I’ve been anxiously awaiting the book birth of The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. I heard the text a year ago and forgot to breathe while the author read it out loud. And then I heard who the illustrator was. Let’s just say, what a pairing!
When I opened my much anticipated copy — after oohing and aaahing over the cover — and read the first page, I heard cello. A deep deep cello note, under the words.
In the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark….
As I continued to read, I continued to hear cello music — almost a synesthesia kind of experience, though thoroughly explained, I suppose, by my intense love of cello.
And so, when it came time to read it to an audience — storytime in worship at church — I contacted a wonderful cellist in our midst and asked if she was the sort of person who liked to improvise, drawing pictures with her cello, etc. She is that sort of person, luckily enough. I emailed her the text and she emailed back her excitement. I said, “Wait ‘til you see the art….” (She gasped when she saw the art.)
I gave her complete artistic freedom. We agreed to meet before church to run through it a couple of times. I sat so she could see the pictures as I read. We ran through it twice — different both times. Wonderful both times. We did it another two times in each of our church’s services — different those times, too, and wonderful in all new ways because the kids were listening.
She’s an extremely talented musician working on a degree in composition — obviously not everyone could do this. But it was just glorious, my friends.
She played how “the cloud of gas unfolded, unfurled, zigged, zagged, stretched, collided, expanded…expanded…expanded….” My heart nearly burst when she played that expansion. The children sat rapt, their eyes wide at the collaged marbled papers illustrating the first moments of our cosmos.
The cello illustrated for our ears how the starry stuff turned into “mitochondria, jellyfish, spiders…” It helped us hear the ferns and sharks, daisies and galloping horses. The galloping horses were fantastic.
When the dark refrain returned…
in the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark…
…so did that low low note on the cello. The children noticed. Their heads turned to look at the cello…and then back at the marbled darkness in the book.
It was powerful.
The Stuff of Stars is powerful without cello music, I assure you. I’ve since read it to young and old alike without accompaniment, and it’s a delightful — I will even say holy—experience every time. If you’ve not seen this book, you must! Pick up a few copies — it makes a wonderful new baby or birthday gift; for the story of the birth of the cosmos moves to the birth of our planet…and then to the birth of the individual child “special as Love.”
We need more books like this one — books that hold together wonder, science, awe, love, and our place in nature alongside the inevitable tensions of life. We need gorgeous books for children. Too much of the world is ugly right now. Children need beauty, stories, and art. They need to hear:
All of us
The stuff of stars.
For further reading, I highly recommend the following: