More nighttime moments than can be recalled are spent in gazing up and looking at the starry array spread across the sky. Depending on the time of year and the phrase of the moon, shapes formed by connecting lines are familiar companions, reminding us some things remain the same. There is a comfort in knowing how old and vast the universe is. To be a part, a very tiny part, of this majesty is rather like being a part, a very tiny part, of a wondrous mystery with clues being slowly revealed.
The more we learn about the universe in which we live, the more it astounds us. The Day The Universe Exploded My Head: Poems To Take You Into Space And Back Again (Candlewick Press, March 5, 2019) written by Allan Wolf with illustrations by Anna Raff is a melodic, meticulous and merry trek into outer space. Through rhythmic words and playful images, we are entertained and informed.
A Solar Sunnet, er, Sonnet
Born four and one half billion years ago,
I'm ninety-nine point eight percent the mass
of everything the solar system knows.
My gravity holds all within its grasp.
In this portion of the first of twenty-nine literary compositions we are given a glimpse of the facts found within each one. We travel from the sun to the farthest reaches of our solar system. We make stops to learn about the Earth spinning on its axis, the names of moons (and their gastronomical make-up), the Perseid Meteor Shower, a famous meteorite, Planet X, the power of stars, how distances in space are measured, eclipses, black holes, space exploration, famous astronomers, and rockets. Not only do we gain an understanding of these wondrous places, people (and animals), objects and events but we do so through a variety of poetic styles.
To give readers a sense of watching the stars shoot across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower, it's written to be read in three voices, alternating lines and combining as a chorus for emphasis. Even though the lines are short, like the time we see these stars, we are told when they arrive, how they are formed and what they are. The real, frightening fall of the meteorite in Chelyabinsk in 2013 is brimming with exaggerated humor, yet readers will be able to glean a verifiable fact.
Venus, named for a Roman goddess, is the opposite of its namesake, a dangerous enchantress. Thankfully our Blue Planet is next in line offering sanctuary, if we care for her. Did you know Jupiter has a magnetosphere greater than that of the sun? Neptune's news is written in a blues format which is understandable considering it's always dark there; a perpetual night.
A star, using the tune and beat of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, advises a human exactly what to expect if they meet face to face. A quirky rap spoken by DJ Energy and MC Square tell us about astronomical units and the speed of light. A concrete poem, aptly circular in shape, relates the density and desire of consumption of a black hole. Did you ever hear of Ivan Ivanovich? The concluding poem, taking the title of this book, in three voices, brain, heart and human, builds up tension verse by verse until every fiber of your being wants to celebrate.
While poetry read in silence by a single reader is powerful, these poems penned by Allan Wolf ask us to read them aloud; these poems welcome an audience. Each one has a distinctive beat as distinguishing as the subject it highlights. Cleverness prevails when moons become gourmet delights. First person voices demand our attention as planets disclose personalities. Metaphors wrap around readers like comforting cloaks. Beneath most of the poem titles is a subtitle. Here is a portion of a poem.
I'm one part theoretical.
I'm one part hypothetical.
I'm one part mathematical.
They call me Planet X.
I'm one part supercilious.
Another part mysterious.
One part you-can't-be-serious.
They call me Planet X.
The black matte finish on the front of the dust jacket is sheer perfection for the blast of varnished color. Each item in the scene is referenced within the body of the book. You can also see the lively, humorous characteristics given to the subjects. To the left, on the back, the darkness continues. The sun, clad in dark glasses, has orbits spinning around and out with other known planets and stars (and a monkey) spinning. A happy portion of a constellation appears in the upper, left-hand corner.
On the book case a galaxy of stars spreads across the universe. In the upper, left-hand corner of the opened case and in the lower, right-hand corner are two constellations. They are familiar but also not known. (That's all I'm going to say.)
The matching opening and closing endpapers are done in several shades of turquoise. They feature the sun and the eight orbiting planets. On the title page the text is constructed, letter by letter, as if they are constellations. For the "o" in exploded our planet, Earth, is placed there.
digitally assembled color collages made from sumi ink washes, salt, pen, and pencil
by artist Anna Raff, is a joyful adventure. They span two pages, and a few single pages. They reflect the pacing of the text and take it to the next level. Perspectives shift to take us close to the subject or give us a panoramic view as in the poem for the Perseid Meteor Shower. The animated facial expressions and body postures add to the overall emotion, usually happiness. Readers will pause to find all the extra details. The dark starry background is wonderful for the bright color palette. (There are some of these science fans will want to frame.)
One of my many favorite illustrations is when the planet Neptune's poem is highlighted. On the left Neptune is given a cowboy hat and a guitar to strum out his lonely woes. A microphone on a stand is etched in stars in front of him like a constellation. A musical stanza stretches from his guitar sparkling with stars and notes across the gutter to the right side. His arms are wearing a plaid-shirt pattern. The poetic text is expertly placed under the image on both pages.
After you read The Day The Universe Exploded My Head: Poems To Take You Into Space And Back Again written by Allan Wolf with illustrations by Anna Raff you won't be able to read it once. You'll have to read it again and again and again. You'll want to share it with as many people as possible. AND you'll be looking to the stars armed with new knowledge. After the poems, there are two pages of Notes On The Poems. These give further information about the topics and explain the style for some of the poems. This is followed by a Glossary Of Selected Space Terms, Internet Resources and Acknowledgments. I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections. It's a super selection for National Poetry Month in April.
To learn more about Allan Wolf and Anna Raff and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Allan Wolf has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Anna Raff also has accounts on both Instagram and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. They have also developed a Teacher Tip Card. At Penguin Random House you can view the title page and the first several poems. Allan Wolf recently wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club. Enjoy the book trailer!
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Challenge.