There’s a terrific line at the beginning of Peter Sis’s book:
“They did not doubt or wonder if this was true. They just followed tradition.”
Following tradition rather than thinking deeply is so often the course of least resistance. In a way it’s a necessary evil, to follow some of the traditions that surround us. But the wonder is that there are people who are able, in the midst of life, to see traditions and separate the silver from the dross.
Galileo was one of those remarkable people who looked at something as commonplace as the night sky, and, while marvelling at what he saw, questioned the way he saw it.
Starry Messenger takes its name from the book Galileo himself produced.
It’s the story of Galileo’s life and his work, beginning at his birth when:
“In the city of Pisa, a little boy was born with stars in his eyes. His parents named him Galileo.”
This beautifully designed book then follows Galileo’s life from his invention of the telescope to publication of his book, to his incarceration by the church, and finally to his death.
It’s one of the great stories of science.
There are extracts from Galileo’s own writings on most pages as well as timelines and interesting additional facts.
But it’s still as story that can be read with young children because the story stands alone. (When we bought this book in 2004, Max was 4 years old and Thomas was 17, and the careful design meant that they could read the book together and both find it interesting. There’s not much better to bond over than shared knowledge, I think.)
The pictures have a nice medieval feel to them – they're cheerful and evocative of the time Galileo lived. There’s plenty to look at and find on each page.
This is a lovely book for:
Talking about progress and learning – Galileo learned, the scientific community learned, and ultimately we all learned. Because one person dared to think deeply.
Talking about the stars – Galileo, of course, lived in a time without significant light pollution. A camping trip to a remote place can be a magnificent way to understand what Galileo might have seen. Starry Messenger is a beautiful way to begin thinking about stars.
Talking about tolerance – fear when coupled with power is a dangerous thing. The reaction of the church to Galileo’s findings is presented in a way that is uncompromising but respectful.
Talking about courage – Galileo’s determination to hold to the truths he discovered in the face of overwhelming authority and power is inspirational.
From Galileo’s own writings (translated to English), included in the book, come these beautiful thoughts:
“…If they [the ancient philosphers] had seen what we see, they would have judged as we judge.”*
“It is a beautiful thing, and most gratifying to the sight to behold the body of the moon …”
“In the sciences the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man.”
* Galileo’s first telescope magnified by 8 times. Fairly quickly he increased that to 20 times. Now, even a moderately priced home telescope has a magnification of 400 – 500 times. Imagine what Galileo would have thought of that!
(I have a few of Peter Sis's books and love them – two that are on my wish list are
Tibet Through the Red Box and The Conference of the Birds)
Names in this book - Galileo