In a book that manages to be both cosmic and grounded at the same time, author-illustrator Claire A. Nivola explores no less than the notion of one’s very soul. This isn’t a picture book that addresses merely birth and death. It’s a story that suggests that we are beings who originate from stars; we enter a “river of time” on Earth; and we return to the “elders” at the star homes from which we came.
This was the last thing I expected from Nivola, who tends to pen picture book biographies or, in the case of Orani (2011), autobiographies. It’s a striking story, one that manages to avoid vague New-Age tropes; any book about originating from stars runs that risk. This is a tender, deeply contemplative story, one that communicates a sincere reverence and wonder for life. It leaves readers silent, pondering.
When the Star Child—depicted as a brilliantly white flame emanating from a ball of gas in space—expresses a curiosity for life on Earth, his elders tell him that he may visit but he must be born as a human child. Thus begins his life as a baby, born into a loving family. While one of the elders narrates the tale, we see the boy’s adolescence and then adulthood, eventually witnessing a man who has his own family. His “always-shifting life” causes him to forget his origins as a Star Child.
In this 40-page book, Nivola manages to capture the exhilaration, confusion and even pain of life. At the time of his death, the man finds it “hard to say goodbye to that strangely beautiful world.” Since he yearns to be home, he leaves, yet feels tremendous gratitude for having lived the life he did.
Nivola’s illustrations are rich and intricate. She brings readers some lush spreads of the boy’s life, ones that celebrate with color, details, texture and precision the immense scope of a full life and the vibrant planet on which we live.
It’s an unusual and well-executed story, perfect for reading one-on-one with a child and for igniting some deep discussions afterwards.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.