by Vicki Palmquist
How many children, over how many years, have learned from their parents to identify the stars that make up the Big Dipper? Can you see them standing outside, pointing to the stars in the dark sky, tracing the make-believe line that draws a saucepan in the heavens?
My mother told me some of the stories she knew about the constellations, about the Great Bear and Orion and Andromeda. When her supply of knowledge (and interest) were exhausted, she bought me Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (yes, the author of the Curious George books).
When I wanted to know more, she bought me The Stars: a New Way to See Them, also by H.A. Rey.
Besides creating books for children, the jacket flap says Mr. Rey’s interests “extended from biology and languages (he was fluent in four and acquainted with half a dozen more) to history and, of course, astronomy.” Thank goodness! He awakened that interest in me and I’m pretty sure dozens and dozens and hundreds of other children. (And adults, go ahead, admit it.)
In Find the Constellations, which is updated through 2016, you’ll find explanations that combine facts, and stories, and science. Anything less would not be satisfying. Better yet, the man could draw, and his illustrations are lighthearted but scientifically sound. When he draws a “Sky View” as though we were privileged to be inside the USA’s best planetarium, we can see seasonal depictions of the way the stars appear in the sky, and the way they might appear in our brain, finding the constellations. There are charts and maps and tips for stargazing.
In The Stars, we find a book for older children and adults. There are constellation charts with viewing notes:
CRAB (CANCER): Faintest of all constellations in the zodiac. Its main attraction is the so-called BEEHIVE, a small hazy spot [marked by a cross on the chart], just visible without glasses under best conditions. Glasses reveal a cluster of many faint stars.
These are infographics at their best, long before we began using that term. The Calendar Charts show where the stars will be in the sky on a certain day, at a certain time. There are even latitudinal charts so people in different parts of the country can more accurately observe the stars.
The second half of the books includes more wonders, including how stars die, the celestial clock, how the earth wobbles on its axis, and how constellations have moved through the ages. When the right child finds this book, there is an astronomer in the making, whether as a profession or as a hobby.
Wait! There’s more! If you buy the hardcover of The Stars, you will find that the dust jacket unfolds to a large poster of a General Chart of the Sky. I had this hanging on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. Is it any wonder I love reading science fiction? Check these books out of the library for your curious child. When you find yourself considering a telescope, it’s time to buy them for your own library.