Starry Messenger:
Galileo Galilei

by Peter Sís

Peter Sís's Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 8-Adult

A picture book biography of Galileo Galilei

One of my fondest memories is of watching my young daughter be read to.

Her eyes would fly about the page, taking it all in.

Trying to absorb Peter Sís's Starry Messenger, I found my own adult eyes doing the exact same thing.

A single Sís page might contain all of the following:

  • simple narrative
  • a visual timeline
  • detailed images with a sophisticated Where's Waldo quality
  • quotes and facts in a scripted, circular font orbiting a central image

He won a 1997 Caldecott Honor for his efforts.

Galileo, of course, was scientist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, physicist, and artist as well, in 16th and 17th century Italy. Sís focuses on this genius's pursuit of knowledge and, in particular, his willingness to question and challenge the beliefs of the day.

Wisely, considering his audience, he starts with Galileo Galilei as a child.

The book captures Galileo's drive to understand the universe and our physical place in it. About 2/3 of the way through, Sís begins to document how Galileo's fame - a result of the knowledge he was bringing to people - began to cause the powerful Catholic Church to feel threatened.

You see, Galileo's work was in conflict with a literal reading of the Bible. He found himself charged, tried, found guilty and sentenced for the truths he discovered and shared.

Sís clearly identifies with Galileo, having grown up himself an aspiring artist in Communist Czechoslovakia, where his drive to express himself was similarly stifled. (A story he tells in The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, reviewed on this site.)

Galileo looking at the sky

If Galileo seems at all a remote figure, consider that it took the Church until 1992 to pardon him. Though it was originally the title of one of the great man's publications, Sís properly ascribes the title Starry Messenger to Galileo himself.

Webmaster's note: It's certainly not for the youngest kiddies, but the movie Agora is the terrific tale of Hypatia, a Greek woman and scholar said to have contemplated earth's place in the universe some 1000 years before Galileo and herself ran afoul of the Church.

More science picture books.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

More Caldecott honorees.

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