Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Searching The Skies

One of the benefits of having an old dog as part of your life is the late night or very early morning trips outside.  It's so quiet you feel as though you are standing in an empty meadow or path in the middle of a pine forest.  With little imagination you can dream away all the signs of civilization.  On those wonderful cloudless nights, visible celestial bodies will light your way.

If when gazing upward a star should happen to shoot across the sky, a wish will be made.  For the first time Stephanie Roth Sisson is both the author and illustrator of a new title.  Star Stuff:  Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos (Roaring Brook Press, October 14, 2014) presents to readers those moments from childhood to the launch of the Voyagers which defined the life of Carl Sagan.

In the Milky Way galaxy...

Slowly bringing us from our galaxy to the Sun, to Earth, to New York and then Brooklyn we meet a child named Carl.  His appreciation for all things around him helps to fuel his curiosity allowing him to travel beyond the streets of his city.  Supportive parents make sure they visit the 1939 World's Fair.

His true fascination is with stars.  From the time he reads his first book about them at the public library his desire to know more never wanes but increases.  He dreams of possible life in other solar systems.  He reads fiction and nonfiction, everything he can, about worlds beyond planet Earth.

He studies until people call him by his degrees earned, Dr. Carl Sagan.  Efforts are devoted to sending probes into space to send data home about other planets.  Enthusiasm for what he is learning needs to be shared; a television show is the perfect answer.

A final project, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, is probably still traveling through space. It's the gift, a part of each spaceship, which tells the tale of the heart and mind of Carl Sagan.  I wonder if it's found a recipient yet.

One of the things I like about the debut writing of Stephanie Roth Sisson is bringing us full circle; not necessarily with the life of Carl Sagan but in first stretching our sight out to the Milky Way galaxy and ending with the two Voyager spaceships traveling beyond our solar system.  Within this structure she places turning points in Sagan's life and work.  Her research is apparent as very specific details are incorporated into the narrative which flows from each easily understood sentence to the next.  To take us into the proper time and place she inserts speech bubbles filled with personal comments, or voices from radio and television.  Here is a small passage.

He read stories written by people who imagined what life might be like on other planets.  His favorite character, John Carter, could stand with his arms outstretched and wish himself to Mars...

There's something about the look on young Carl Sagan's face as he leans on the window sill gazing at the stars with his toy rocket next to him which calls to the dreamer and adventurer in all of us.  On the back of the matching dust jacket and book case he is lying on his back surrounded by stars with this text next to him:

The Earth
and every living 
thing are made of
star stuff.

The opening and closing endpapers are a darkened sky too, populated by stars and planets.  On the first Sagan as a child is holding his rocket flying it over his head.  Eyes closed in a larger face; Sagan is off to the left in the second.  In the distance one of the Voyager spaceships is floating in space.  On the verso and title page Stephanie Roth Sisson begins to label items on her pictures with red arrows; galaxies, our sun, our planet and the spaceships.

Using mixed media combining drawing and acrylic painting digitally Sisson evokes the true spirit of Carl Sagan.  Her color palette is reflective of the subjects discussed and her clothing, home furnishings, and buildings make us feel like we are side by side with Carl.  Sisson's design and layout asks us to pause and learn about this gifted man.  She shifts her image sizes from large fold-out pages extending vertically to single pages to smaller visuals to double pages divided by panels.  It's exactly what her intended audience will enjoy.

When you see Carl sitting in the library reading about stars for the first time and turn the book vertically opening up the pages to reveal the rooftops of Brooklyn, the edge of our atmosphere and extending to the sun, you will find yourself issuing a silent wow.  The library shelves appear to be real with the table, chairs, Carl, his toy rocket and the book super-imposed on top; an excellent use of collage.

After reading Star Stuff:  Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos written and illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson, readers will be inspired to reach high; believing in pursuing a passion.  Carl Sagan's accomplishments are immeasurable.  I am determined more than ever to read several of his books.  An author's note, extensive notes, bibliography and sources and source notes are included on the two final pages.  You must read these.

If you wish to know more about Stephanie Roth Sisson and her other work, please follow the link embedded in her name which takes you to her website and blog.  She was interviewed by author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson at Kirkus about her process for this book.  Update: On December 4, 2014 Julie Danielson added artwork from the process at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. interviews Stephanie Roth Sisson.  You can get a sense of her passion for this book here too.  Another participant in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, Maria Selke reviews the book here.  At the publisher's website are several more pages from the book for you to view.

Please head on over to Alyson Beecher's blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, to see what other wonderful books are recommended this week during our 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. You've written a beautiful review of this book, Margie. Now I really want to find and read it. Thanks for the extra links, too!

    1. Thank you Linda. Sisson did a wonderful job touching on all the important points of this man's life.