Of the many stories about Albert Einstein that are available for young readers, the new picture book by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky is one of the best. On a Beam of Light portrays a little boy who is loved and encouraged to follow his own interests and his own way of thinking.
“Over 100 years ago, as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by a river, a baby was born. His parents named him Albert,” the story begins. Radunsky’s gestural watercolor-and-ink illustrations capture the spirit of young Albert, as he turned one and two and three and “hardly said a word at all.”
As his parents worried about his development, they loved him and saw him as different but dear. He was a quiet boy who spent his days observing and wondering and thinking. In other words, he was a scientist. Reading Berne’s carefully chosen stories of Albert’s childhood, the young reader begins to understand how this quiet boy became one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century.
The illustrations slow the reader down in a way that is deeply pleasurable. On a page where Einstein is thinking about atoms, Radunsky uses dots of color to paint the whole spread. This joyful departure into pointillism makes the idea of atoms understandable for the young reader. Another favorite is a painting of Einstein, floating in his sailboat, letting his mind wander.
Albert’s questions frame the heart of this winning book. First, he noticed that the compass always pointed north and he wanted to understand why. While riding his bike, he wondered what it would be like to ride on a beam of sunlight. Reading through these stories, it’s impossible not to be inspired, not only by Einstein himself but also by this dazzling account of his life and imagination.