Stars in Their Eyes: Two Space-y Picture Book Biographies

spock bookendsCindy: True confession: I’m not a Trekker. But everybody knows Spock, even those who’ve never watched the Star Trek television series. I was familiar with Spock’s signature Vulcan salute, but I didn’t know that Leonard Nimoy created it when he rejected the idea, during filming, of using a traditional handshake. The shape originates from Jewish prayer and the Hebrew letter that starts the word shalom—peace. It’s fascinating stuff, like Richard Michelson’s picture book biography, Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy (2016).

Fascinating the Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard MichelsonThe man who would become the famous Vulcan was born to two Russian immigrants whose passports marked them as “alien.” Little Lenny, who grew up in Boston and had a newspaper route, sang “God Bless America” in a talent show at the local settlement house; the applause he got might have lead him to audition for more plays there in his teens. He got a job selling vacuum cleaners to finance his thespian dreams, and his acting helped him be successful in that awful job.

In 1949, he headed for the stars. Driving a taxi in Hollywood provided a chance meeting with Congressman John F. Kennedy, who advised him:

“Never give up as long as you can make a difference in people’s lives. Lots of competition in your business, just like in mine. But an actor is like a politician. There is always room at the top for one more good one.”

Nimoy persistently makes his way in the world of theater, movies, and eventually television. Edel Rodriguez’s blue and sepia-toned palette is perfect for the subject. I can only imagine Leonard’s father’s confusion as young boys started coming into his Boston barber shop asking for a Spock haircut. Trekkers will definitely understand.

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and Kate FillionLynn: Our second picture book also features a boy who reached for the stars—the actual stars. Chris Hadfield tells his story, with Kate Fillion, in The Darkest Dark (2016). Growing up on Stag Island, all Chris could think about was being an astronaut. He played astronaut and dreamed about it, too. There was only one small problem—little Chris was afraid of the dark. Who knew what aliens might lurk there?

That changed one special night when Chris’ neighbors gathered to watch a monumental event on the island’s only TV. It was 1969, and the whole world was  watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Then, suddenly:

“For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.”

Although he stopped being afraid of the dark, there were other obstacles. Chief among them: Chris was Canadian. It took 23 years, but in 1992, Chris became an astronaut, ultimately completing three space missions. In 2013, he served as the first Canadian commander at the International Space Station.

Hadfield’s story is inspiring in so many ways. Many young readers share Chris’s fear of the dark, and parents trying to help kids stay in their own beds at night will find much to love here, both in the humorous treatment and the comforting results. The Fan Brothers’ illustrations, “rendered in graphite and colored digitally,” are terrific. Scenes of young Chris and his sleep-deprived parents are full of funny details, including a memorable pug who adds to the charm. Towards the end of the book, the brothers take full advantage of wide, two-page spreads in order to depict the mysterious beauty of space. The book also includes real photos and a message from Chris.

This truly delightful book is perfect for story hour groups, as well as lap book-reading with space-smitten youngsters. Don’t miss it!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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