LISTENING TO THE STARS: JOCELYN BELL BURNELL DISCOVERS PULSARS, illustrated by Alexandra Badiu, published by Albert Whitman & Co., April 2021
Kirkus Reviews, online February 9, 2021, in print March 1, 2021 STARRED REVIEW
An Irishwoman and a radio telescope change astronomy forever.
“Does the galaxy have a sound?” asks the first line of this elegant biography. “Is it loud and full of thunderous booms? Soft murmurings, whooshing whispers?” Though written in prose, the narrative has a poetic sensibility, building a suspenseful read-aloud from the events of Burnell’s life. First having to fight her way into “the boys’ class” in the 1950s so she could learn physics, then later working to mount acres upon acres of wires to help construct a telescope, the young Jocelyn depicted exudes curiosity and enthusiasm. A showstopper of a spread celebrates the radio telescope’s 1967 completion: Precise technical lines appear in silhouette against a dusky, ethereal sky. Text and pictures work together to explain how a pulsing sound wave comes from a neutron star—a discovery that Burnell made after analyzing “three miles of paper.” Well-chosen similes illuminate fundamental concepts, backed by Badiu’s rich, celestial blues and purples. Frank discussion of the sexism Burnell faced leads into a hopeful note about her efforts to support young women in astronomy. Backmatter provides plain-language scientific definitions, a contextualizing author’s note, and recommended reading on women in physics. Burnell is depicted as White, all of her colleagues and mentors appear to be White men, and just one of her students (circa 1974) has brown skin.
As gorgeous as it is informative.
School Library Journal, in print March 2021 STARRED REVIEW
Parachini’s historical picture book spotlights the Irish astrophysicist Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b. 1943), who discovered the first radio pulsars while she was a research assistant at the University of Cambridge. The narrative showcases how Burnell discovered her love for astronomy and overcame sexism. As a graduate student, Burnell was part of a team that built a radio telescope that took two years to finish. The telescope allowed the team to collect sound data from neutron stars. Her discovery was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. Sadly, only the male members of her research team received this award. In 2018, Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She used the prize money of three million dollars to set up a fund for women who wanted to pursue physics. Badiu’s vibrant illustrations feature a palette that utilizes shades of blue, brown, and pink and a mixture of neutral, secondary, and primary colors. The lively art complements the text, creating a sense of openness and balance in its use of stars as a driving thematic motif. This book could be read in a science unit that emphasizes the empowering message that everyone can study STEM fields. The back matter contains a glossary, an author’s note, and a list of titles centered on women physicists and astrophysicists. VERDICT An inspiring picture book biography of an inquisitive girl who became a world-renowned scientist, told in accessible language.
HALF A GIRAFFE (2018):
The mixed-media illustrations, with their childlike depictions of animals in an imaginary African savanna scene … are joyous, vivid, and funny, especially in one of the climactic spreads, when the animals, large and small, get together to form “a mountain of…animal stairs” for Gisele. Small children also want to accomplish tasks beyond their abilities with the assistance and encouragement of wise and patient grown-ups, and this story will resonate.
Working together, these animal friends are good models for cooperative play.
–Kirkus Reviews (Picture book. 4-6)
Praise for THIS IS A SERIOUS BOOK (2016):
‘The meta-picture-book trend continues in this silly offering…. Together, text and art are sure to provoke laughs.’
“[This] book is just wonderful. So funny, wildly entertaining, fun for adults to read, engaging and laugh out loud for children. Picture book magic.”
–Leah Thaxton, Publisher Faber Children’s Books
“I ADORE this book!”
–Virginia Duncan, Publisher Greenwillow Books (Harpercollins US)
‘I’d love to work on your books, and wish I could publish more of them!’
–Sue Tarsky, former Publisher at Quarto
A lovely shout-out in the November issue of Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine: