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Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos Book Poster Image
Beautifully illustrated book introduces kids to Carl Sagan.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Star Stuff introduces kids to scientific concepts, particularly astronomy, with beautiful illustrations and frequent exclamations of, "Wowie!" There's also a good bit of history in young Carl's visit to the 1939 World's Fair and his subsequent involvement with the space program. Two dense pages of notes and bibliography, obviously directed at older readers and adults, offer resources for further investigation.

Positive Messages

Following your curiosity and working hard on the things that fascinate you can lead you to wonderful places.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young Carl's fascination with stars drives him to study hard to learn more about them -- and to send friendly messages to any beings living on other planets.

Violence & Scariness
Language

"Wowie!" is the exclamation of choice.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Star Stuff introduces kids to the "Wowie!" side of science with the story of how a young boy named Carl went to the 1939 World's Fair and got fascinated with the stars. In colorful, lively illustrations, author-illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson shows the vastness of the cosmos and the determination of the kid who eventually became Dr. Carl Sagan to learn more about the universe. Some adults may find such essential Saganisms as "the Earth and every living thing are made up of star stuff" (as contrasted to, say, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, and the liek) a bit cloying and gee-whizzy, but it's a formula that's gotten generations of kids intrigued with science. Aside from astronomy, the book offers plenty of opportunities for further investigation, including 20th-century history. There's also funny stuff, as when young Carl goes to the library in search of a book about stars, only to be presented with one about Hollywood celebrities.

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What's the story?

In a corner of our galaxy known as Brooklyn, New York, a young boy grows up fascinated by the world around him. When he goes to the 1939 New York World's Fair, he sees such wonders as a mechanical man and a time capsule and becomes enthralled with the stars. When attempts to wish himself to Mars fail, he goes to the library to learn more. Eventually he becomes Dr. Carl Sagan, PBS cheerleader and popularizer of science in the 1980s and member of the team that sent the Voyager missions into space to communicate with whomever's out there.

Is it any good?

Stephanie Roth Sisson's brilliantly colored, appealing illustrations bring the subject to vivid life, whether it's the vastness of the universe or the features of Carl's neighborhood in Brooklyn. Most kids these days don't know about Carl Sagan and his 1980s PBS series, Cosmos, which is something Sisson, a big fan, sets out to fix in STAR STUFF, bringing Sagan's imaginative, cheerleading approach to science to a new generation.  

Parents may want to be prepared for discussions the book might bring up, such as space travel and communication with people on other planets. And what, exactly, it means that everything is made of "star stuff."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether there are people living on other planets and why the idea of sending them a message is so popular. If you could talk to people on other planets, what would you say?

  • Have you ever watched Carl Sagan's videos or Neil deGrasse Tyson's new version of his series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey? Do they make you want to learn more about science? 

  • Do you think you'd like to travel in space? Where would you go? What do you think you'd see?

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