It’s been a while since I’ve featured a children’s story on Ekostories, but after this month’s spotlight on environmental artists and last week’s look at the need for hopeful tales in uncertain times, I thought it would be good to cover a story that employs both art and words to convey wonder to the next generation. Written by Elin Kelsey and featuring artwork by Soyeon Kim, You are Stardust from Owlkids Books is a picture book filled with tiny tales about the fascinating and unexpected ways that humans are part of nature.
The book begins with the line, “you are stardust”, a metaphor and scientific truth popularized by the late Carl Sagan (he actually said star-stuff, but stardust seems to be attached to him as well). With each page, Kelsey reveals the surprising linkages between the world and our very being across space and time: The salt in our systems is akin to the salt in the ocean; we down the same water dinosaurs drank millions of years ago; nature’s elemental forces also courses through our bodies and minds.
Kim’s dioramas accompanies each fascinating factoid, crafted from a multitude of real materials with techniques of fine sketching and digital compositing. The book ends where it began, with a connection back to the cosmos; only this time the line reads, “WE are all stardust.”
The Strands that Links Us All
It’s not possible to explore You Are Stardust without discussing Soyeon’s Kim’s artwork. Each single and double-page spread in the book is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, packed with details and textures both rich and varied. Here is a video showing the amount of work that went into each diorama:
Perhaps what I appreciate most are the subtle and thoughtful details that went into every scene. Strands of falling diamond fragments are in the background of each diorama, reminders of the unbroken link between us and the stars. Far from a distraction, the fishing wires and yarn that help support the artwork structure reinforce the idea that tangible connections exists between surprising things: Child and flower, sea and womb, bats and birds and whales . Perhaps the highest praise I can offer is that Kim’s three-dimensional and multi-textured works remind me of Jeannie Baker’s murals in Window and Belonging, children’s books and picture poems I have previously explored on Ekostories. I can imagine kids spending time pouring over each page of Stardust, discovering their own secret connections in each image.
Children and the Poetic Imagination
“Be still. Listen. Like you, the Earth breathes.”
More understated but equally powerful is the picture book’s text. Kelsey’s short punchy lines are delivered with an air of reverential wonder and delight and help spark comparisons between things that are ordinarily disparate. Hair is linked to autumn leaves. Children’s ability for speech is equated to baby birds’ propensity for song. Our bodies are akin to the earth in the sense that they are both entire ecosystems.
These personal appeals for children to see themselves as “the other” are refreshing and necessary in an information-saturated world where opportunities to exercise imagination are becoming increasingly rare. Bordering on poetry, Stardust’s text reminds me of an article that explores how children may be innately attuned to this way of thinking:
“This ability of children to easily enter into the life of something other than themselves – to exchange their own mind for the mind of another – grows not only out of their innate playfulness, but out of a fluidity and plasticity of thought that is, in many ways, an inborn poetic gift. It is, perhaps, a way of seeing in which the seer does not distinguish between herself and the nature outside of her, an imaginative grasping of the whole of life before it becomes separated into subject matters and academic disciplines. One might think of it as a wilderness of thought that encompasses a multitude of growing worlds, each connected and dependent on the other – a truly ecological means of thinking and perceiving.” (A Wilderness of Thought: Childhood and the poetic imagination)
By tapping into this unique way of making sense of the world, Kelsey’s words and metaphors help encourage children to think more ecologically, to cultivate worldviews that transcend rigid notions of the human/nature dichotomy. For me as an old and jaded adult, it serves as a warm and welcome reminder that hard boundaries between the two are ultimately illusory: What we do to nature we do unto ourselves.
As I reread You Are Stardust, I regard it as a culmination of many of the themes I’ve explored over the past several weeks on Ekostories. Like Greg Mort’s Art of Stewardship, Stardust connects the cosmic and the microscopic, revelling in the connections between worlds large and small. Kim’s work resemble van’t Riet’s “bioramas” in how stunning visuals can attract audiences to look more closely at the ideas behind the art. Like Gorman’s whimsical tales, Kelsey’s storytelling prowess works to tantalize the imagination. Finally, Stardust’s fusion of visual splendour with grounded science reminds me, once again, of the interdependence between humanity’s two great disciplines, that they emerge from the same wellspring of curiosity and creativity. I’ll end off this week and this piece with a note and wish from the author:
“The goal of the book is to inspire those magical, exploratory conversations that happen when life pauses for a moment and you find yourself curled up with your little one, sharing a book rich with ideas.”
- Children and Nature: My Neighbour Totoro
- The Art of Stewardship, by Greg Mort
- X Ray Nature Photography, by Arie van’t Riet
- Window and Belonging, by Jeannie Baker
- A Boy and His Plants: The Curious Garden
- Home, Here, Us: Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot
Kelsey, Elin. (2012). You Are Stardust. Owlkid Books Inc: Toronto, Canada.