There are picture books that tell you about someone’s life, and you recall events. Then there are picture books that tell you about someone’s life, and you recall how they made you feel.
This is the latter. Note how we zoom in on Edwin at home as if we’re finding him through the eye of a telescope.
Edwin was a curious boy.
He loved books and birds.
And he loved the stars.
At night, he like to sit alone outside his home
in Marshfield, Missouri, looking up at the sky.
How many stars are in the sky?
How did the universe begin?
Where did it come from?
I am pulled into the story by his enormous sense of wonder, and am ready for it to take me wherever it wants to go. The art also gives me the sense of vertigo (in a good way) I feel when I look up at the stars.
But if I step back, for a moment, and consider the author’s word choices in this lyrical opening, I am tempted to ask why the author didn’t save “Marshfield, Missouri” for the back matter. Surely, it should go there. But it adds to the story here, I think, in two ways:
- For those readers who never read the back matter, it shows that someone famous doesn’t have to come from a famous place.
- The name actually increases the pleasing sibilance (“sh” and “s” sounds) of the passage. There are no fewer than 12 instances in these few lines. And I think the rhythm of the longer line flows more smoothly with those extra syllables.
But enough writer-speak.
The story tells how Hubble’s grandfather encouraged his love of the stars, and how more questions and study only fueled this love.
But his father had other plans. (Parents!)
It wasn’t until his father died, that Hubble returned to school to study astronomy. And once he started work at the Mount Wilson Observatory in the hills above Los Angeles (yes, the one that was saved from the forest fires last year), Hubble began making history.
First he calculated that the Andromeda nebula is, in fact, a galaxy far outside our Milky Way. And that there are many more galaxies, so many different kinds that he classified them by shape. (an aside: The illustrator includes Hubble’s cat, Copernicus, “working” alongside him. Sweet!) Hubble also discovered that all galaxies are moving away from each other. And that the farther away a galaxy is from Earth, the faster it’s moving away from us. Egads!!! Amazing star stuff!
At the end of the story, though, we abandon these more complex thoughts and are left gazing up at the night sky. The last quote leaves me a bit verklempt.
“We do not know why we are born into the
world, but we can try to find out what sort of
world it is.” These words of Edwin Hubble
are his message to us.
Look up at the stars.
If the author’s mission is to give kids an appreciation for the stars and a sense of wonder about their place in the universe, she achieves this goal magnificently. And if it is also to pique kids’ curiosity about how the universe “works,” I’d say that she is also successful. And then there’s the magnificent gatefold, showing a colorful mix of galaxies, including the Milky Way and Andromeda.
Kudos to the illustrator, Deborah Marcero, for taking on the task of showing the geometry of a lunar eclipse as well as a timeline depicting how galaxies are moving away from where the Big Bang occurred. She also includes a note in the back matter about how a 2-dimensional straight line approach shown in the text is just an approximation of what would truly look like a wave pattern in three dimensions. Mindblowing! Love, love, love this book!
Pair this book with Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Make your own glow in the dark galaxies on the ceiling of your bedroom (or on a poster), using removable stick-on stars.
Look at the stars and moon on a clear night. Write a poem about what you see and how it makes you feel.
Title: The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars: A life of Edwin Hubble
Author: Isabelle Marinov
Illustrator: Deborah Marcero
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books, 2021
Ages: Elementary school
Themes: Astronomy, STEM, history
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.