Thursday, September 15, 2011

STEM Friday: You are Older than the Stars!

Welcome to STEM Friday – that’s where we share nifty nonfiction that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. You’ll find links to more reviews below. But first, a book I love – and brief chat with the author.
Older than the Stars
By Karen C. Fox, illus. by Nancy Davis
32 pages; ages 5-10
Charlesbridge 2010

This is a book that begins with a bang. Karen Fox hangs her tale of how the universe began on the structure of a nursery rhyme: “This is the star of red-hot stuff that burst from the gas in a giant puff that spun from the blocks that formed from the bits that were born in the bang when the world began.”

Early stellar chaos, well-illustrated with Nancy Davis’s bright potato prints and computer graphics, eventually resolves into form: planets, earth, plants, animals, and people. Fox shows how matter created in the big bang gets recycled over the eons – now some of that primordial stardust may be inside of each one of us.

Fun as it is, Fox includes plenty of sidebars explaining what scientists know about how the universe formed. Not only are the sidebars kid-friendly, but they put the story on two reading levels. She concludes with a not-to-scale timeline of the universe and a glossary of useful terms.

Fox, it turns out, has a degree in physics and English. “I had always meant to be a physics major,” she says, “but I was also a constant reader, so … I registered for a double major.” She was inspired to write this book when she saw a call for astronomy picture book ideas. Fox had just finished a book for adults and thought it would be a breeze to take all that information and make a kids book on the big bang. “The joke was on me,” she says. “This book took much longer to get to print than any of my adult books!”

I asked Fox how she came to structure her book like “the house that Jack built”. The initial draft had some repetition in it, she said. “But it wasn’t until the third draft that I realized that of course the book was supposed to be a poem.  The whole book just sort of came together after that.” It was, she said, an excellent lesson in why good writing almost always requires lots of re-writing – and a good editor.

Was Fox surprised by the bold prints that accompany her science story?  “I submitted all kinds of realistic images with my first draft,” she says. But once her editors sent a portfolio of Davis’s artwork, “I agreed that her style seemed fun in a way that would lend itself to illustrating some far out concepts.”

Every writer learns something when they write. Fox says, “I never knew that stars only make the first handful of light elements. It takes explosions as big as supernovae to fuse those atoms into the big stuff like gold and iron.”

Here's what other people are reviewing today:

Jeff Barger reviews How Does My Garden Grow over at NC Teacher Stuff where you can find lots of book reviews on everything from art to sports.

Over at Simply Science Shirley Duke reviews the newly released Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia. she says it's got a great technology section.

Anastasia Suen warms up our day with a review of Geology of the Desert Southwest: Investigate How the Earth Was Formed with 15 Projects at Chapter Book of the Day.

NOTE for STEM Friday reviewers: If you have difficulty leaving comments, please email me your link at sueheaven at gmail dot com.


  1. Hi, Sue! Thank you for hosting today. You are definitely a star today. At NC Teacher Stuff I have posted a review of How Does My Garden Grow?:

  2. nice review, Jeff. As a gardener - and someone who loves to eat - I'm definitely going to check out this book.

  3. Thanks for hosting today! Chapter Book of the Day celebrates STEM Friday with Geology of the Desert Southwest: Investigate How the Earth Was Formed with 15 Projects

  4. thanks for dropping by and sharing a fun book. I wish I had a copy with me a couple weeks ago when I was visiting Utah.

  5. So sorry I missed the STEM Friday this week (life intervened). Thank you so much for sharing the background information about Older than the Stars.