CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 13. . . .November 30, 2012
You Are Stardust.
Elin Kelsey. Artwork by Soyeon Kim.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids Books, 2012.
32 pp., hc. & eBook, $18.95 (hc.), $12.95 (eBook).
ISBN 978-1-926973-35-7 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-926973-47-0 (eBook).
Human ecology-Juvenile literature.
Kindergarten-grade 2 / Ages 5-7.
Review by Sabrina Wong.
You, me, birds flying through the rainforest.
We are all connected.
We are all nature.
We are all stardust.
It can be difficult to find science books for young children that are engaging and convey an educational message with lightness and humour. You are Stardust, written by environmental educator Elin Kelsey and illustrated by Soyeon Kim, achieves both criteria. The book's premise, that all of the atoms in our bodies come from an exploded star, is a magical way of presenting a scientific truth. While this book is filled with factoids, Kelsey manages to relate these facts back to a child's experience and worldview; by her doing so, these facts encourage a child to feel connected with the natural world. Throughout the book, she reiterates this interconnectivity through metaphor and beautiful imagery.
The illustrations in this book are a notable feature. Instead of painting or drawing two-dimensional illustrations, Soyeon Kim created a series of dioramas and photographed them to use in the book, resulting in illustrations with great depth, texture and visual interest. The Owlkids website (www.owlkidsbooks.com/stardust) features a fascinating video giving a behind-the-scenes look at the design and construction process. Kim's dioramas are not only beautiful, but they also weave together human and animal figures, driving home Kelsey's message about the connectedness of all living things. Conceptually, using the diorama format pairs well with Kelsey's holistic view of the universe. All of the pieces in the diorama are connected with each other and the diorama as a whole. By playing with the composition of her photographs, Kim shows the reader perspectives from multiple angles, closes in tight on certain elements, and zooms back to reveal the whole diorama. She also uses focus as a tool to highlight the main elements of the photograph. In the cover image, she focuses on the boy and girl, leaving the rest of the image blurry. This visual communicates to the reader that children have a central role in the book and that the message of the book, "You are stardust," is aimed at them.
Since this is a book about common origin, Kelsey covers human gestation in one spread early in the book. While this may trigger some reservations on the appropriateness of the material, Kelsey presents it in a sensitive and lyrical way: "Like fish deep in the ocean, you called salt water home. You swam inside the salty sea of your mother's womb." (p. 7). Concerns are also mediated by the innocence of the illustration on that spread which merely shows a child riding on shark as it swims through an ocean scene.
The words and images of You are Stardust work together to help children develop an empathetic connection to the natural world around them. Kelsey's use of onomatopoeia in comparing the chirping of baby birds, "Tweet tweet tweet!," to a human child learning to speak, "Ma ma ma!," is a good use of the adage of show-don't-tell. It also helps that children are featured in every illustration and they are always shown interacting in a playful way with animals, trees, and elements of nature. While Kelsey and Kim may lead a child reader to these connections, ultimately, it is up to the child to internalize the connections.
Kelsey is gifted with the ability to write for children as sensitive and thinking beings, without using artificial and demeaning contrivances. It is a testament to her skill at creating prose that she is able to switch from poetic, "Your breath is alive with the promise of flowers" (p. 16), on one page to silly, "You sneeze with the force of a tornado. Wind rockets from your nose quicker than a cheetah sprints" (p. 18), on the next. Kim's use of bright colours, interesting textures, and a variety of compositions infuse her illustrations with dynamic energy that bolster Kelsey's words. Whether accomplished by beautiful imagery or silly facts, Kelsey and Kim able to connect with young readers and achieve this book's ultimate goal: to reach young readers and encourage them to identify with the natural environment.
As children spend increasing amounts of time in the virtual world, You are Stardust serves as an ambassador for the natural world. It would be an excellent addition to any home, school or public library. The book encourages young children to consider their place in the wider world and take responsibility for preserving the environment.
Sabrina Wong will be completing her Master of Library and Information Studies degree at the University of British Columbia School of Library, Archival and Information Studies in December 2012.
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