Book Review: Faraway Worlds
Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson
Title: Faraway Worlds: Planets Beyond Our Solar System
Author: Paul Halpern, PhD
Illustrator: Lynette R. Cook
Reading Level: Ages 7-12
Retail Price: $16.95/$6.95
Explore and imagine living on worlds around distant stars through this fantastically illustrated and superbly written book.
The exciting recent discovery of an extrasolar planet in the habitable zone of its star is sure to have children asking how these planets are found, and what it might be like to live on them. Parents will be pleased to discover that author Paul Halpern, a physics professor at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia, and artist Lynette Cook explain and illustrate the answers to these questions in Faraway Worlds, published by Charlesbridge. Though written in 2004, because the book focuses on how planets are discovered and what they might be like, it will not be out-of-date until someone finds a way for humans to cross the distance to visit these extrasolar worlds.
Halpern employs creative and age-appropriate analogies to explain the challenges faced by astronomers searching for distant planets. For example, he writes, “If you stood in New York and held a basketball to represent our Sun, a basketball representing the closest star would be in Germany.” Cook then illustrates this analogy with clear and attractive art.
Every page is a delight to both read and view. Though concepts such as the Doppler effect and that starlight comes in colors are too advanced for younger readers, the concepts are accurately described in simple terms and illustrated with practical examples that will prepare these children for deeper understanding later. Older readers (and their parents!) will benefit by seeing these difficult concepts applied to solve real-world problems. All technical terms are explained in the text and included in a glossary.
One breathtaking illustration after another entice the reader to imagine what it would be like to live on one of these strange worlds. One set of images shows the same rugged terrain covered with snow and then steaming hot plumes as the planet’s “oval” (an easier word for children than elliptical!) orbit drives extreme temperature changes. Another depicts a space colony floating through the cloud layers of a gaseous planet. The description of the atmosphere on one of these worlds as smelling like “household cleaning fluids…cow manure…rotten eggs” is sure to have kids giggling and wrinkling their noses! But children are humorously told that there is “one good thing about being the first person on HD 2-b: you could give it a new name!”
Though Faraway Worlds is for children, adults may want to get a copy of this gorgeous, educational, and fascinating book for themselves. And before sharing the book with the kids in their lives, adults may want to check their handy star chart so they can show the kids where the constellation Pegasus (and the star 51 Pegasi, home to an exosolar planet) is in the night sky (south of Cassiopeia)!
© 2007 Marianne Dyson
NSS Featured Review for June 2007