Here’s a surprise Fall 2012 picture book for you: It’s called You Are Stardust, written by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim.
And I say “surprise,” because it’s from both a debut picture book author (though not a debut author, by any means) and a first-time illustrator, and it seems to have come out of nowhere from Owlkids Books.
As the title and author’s background hint at (Kelsey is an environmental science educator), it’s a science picture book, a beautifully written one filled with seven intricate dioramas from Kim—little theatrical productions, elegantly-rendered.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on illustrator Mary Blair.
“You are stardust,” the book opens. “Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born.” We start life as a single cell, Kelsey writes, with salt flowing through our veins, sweat, and tears as “salty as the ocean.”
With an economy of words and a no-nonsense directness, which also manages to be lyrical and evocative (“[y]our hair falls like autumn leaves”), Kelsey goes on to note the ways that, essentially, we are nature. It’s Human Ecology 101 for child readers, and it really works. You are connected to the natural world in ways that might surprise you, she demonstrates, all the while making vivid connections: “Just as forests grow new trees in places of old ones… you grow entirely new skeletons throughout your life.”
This is a book that reveals both the relationships and parallels between humans and the planet they live on, something children think about a lot—as a child, the notion that we came from exploding bodies of gas in outer space used to BLOW MY MIND—and it does so in a clear and compelling way.
Kim’s dioramas—a total of seven of them, photographed in segments and distributed over 15 spreads—are dynamic, inventive and full of surprises. Incorporating cardboard cut-outs, dried flowers, stitching, textured papers, acetate paper and more, she delights on each and every page.
Remove the book jacket, flip it over, and you’ll be rewarded with notes from the illustrator, along with photographs of each diorama in full. Kirkus' starred review describes this artwork as “at once real and otherworldly,” adding that the book is no less than a “remarkable achievement.” I enthusiastically second that opinion. This one’s a keeper.
“Be still. Listen. Like you, the Earth breathes,” Kelsey writes. What a powerful set of three simple sentences for our busy, hyper-hypo, media-saturated world.
Don’t miss this one, which begs to be shared intimately with children. Gather together, be still, and learn how we are stardust.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
YOU ARE STARDUST. Copyright © 2012 by Elin Kelsey. Illustrations © 2012 by Soyeon Kim. Published by Owlkids Books, Ontario. Spread reproduced by permission of publisher.