The Fire of Stars: by Kirsten W. Larson is a must-read for anyone who loves science and is passionate about exploring the universe. It’s a fascinating and beautifully illustrated biography of Cecilia Payne, the first person to discover what burns at the heart of stars.
Author: Kirsten W. Larson Illustrator: Katherine Roy Publisher: Chronicle Books Published: February 7, 2023 Format: Picture Book
This was one of my 23 Most Anticipated Picture Books of 2023 , and I’m happy to report it did not disappoint! The book is a real gem, with lyrical and evocative text by Kirsten Larson and stunning illustrations by Katherine Roy. The text captures the excitement and thrill of scientific discovery while the illustrations showcase the beauty of space and the wonder of a star’s birth.
I personally loved how this book parallels the birth of a star with the journey of Payne’s own curiosity and scientific career. It’s a great reminder of the power of science and the spirit of adventure that drives so many of us to explore and discover.
I highly recommend The Fire of Stars for classroom, school libraries, and bookshelves everywhere. It’s a Junior Library Guild Selection, and a must-read for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of science and the power of human curiosity.
It’s no surprise that this book has received high praise from critics and reviewers. Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly have all given it a starred review. Critics have praised the book’s “luminous thematic pairing” and its ability to emphasize Payne’s accomplishments, highlighting her impact on astrophysics.
The Fire of Stars officially releases next week but you can preorder your copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon.
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Today is National Astronomy Day, and I can’t think of a better title to celebrate with than The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell by Laura Alary and Ellen Rooney. This lovely picture book biography chronicles the life of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in the United States.
Title: The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell Author: Laura Alary Illustrator: Ellen Rooney Publisher: Kids Can Press Published: May 3, 2022 Format: Picture Book
Starting in her childhood in Nantucket, The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything really highlights Maria’s curiosity and determination. As a young child, she learned to use her astronomer father’s tools and begins scanning the night sky for herself. When the King of Denmark offers a prize to the first person to find a comet, Maria was determined to win it, and she did! I don’t want to spoil the fun by telling you all of her accomplishments, so I will just say this discovery opened lots of doors for Maria that were not open to women in the early 18oo’s.
The illustrations by Ellen Rooney are absolutely delightful. I love the way she captures the starry night skies, and the texture on every page is amazing.
The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything is another great picture book biography of a trailblazing woman in STEM, making it a great selection for school and classroom libraries. I love that it encourages children to wonder, and specifically to ask questions. It’s such an important part of learning and growing at any age, and I feel like we don’t encourage questions enough, especially outside of the classroom.
You can pick up your own copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Thank you so much to Kids Can Press for sharing this inspiring picture book biography with me!
About The Author:
Laura Alary believes in writing stories that make us bigger on the inside. She is constantly reading and wondering and learning so that she can keep up with all the questions her children ask — especially about science and life on Earth. She grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and currently lives in Toronto with her three children.
About The Illustrator:
Ellen Rooney is an illustrator, designer and artist. She’s originally from Massachusetts, but now lives in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. She loves graphic shapes, textured color, printmaking, drawing outdoors, painting — and her hidden art powers are released when cutting up paper!
It’s time for another Author Spotlight! Today I am talking with author-illustrator Jamie Hogan about her latest picture book, Skywatcher. So without futher ado, let’s dive right in!
Jamie, I’m so excited to have you here! Before we talk about Skywatcher, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author and illustrator?
I grew up drawing all the time, and went to art school to study illustration at Rhode Island School of Design. I began my freelance career in Boston, doing editorial illustrations for the Boston Globe and local magazines. It was years later that I moved to Maine and became a parent. Reading children’s books to my daughter sparked my interest in that area of publishing. I wrote my first picture book, SEVEN DAYS OF DAISY, inspired by her antics. I began illustrating for other authors while also teaching part time at Maine College of Art.
Skywatcher is your most recent picture book, and it is absolutely gorgeous! Can you tell readers a little bit about it?
SKYWATCHER is the story of a young boy who wants to see the stars, but the city lights obscure them. He travels with his mother to a place where they see the Milky Way.
What inspired you to write Skywatcher?
I had been working on illustrations for a poem about how the Milky Way formed and my radar was up around that. I noticed an article in the local newspaper about Maine state parks trying to get dark sky status. I knew little about light pollution or why dark skies are important and began to do research. We’re all so tethered to devices now, does anyone notice or care that the stars are hidden?
Title: Skywatcher Author/Illustrator: Jamie Hogan Publisher: Tillbury House Published: October 5, 2022 Format: Picture Book
The night sky is such a magical thing, especially for children. Have you always been passionate about astronomy and astrology?
I have been curious about both astronomy and astrology thanks to my contributions to the Lunar Calendar published in Boston by the Luna Press. It is a comprehensive calendar of moon phases (astronomy) and their place in the astrological cycles. I still have plenty to learn but I find it fascinating and affirmative to pay attention to the moon and it’s pull on our rhythms.
What was the research process like for writing Skywatcher? Did you get to do lots of star gazing?
Yes! We visited Acadia and also Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, both places that had sought dark sky status at the time I was developing my book idea. By the time SKYWATCHER was published, the International Dark Sky Association had designated the 100 Mile Wilderness as the Northeast’s first Dark Sky Preserve, an area owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club and In the same vicinity. But otherwise, I make a point of going outside every night into my yard, to check on the stars. I live on an island three miles out to sea, and can see plenty, but the Milky Way is not that visible because of light pollution from Portland.
The illustrations in Skywatcher are absolutely stunning. Can you tell us about the mediums/techniques you used?
Thank you! I did black and white line drawings in black Prismacolor pencil and scanned them. I used chalk color pastels on sanded paper for vivid backgrounds with texture. I merged these in Photoshop, along with the stars I drew in digitally.
As someone who writes picture books, but has zero artistic skill, I’m always fascinated by author/illustrators’ process. Do you come up with the story first, or the images? Or is it all just simultaneous?
I think visually first. The whole book was about the light we live in. I drew thumbnail scenes in a storyboard, so I could see it all on a single page, how the focus will move from page to page, like a short film. I began to write the story as the visuals took shape, but it’s important that the illustrations show something beyond the words and vice versa.
I love that Skywatcher has so much information in the back matter. I think it blends fiction and nonfiction in a way that really sticks with readers. Have you visited any of the Dark Sky Preserves listed in the backmatter? If so, which was your favorite?
Thanks, I found I had way more information than could fit into the story! I have not visited any preserves other than going to Katahdin before that area was officially designated. But it’s my goal to go out to the Southwest, where the dark skies are legendary. Being in the presence of the Milky Way is a humbling and magical experience. Everyone should seek that out, feeling a connection to our universe.
What can we expect from you next? Are there any more releases in the near future?
While I was developing the book, an astronaut from Maine was on the International Space Station, Jessica Meir. I drew her on the cover of Tamen’s comic, Skywatcher, and have been developing a picture book bio about her. Stay tuned on that! Meanwhile, I am working on a picture book written by Jennifer Jacobson, OH, CHICKADEE which will be published by McSea Books in 2023.
Anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
I feel truly grateful to be making books for children. As a parent, that chapter of reading books together is a treasured one, and remains a formative source of inspiration about how to spark the imagination of a child learning about the world. I am drawn to nature themes and feel strongly about connecting to the wilderness within us. A picture book can be a spring board to other books about the same topic or new themes that a child wants to follow. Everyone can learn from storytelling. Thanks so much for asking these questions, and shining a light on my book. May we all keep looking up!
Thank you so much for answering all my questions today, Jamie! It was wonderful having you!
To learn more about Jamie and her work please visit her website at jamiehogan.com.