Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Sizing Up

Whether we are conscientiously aware of it, we are comparing and contrasting throughout our day.  On multiple occasions we calculate how much time it will take to perform a given task and compare it to the time available.  We guesstimate measurements in rooms when decorating, in yards when landscaping, and in cooking meals with or without recipes.  When we are out and about, we gauge distances from one point to another, how close we are to the doe and fawn who suddenly makes an appearance or how high up the hawk is, gliding on an air current.

Sometimes on a clear night, with an overhead sky filled with stars, it is easy to wonder how something so far away looks as though you could reach up and gather a handful.  Your Place in the Universe (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, September 1, 2020) written and illustrated by Jason Chin is a stellar title focusing on size, measurement, comparison, and distance.  We begin with our feet firmly planted on the ground and gaze outward into the universe.  

These kids are eight years old.

They are about five times as tall as this book,
but only half as tall as . . .

Before you turn the page to reveal the conclusion of the second sentence, in smaller print at the bottom you are told the number of inches tall the average eight-year-old is.  You are informed about the advantage of using inches in measuring.

We are further acquainted with the tallest bird in the world compared to the children.  This bird is then contrasted with the tallest land animal and the eight-year-olds.  New heights are explored when seeking the tallest living things and the tallest manmade structures which far exceeds those natural beings.

We move to majestic mountains and the tallest peak on our planet.  As we look up miles beyond mountains, we encounter portions of our atmosphere, the edge of space, and the thermosphere and exosphere which extends 6,200 miles 

above Earth's surface.

Comparisons are made to the distance to the International Space Station and the width of our planet.  Although the Earth is very wide it is not as wide as . . .

We journey farther and farther away from our home to those places we can see with our naked eyes and those places in our solar system not yet seen.  In all its vastness our solar system is smaller than the galaxy where it resides. Within this galaxy, The Milky Way, the number of stars is

more than 100 billion.

Do you know how long, even traveling at the speed of light, it will take you to reach the center of our galaxy?  Do you know how far away the nearest galaxy is to our Milky Way?  In a truly mind-boggling display of comparative wonder, galaxy groups are small against galaxy clusters which are small within the cosmic web and the universe as a whole.  In a brilliant use of words, we go from the 

observable universe

back to those four eight-year-old children who now know . . .

With every page turn your fascination grows due to the precise use of language and research of author Jason Chin.  Readers are completely engaged by the rhythmic pause in the narrative as we await what is taller, higher, wider, farther or larger than the previous thing being discussed.  With each expansion our marvel grows as he adds a new dimension to our thinking and the world we can see.  The fine print explanations along with the main narrative are informative and marvelous to ponder.  Here are two connected passages.

Earth is enormous, but it's not
so big compared to . . .

. . . the orbit of the Moon.
The Moon is 238,855 miles away from Earth.  It's so
far away that 29 Earths could fit between the two.  It's
so far that a jet plane going 500 miles per hour would
take 19 days to get there. 

You want to step into the setting shown on the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  It's easy to see yourself on a hill at night exploring the world with those four eight-year-old kids.  I love the diverse group featured.  The wash of sky with the cosmic light behind them creates a perfect atmosphere.  The title text is silver foil.

To the left, on the back, the necks and faces of an ostrich and a giraffe are shown watching the children.  These extend from the far-left side.  The landscape and skyscape span the spine and entire back.  The words on the back read:

Can you find your place
in the universe?

A hue between midnight blue and teal covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the children have arrived at the hill and are setting up their equipment.  It is still daylight.  On the dedication and verso page, they are almost finished putting the telescope together, leading into the first page.

These illustrations rendered 

using watercolor, gouache, and digital techniques

are as beautiful as the people, creatures, and worlds they depict.  The beings that are alive are highly animated.  Jason Chin accentuates his comparisons in the beginning by placing a monarch butterfly in the pages.  The butterfly gets smaller as the comparisons get bigger.

Careful readers will note the passage of time by watching the background, changing from daylight, to sundown, to dusk and the rising of a full moon.  Until we venture out into space, Jason Chin shows each contrasted thing in the picture with the next larger item.  The children, ostrich and giraffe are tiny next to the tallest living things.  These tallest living things are dwarfed by the manmade structures.  

Many of the illustrations are framed in white, others extend to the page edges.  The double-page pictures are dramatic, highlighting the grandeur of their portrayals.  There is a vertical, double-page picture requiring you to turn the book.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the children, the ostrich, the giraffe and books are shown as the full moon rises behind them.  Against the darkening sky the ostrich is left of the telescope with a pile of books around it.  To the right of the telescope, the children are standing on each other's shoulders with the top child holding a copy of the book for the giraffe on the right to read.  The giraffe is looking a tad bit surprised.  Beneath the giraffe, so tiny as to almost be invisible, is the butterfly.

With each reading of Your Place in the Universe written and illustrated by Jason Chin, you will learn some new incredible fact about this remarkable world in which we live. The book is a fine, very fine, work of nonfiction.  At the close of the book are four pages of further information with Jason Chin's artwork discussing Beyond Human Scale, Earth And The Solar System, The Solar System and The Universe.  Do you know what A Goldilocks Planet is?  There is a final page with A Note From The Author, A Note On The Age Of The Universe, A Note On The Illustrations, and Selected Sources.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Jason Chin and his body of work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Jason Chin has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website there is an event kit and an educator's guide.  You can get a glimpse of several interior images at Penguin Random House.  Please take a few moments to enjoy this video.

Update:  This title and its author illustrator are featured by author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on November 29, 2020.

To view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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