Marianne J. Dyson

Review of Stars

Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, June 27, 2003

Stars is a picture book that answers basic questions about stars such as where they go in the daytime (nowhere!) and why they are so bright (hot, big, and close) without getting cutesy or talking down to children. Explanations are detailed enough to satisfy a child's curiosity, yet easy enough for early readers to follow without adult help. For example, when discussing what stars look like, the author anticipates that children may think stars have points, and quickly explains that they are big balls of glowing gas. A child reading that stars are huge will naturally want to know why they appear so small, and the author immediately addresses this question. The concept of size versus distance is reinforced with a description and a set of illustrations showing a rocket flying away from the sun. Also, there is a simple and safe activity at the end of the book that provides hands-on experience with lights and distance. (I found one typo in this book, and it was in this activity: "clos" versus "close".)

The illustrations throughout the book invite children to pause and consider what they've read in more depth. For example, children must rotate the book to read and view the page of southern constellations. This is a simple and effective way to demonstrate that what you see at night depends on where you are on Earth.

I only have three minor complaints about content. The illustration showing the direction and distance to various stars includes common bright stars in both hemispheres - with one exception, Hadar. This star is not on the list of brightest stars, nor is it in the index of my astronomy texts, my sky guide, or the comprehensive Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning (Richard Hinckley Allen). I think a book about stars for young children should stick to ones adults can easily find when kids ask questions. (So if one of you southern hemisphere astronomers out there can tell me what constellation Hadar is in, I'd sure like to know!)

The second minor complaint is with a two-page spread of pictures showing how a pattern of stars move across the sky as Earth spins. The upper illustration shows the stars moving in an arc from east to west with a boy viewing them in the east and a dog in the west. This is a nice clear illustration. The lower illustration shows the Earth in six frames, noon, 4 PM, 8 PM, midnight, 4 AM and 8 AM. Here is where the confusion comes in. The boy from the upper illustration is shown on the east coast of the USA and the dog on the west coast. Using east and west to mean two different things in these two illustrations is very confusing for young children. In the upper illustration, east means the direction, but in the lower, it means a part of the United States. A child might think that a constellation is tilted up when seen in the eastern USA and down when seen in the western USA rather than that stars rise in the east and set in the west for both locations.

Also, because the Earth is shown at noon in the leftmost picture and 8 AM in the rightmost picture, it seems that the constellation rises at noon in the east and sets at 8 AM in the west. Even assuming the time zone change, only circumpolar constellations are "visible" longer than 12 hours, and then only at high latitudes during winter. Finally, assuming the sun direction is straight up from the page for the lower illustration, the east coast of the USA should be on the centerline of the circular Earth at noon, not to the left as shown.

The third minor complaint is really a nitpick, but hey, nitpicking is what I do! Anyway, the topic is using the Big Dipper to find the North Star. There are four illustrations, showing the Big Dipper and the Cassiopeia W (not identified by name) going around the North Star from sunset to sunrise. The first of the four frames, labeled sunset, shows the Big Dipper standing on its handle, and the fourth frame, labeled sunrise, shows it hanging down. Although the Dipper will indeed move to the opposite side of the "clock" in 12 hours, the orientations and times shown are only true around February. By August, the Big Dipper will be hanging down at sunset and move to standing on its handle by sunrise. So the illustrations are an accurate example of how the two constellations can be used to find the Dipper (and also tell time), but not the way the constellations are oriented every sunset.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. The text was lively, and the artwork very appealing. I give it 1 point for readability, 1 for useful illustrations, 2 for accuracy, and 1 for current information. It lost 1 point for clarity because I'm a nitpicker saving a rating of 6 for that one perfect book. Total: 5 points. Stars is a good space book for children. Recommended.

Title: Stars
Author: Steve Tomecek
Illustrator: Sachiko Yoshikawa
Ages: 4-8
Number of Pages: 32
Format: hardback
Publisher: National Geographic
Date: 2003
Retail Price:$16.95
ISBN: 079225581X

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