Non-fiction picture books
The Stuff of Stars, written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Bauer, Marion Dane and Ekua Holmes, illustr. The Stuff of Stars. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018.
The Stuff of Stars is a lyrical look at the Big Bang, paired with abstract marbled illustrations. Written as one long poem, the text explains in plain language the scientific beginnings of the universe, paralleled with the story of the arrival of a new born child. From the Big Bang, to the formation of stars, to the creation of Earth, the text accessibly balances complex vocabulary (“Perfect for turning that starry stuff into mitochondria”) ideas, with simpler imagery that children will love, (“into daisies and galloping horses”). That imagery meanwhile, is subtly reflected in the illustrations, where horses, butterflies, songbirds, and the birth of planets can be found collaged against the marble. From nothing to everything, this text is exploding with meaning and the idea that kids are made of matter and that they matter. It sis a wholly beautiful picture book that plays with color and lyricism to convey a universe of wonder and might.
This rich text can be used to explore STEM topics with students, such as the origins of life and the universe. Students could write their own origin stories, or create artwork in the vein of Holmes, who won a Coretta Scott King Award for these very illustrations. In the past, I have had students just listen to the words and draw what comes to their imagination before reading again with the illustrations to accompany it. The text can also be used as a basis to ask “wonder questions” and then, using imaginion or research, answer the question in the form of a poem, echoing the style of the text.
We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade
Lindstrom, Carole and Michaela Goade, illustr. We Are Water Protectors. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2020.
We are Water Protectors is a history, an ode, and a call to action from two indigenous creators. Inspired by the Standing Rock protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Lindstrom’s words pays tribute to mother Earth and the water that gives all on Earth life. Goade’s illustrations, which won the Caledcott Medal in 2020, are the perfect backdrop to a lyrical, repetitive text that takes readers through the story of how the Earth takes all life from water, and how the dreaded Black Snake (a metaphor across time for oil pipelines) threatens to corrupt all that is pure and alive in the environment. Young readers will love how the metaphor is clearly revealed thorugh the illustrations. Through a little girl chronicling how her people and village have worked to steward the land and how they are fighting to protect the Earth’s sacred resources, especially water, this story portrays a strong and important message, especially for kids today growing up at the crossroads of environmental justice.
The text is a great starting point to talk about activism and environmentalism. Students can learn about current social justice movements that intersect with protecting and conserving the environment. Students might think of natural wonders and places in nature nearby that are dear to them that they would like to protect (as detailed in the publisher’s activity kit). They can learn about