The Stuff of Stars

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Stuff of Stars Book Poster Image
Poetic book introduces big cosmic concepts to little humans.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Introduces the origin of the universe, the Big Bang, cloud of gas expanded and "bits bumped, gathered, fused." Stars formed and exploded. Ash of stars gathered into planets circling other stars. Earth circles Sun and is perfect temperature for life. Dinosaurs gave way to other life. Humans and other life are formed of stardust. Vocabulary: "mitochondria," "cargon."

Positive Messages

Since we're all made of the same stardust, we're connected to the universe and every living thing on Earth. You are "special as love." Earth is a lucky planet, with the right conditions for life, though it's fragile. All the many life forms on Earth are wondrous. The people who came before "lived and died, making room for more and more children."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The child and adult at end are pictured close and loving. Together, they stare out at the universe, and seem to be at one with it, respectful of life.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Stuff of Stars is by two talented multi-award winners, Newbery Honoree Marion Dane Bauer (The Secret of the Painted House), and Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes (Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement). The book takes on big, cosmic concepts: the start of the universe, the formation of stars and planets, the start of life on Earth, and evolution, all of which lead to the birth of "you," the reader. Bauer's language is poetic but clear, and by tying the birth of the universe to the birth of a child, she gives us a book that's both scientific and spiritual.

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What's the story?

THE STUFF OF STARS traces the start of the universe through the formation of stars and planets to the beginning of life on Earth, and ultimately, people, zeroing in on the birth of the reader. The universe begins with a bang. Stars catch fire and explode, "And the ash of those dying stars gathered into planets." One planet, Earth, has just the right temperature and conditions for life, which evolves over time. "Until at last, YOU burst into the world." All of which goes to explain how all life on Earth -- "you and the singing whales, the larks, the frogs" -- comes from that original stardust, "the stuff of stars."

Is it any good?

This poetic reflection on the cosmos is a meaningful way to introduce kids to scientific concepts about the universe, as well as spiritual ones about our connection to and place in it. The Stuff of Stars presents much of the science simply and clearly, making it easy for kids to grasp. For instance, "The planets closest to their star stayed very hot. The ones far away grew cold. But one lucky planet, a fragile blue ball we call Earth, was neither too far nor too near." The text can be mesmerizing, with rhythmic repetition, "In the dark, in the dark, in the deep, deep dark," as well as heightened language; the speck that's waiting to be born is "invisible as dreams, special as Love." And references throughout to the lush natural life on Earth -- "violets blooming in a shady wood," "crickets singing to the night" -- help foster a deep respect.

Ekua Holmes' art is gorgeous, but her task here is challenging. How does one illustrate no time/no space, or the initial explosion of the universe? The stunning collage art is constructed with hand-marbled paper, and is often abstract, so it may be harder to keep kids grounded. But the textured swirls are hypnotic, and kids can search closely to discern recognizable forms mentioned in the text. The bones of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, galloping horses, and a loving parent and child help kids stay down to earth.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the evolution in The Stuff of Stars. How did the universe begin? And planets form? How did life evolve on Earth? When you think of yourself as part of the vast universe, does it make you feel big or small, or a little of both?

  • How are people connected to the "starry stuff" of the universe? Do you understand how your tears "were once salty seas," and "your hair once the carbon in a leaf?"

  • Why do you think the artist chose swirly, abstract illustrations for this book? Can you find pictures of specific things in the swirls? If you were drawing pictures to illustrate these pages, what would you draw?

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