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By Walter Cook
Explore a universe of stories at the Santa Fe Public Library.
You don’t need a flying saucer to explore the universe. You’ll find fantasmagorical modes of transportation conveniently placed at your Santa Fe Public Library. Books — whether on audio CD, downloadable audio, downloadable print or ordinary paper — are your gateway to the stars.
This year, Santa Fe Public Library is celebrating “A Universe of Stories” during its 2019 Summer Reading Program for youth. The goal of this program is to help families make books part of their summer experience and perhaps build or maintain reading skill levels for the following school year.
Beginning in June, the three branches of Santa Fe Public Library will have musical programs for babies (in Spanish and English), as well as story times. For older children, there will be stage performances, telescopes, puppets shows, strange and unusual animal visits, and craft activities to delight youthful would-be astronomers. And, of course, there are library books that complement our “Universe of Stories” theme.
A well-seasoned young reader can independently dive into a subject — such as space, astronomy or even science fiction — enjoy it, evaluate it and discuss it. The Santa Fe Public Library has much for the independent and curious reader to explore. But before children reach that stage of reading development, how can parents help their kids make use of and enjoy books?
The first step is to make books come alive! Read to your children, play with stories, and enliven each character with the sound of your voice. A little tiny mouse has a little squeaky voice and a big old draft horse has a big deep voice — you must become a little mouse and an old draft horse. What would a little green Martian sound like? Have fun with this!
One of the programs the library will offer this summer will involve solar telescopes. Young children are aware of the sun and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the moon and stars. They have a clear, eye-level understanding of the walls of their home or the legs of their adults, but how much do they understand about the worlds beyond their home?
How about the moon? The perennial favorite, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown starts with a bedroom in primary colors and moves beyond the room, out the window, to the sky, moon, stars and back again. The author has taken that which is familiar and added a moon and stars. This book, which especially appeals to young children, is also available as a bilingual board book, Goodnight Moon/Buenos Noches, Luna, with the same charming illustrations by Clement Hurd.
Kitten’s First Full Moon, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, is an excellent choice for parents looking to introduce the moon to younger children. Our kitten notices the moon following her as she walks; she sees the moon in the branches of the trees and sees the moon reflected in a pond. The child experiencing this book for the first time will not truly understand what the kitten is experiencing without a little guidance from their adult. On a clear night, under a full moon, walk beneath the trees and watch the moon follow you. Look for the reflection of the moon in a puddle of water. What happens when you try to touch the moon’s reflection in the water? Make the story come alive! A Spanish version of the book, La Primera Luna Llena de Gatita, is also available at the library.
Nonfiction books (based upon facts) and science fiction have a common element: description. In order to move into the world of science fiction or scientific information, the author must describe and help the reader understand that which is beyond immediate reality. The author’s description, and your conversation with your child, will help him or her move from the walls of the home to the bigger world of Earth and the universe beyond. Your Alien and Your Alien Returns by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Goro Fujita, are inviting stories for younger children that fit perfectly with this idea. In Your Alien, an alien from outer space visits our protagonist and becomes a friend. We become aware of a world outside our own, and, in Your Alien Returns, our hero leaves a familiar home to visit another planet. Illustrations, text and your discussion will enliven this new and strange place.
As reading skills advance, The Magic School Bus series is enduring nonfiction and a popular choice, particularly for children in the 6 to 8 age range. In one book in the series, The Magic School Bus Takes a Moonwalk, we again move from our familiar world to the unfamiliar surface of the moon. Perhaps the most magical aspect of this series is the format. Each book can be read three times for three stories. First, there is the dialogue among the characters, next the narrative and finally the facts. That writing style elicits delight for many readers. You can help your child develop delight in literature, a gift that will last a lifetime.
As soon as you walk through the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, you know you have entered a new world. The characters move from a typical room in summer to a winter forest. Vivid description defines the look and feel of the forest. The author continues to define this new world of Narnia throughout the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia series for older readers.
If books located on the shelves of the library had an address, it would be the Dewey Decimal System. Understanding details of this system is not really that important. Knowing that books about the moon, sun, solar system, universe, black holes, comets, stars, etc., are all in one area of the library shelves is important. Ask a librarian, “Where are the books about astronomy?” They will guide you.
There, you will find books and activities to help your child make sense of the universe. How hot is the sun? How dense is Venus? What are the rings of Saturn made up of? There is so much to explore. As a parent, you will learn more about the universe than you ever thought you wanted to know. The only problem, perhaps, is if your child asks, “What comes after the universe?” That might be a question more suited to a doctoral thesis!
The library also has a number of astronomy activity books. Indeed, there are activity books to help kids explore all scientific disciplines. Astronomy Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Activities by Michelle Nichols stands out. The author will help you and your child make an eclipse. She’ll also help wrap your mind around the size of our solar system. If we were to count steps from the planets to planet Mercury would be 62 steps to the Sun, Venus would be 54 steps from Mercury, and Earth would be 45 steps from Venus. Given those ratios, how far do you think Pluto would be? Would we have to walk all the way to Albuquerque? These are just two of her incredibly fun activities, which will help you and your children learn a lot as well.
Parents sometimes ask for stories about adventures aboard rocket ships. Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet is a friendly chapter book of about 200 pages especially suitable for kids ages 8 to 12. In the story, a group of friends befriend a neighbor who happens to be from another planet. Together, they board a rocket ship and fly to a new planet. What could be more fun? Again, our protagonists live in a normal world; they step in to a rocket and find themselves in an entirely new world with mushrooms growing everywhere.
More typical travel to other planets in books for youth involves dimensional shifts. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, a Newbery-award winner from 1962, is one book that should be on every reading list. Our protagonists live a typical suburban life but set upon a multidimensional journey to save one girl’s father. With the help of entertaining and bizarre characters, our heroes are transported across space and time. We know beyond a doubt that we are in a new universe when one character transforms into a flying carpet-like leaf. Can our heroes save the father? Read the book to find out, and read the entire Wrinkle in Time series!
On a more humorous level, the Moon Base Alpha series by Stuart Gibbs is proving to be popular with youth. This “save-the-universe-space-opera” is a fun-filled riotous journey that begins on a moon base, without pesky parents to interrupt the hero’s journey!
An incredible array of subjects is available at your library. Summer is the time when your child is most freely able to choose and explore the subjects that ignite their own unique imaginations. Santa Fe Public Library is there to help guide them. We make it fun with performances, activities and reading incentives. And it’s all free! Visit the library’s calendar of events at santafelibrary.org/children or the Tumbleweeds summer calendar, for a full listing of activities. There truly is “A Universe of Stories” at your Santa Fe Public Library for explorers of all ages.
Walter Cook is a Youth Services Librarian for the Santa Fe Public Library, where all of the books he recommends in this article can be found.