only two boys who don't (or at least are indifferent).