“Wish I knew what you were looking for Might have known what you would find” -- Kilbey/Jansson, “Under the Milky Way”
“A black hole is nothing to look at. Literally. If you could somehow take a close-up picture of a black hole, it wouldn’t be one for the scrapbook. It would just be blank…and black.
“The blackness of black holes is peculiar: although there is plenty of light within a black hole, you can’t see it from the outside. Yet there’s no wall physically blocking the light or bouncing it back in. Instead, gravity keeps the light contained.”
Years ago, when I moved to my farm in Sebastopol, I was in for a great surprise. On those clear northern California nights, I learned that I could see the Milky Way clearly splashed across the sky above, in a way that I’d never seen it before. Going outside in the middle of a moonless night, and staring upward, blew me away. So, what turns you on? It’s a new semester, and I’m teaching a new class in children’s and YA nonfiction. My students will have a lot of latitude in choosing award-winning and brand-new nonfiction titles to read and write about. Booktalk about. Book trailer about.
In looking at children’s and YA nonfiction as a vehicle for encouraging recreational reading and as a tool for enhancing education, I think about strategies for selling kids and educators on nonfiction. On helping them choose a book to read. While preparing for this class, in putting together lists from ALA, NCTE, IRA, etc., etc., I created a visual document with the covers of the nonfiction I’ve written about over the past decade.
For the most part, it provides a pretty cool visual impression of who I am, with its heavy representation of American history, Civil Rights, environmentalism, women’s history, and guy stuff. But I was reminded the other day that it is equally exciting to learn about a topic in which I have no current interest, no prior knowledge. I was all dressed up (like at an ALA conference), when I walked into the Steinway Piano Gallery on the 150th birthday of Claude Debussy, a guy whose name I’ve long known…and…err…that’s about all I’ve ever known about him.
An hour and a half later, after an amazing music-filled lecture about Debussy by famed pianist/teacher/broadcaster David Dubal, I walked out of that gallery having learned more than anyone else in the audience…because I knew less than anybody when we all streamed in there for Professor Dubal’s lecture. I was turned on by the tunes and the facts.
And so it was that, in digging through the accumulations for a nonfiction book to read the next day, I was feeling a bit more adventurous than normal about choosing a book on a topic about which I knew virtually nothing. That’s exactly where my knowledge of black holes was that day. I’d long known the term…and that’s about it. I guess, I also sort of knew that they were out in space and that things could disappear into them.
Seventy-two mind-boggling and colorful pages later, I knew an astoundingly large amount about black holes. What is so exceptional about the author’ s presentation of this topic is that she utilizes concepts with which we are already familiar – such as stars, whirlpools, and gravity pulling down a pop fly on the baseball diamond – to explain how black holes are not exactly the same as this or that but that you can begin to get a sense of what they are by knowing stars, whirlpools, and the manner in which that pop fly comes back to earth.
Even as an adult, a black hole is a bit of a challenge to get my head around. But at least now I know that there is a black hole at the center of the Milky Way – one of those facts about which I was stunningly ignorant just the day before yesterday. Who knows what I might learn about next.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA
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