Mar 17, 2018

A Brief History of Time- and Stephen Hawking

Anyone reading this must be aware that the incredible life-force named Stephen Hawking ended recently. My reason for calling him a "life force" could be undeniably based on nothing more than the fact that he survived to the age of seventy-six, living fifty-five years with a diagnosis of ALS (at age twenty-one) that predicted his death within two years. Beyond that physical survival, though, what astonishes me (and everyone) is the boundless capacity of his mind to transcend the limitations of his body. Check out the profile picture on his website, here, capturing him mid-flight in a grin-inducing gravity-free adventure. 
His scientific insights, theories, and writings have transformed the field of astrophysics and will continue to do so for generations to come. It's no exaggeration to say that Stephen Hawking deserves accolades for a level of genius comparable to that of Einstein. If reading his long-time best-selling A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME feels too daunting, try reading any of the GEORGE titles in the series co-written by Lucy and Stephen Hawking for younger readers. The titles feel, to me, like a literary equivalent of the "Big Bang" in the sense that they will be launching a universe of future physicists. Stephen and his daughter Lucy, a theoretical physicist and educator, have made enigmatic and mind-boggling theories not only fathomable but exciting and inspiring.

Charlesbridge, 2010
Which leads me to a picture book that manages to transform Hawking's BIG BANG truths into a delightful cumulative rhyming text. Well-written sidebars clarify and uncomplicate (but not simplify) the forces of the universe for the youngest readers. OLDER THAN THE STARS is written by Karen C. Fox and illustrated by Nancy Davis. Before using the familiar 
"This is the..." refrain, Fox begins with five simple but profound declarative sentences, building to the startling conclusion:
"You are as old as the universe itself."

How in the world (no, in the universe!) is that possible? At the risk of overusing the word, I'd call Fox's text genius. Using words that are the ultimate in kid-friendly, she takes readers through the birth of the universe from bangs to bits, to blocks, giant puffs and red-hot stuff. At that point readers are thoroughly hooked, so that the formation of atoms strong and tough, blasts intense enough, dust old and new lead quite naturally to the sun, our daily view! 
But we haven 't yet reached the ultimate YOU, made of the stuff of that original BANG! Before that happens we'll read about our planet green and blue, plants, and animals. NOW you can see what a simple step it is to "people just like you."

The lyrics and the logic of this remarkable book, including those accessible side bars, present Stephen Hawking's insights and sense of wonder about our (understatement alert...) remarkable universe in ways that feel self-evident and natural. The glossary and time line (not to scale) in the back matter are valuable additions.The charm and appeal of the rhymed, cumulative text will have the youngest begging for rereads. So much so that by the time readers are ready for the "fine print" in the side bars and back matter they will have a firmly rooted sense of the truth of the BIG BANG THEORY on which to hang these more refined scientific details. 

Add this one to your STEM title list, but don't assume it's a book exclusively for older readers. Get this colorful, comprehensive picture book into the hands and ears of kids everywhere.
Special thanks to friend, poet, and author JoAnn Early Macken for mentioning this title, which is nearly a decade old but is entirely new to me! I'm sharing the favor with readers here and hoping you'll find and enjoy it yourselves.

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