You Are Stardust – Review by Cara Potapshyn Meyers

Children’s Picture Book & Interactive iPad App

Written by Elin Kelsey

Artwork by Soyeon Kim

Rarely does a children’s book impact me in such a way that You Are Stardust has! From the first glance at the cover, to the extraordinary artwork dioramas on each and every page by the talented Soyeon Kim, concluding at the best part: the most basic, yet powerful science based text I have ever read. Beautifully simplistic, factually correct concepts. I absolutely want to read them again, over and over, with my nine-year-old son.

Owlkids Books presents a magical new resource for children, families, educators, and librarians. Here is a great read for Earth Day 2013, and for fans of Neil Shubin (The Universe Within), Carl Sagan (Cosmos), and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who want to share the natural sciences with their children.

Named one of Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books for 2012 and winner of the 2012 YABC Choice Awards for Best Nonfiction Picture Book, You Are Stardust is both an acclaimed book and a revolutionary, interactive iPad app.

From the water they drink to the trees they climb, kids are connected to the natural world in big and surprising ways. Written by science educator Elin Kelsey ( Not Your Typical Book about the Environment) and featuring awe-inspiring artwork by diorama artist Soyeon Kim, You Are Stardust does more than introduce kids to these connections — it sparks imaginations, starts conversations, and delights all ages.

“Inside your brain, electricity stronger than lightening powers your every thought. The water swirling in your glass once filled the puddles where dinosaurs drank. You sneeze with the force of a tornado.” When I read these descriptions to my son as he was lying in his bed. He immediately sat up and exclaimed, “Is that really true?” I told him that it was and that we could go to the website at the end of the book to both clarify what I read as well as learn new amazing facts. He was hooked. My little walking scientific encyclopedia had finally learned new concepts! He is enjoying this book immensely!

I enjoyed it from the moment I saw it! With what look like prisms dancing across the cover, carrying you from page to page, looking at the most beautiful dioramic artwork I have ever seen. I was mesmerized! Not only was the book so visually appealing, the factual information in the text was mind boggling and begging for conversational dialog. Since I have a science background, my son would stop me every few pages to ask if the text was, in fact, scientifically correct. I told him that it not only was correct, it could be used to entertain whole discussions any time he wished to go back! I could almost see the gears turning in his head!

Even more exciting about this book is the iPad App. The App is an enhanced digital version of the book and features narration by author Elin Kelsey, a behind-the-scenes look at how artist Soyeon Kim created her three-dimensional dioramas, a build-your-own-diorama activity, animation and sound effects! It even has “read-to-me” and “read-on-my-own” options! It is a good thing that both my son and I both have our own iPads because when I installed the iPad App, it automatically opened on both our devices. We sat side by side seeing who could make the most creative diorama! This App is so exciting because your child can use it to read the book, have the book read to your child and complementarily use their creative little minds to come up with the most extraordinary dioramas based on their own interpretations of the text! Absolutely brilliant!

Here is a personal note from the Author:

 Note from author Elin Kelsey:

Electricity stronger than lightning powers your every thought, even on those mornings when it’s hard to remember where you left your keys! Whether you’re stuck in traffic with cranky kids or wrestling a frozen zipper on a winter coat, the simple fact is that you, me, your little one, the teen down the street — we are all nature. Every tiny atom in our bodies came from stars that exploded long before we were born.

The examples in You Are Stardust are based on current science, and I hope they spark lots of lively discussion. But please don’t worry if you can’t explain all the concepts.

The goal of the book is to inspire those magical, exploratory conversations that happen when life pauses for a moment and you find yourself curled up with your little one, sharing a book rich with ideas.

Lots of parents, teachers, librarians, and scientists are concerned that children
are becoming disconnected from nature. Significant life experiences (SLE) research emphasizes how important early childhood is as a time to form deep connections with the natural world. Each time you stop to watch a bug make its way across a city sidewalk you reinforce the magical ties we share with other species.

We hear lots of reports about how kids are too wired up and tuning out, but I remain quite hopeful. As an environmental consultant, I travel all over the world, and I continue to see kids and adults forging meaningful connections to the planet, whether in highly industrialized or impoverished or affluent or wild places. Recently, I had the extraordinary experience of leading writing workshops for high school kids, some who had never been outside New York City, in Antarctica, among 750,000 Adele penguins. They loved being immersed in nature and off their cell phones.

I wrote You Are Stardust because I didn’t just want to tell kids they are part of nature. I wanted to show them in a more personal way, by linking what happens in their own bodies to what happens in the sky, the ocean, the forests, and to other animals. I became intrigued with the science of growth spurts when my own kids were little and would wake up with their pajamas shorter than when they went to bed. It turns out long bones in legs only grow when kids are sleeping or resting: they really do experience growing pains at night! Almost all of the research on growth spurts has been done on sheep, and that’s what inspired the playful link between counting sheep and growth spurts in the book.

I have written science and nature books for kids for years, but this is my first picture book. I loved the challenge of distilling complex scientific concepts into evocative statements.When I wrote: “Be still. Listen. Like you the Earth breathes,” I was thinking about the fact that oxygen enters your lungs and leaves your body as carbon dioxide. Each spring and summer, plants all over the planet take in that carbon dioxide. They use it to create energy from the Sun.They use it to grow glorious flowers and brilliant emerald leaves. They give off the oxygen you breathe in return. In the fall and winter, that process slows dramatically for some plants and stops altogether for others.That leaves more carbon dioxide in the air. Satellites and computer models help scientists chart how the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases moves between the Earth and the atmosphere beyond. They watch the Earth breathe.

And the line about electricity stronger than lightning powering your every thought? Lightning strikes the ground with enough energy to light 150,000,000 lightbulbs. So why don’t you walk around with an enormous headache? All that electricity resides within your millions of teeny tiny brain cells (called neurons), where it’s harmless.The incredibly thin outer membranes of each cell create very high electric fields.They keep in what a cell wants and keep out what it doesn’t. Without electric fields, a cell is dead. But with them, cells can fire super-fast signals to each other, giving you the power to think big thoughts, do brave deeds, and remember to take out the recycling!

The other day, I read You Are Stardust to a third grade class and then asked them to write a short piece to the prompt: I am (insert name). I am Nature. My daughter and I had collected clippings from plants on our short walk to school, and I invited the kids to use them to create self-portraits. Scissors.White glue. Recycled paper. No other preparation. No further explanations needed. They felt the connections and made them their own.

You Are Stardust is a celebration. I hope you will share it with the people you love.

~ Elin

If there is one science related book in your home, this one should be it! I highly recommend it! 

Resources and Activities:

Behind-the-scenes making of You are Stardust:

 Make Your Own Diorama:

Activity Pages:

You Are Stardust Find out more about You Are Stardust children’s book by visiting:

32 pages, color illustrations

Ages 4+

Published by Owlkids Books

You Are Stardust App is available for purchase in the iTunes App Store. Ages 4+. $4.99

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