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Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei    by Peter Sis order for
Starry Messenger
by Peter Sis
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000 (1996)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Caldecott Honor Book Starry Messenger is a celebration of the courageous genius of Galileo Galilei, and seems to me most suitable for older kids, at least eight and up. It puts the scientist's life in context with the power of the Catholic Church in Europe (and especially in the city states of Italy). Galileo was born in Pisa in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare's birth and Michelangelo's death. In those days, typhus and bubonic plague killed many.

The book does not provide great detail of Galileo's life, but gives snippets of information (on topics like his Laws of Falling and Floating Objects) that entice further investigation. Some of the text is provided through a spidery font that looks like handwriting, and must be read sideways and in spirals (though some will like this, it might irritate others and is definitely hard on the eyes.) Apparently Galileo published his observations through his Spyglass (telescope) in a book he called The Starry Messenger.

Peter Sis re-creates for us some of what Galileo saw ('huge prominences, deep valleys and chasms' on the moon, sunspots, four planets revolving about Jupiter) and how it led him to the conclusion that the earth is not the center of the universe. We learn that his book was widely distributed and even translated into Chinese, before the Church found him to be guilty of heresy and placed under house arrest. He died in 1642 and was officially pardoned in 1992 for being right.

Starry Messenger teaches an important lesson - that the authorities are not always just - as well as conveying the excitement of the earthshaking discoveries made by a man 'born with stars in his eyes'. It's a work of art to be explored by adults and children together, at school or at home.

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