Two Stellar Stories: The Fire of Stars

Words do double duty in Kirsten Larson’s The Fire of Stars. Larson’s words not only tell the story of the early years in the life of Cecilia Payne, they also keep the reader mindful of the field of astronomy where Cecilia made her mark.

When Cecilia moves to London her SPHERE feels smaller and her school is a BLACK HOLE without math and science. Then a science teacher appears in her ORBIT with encouragement. When Cecilia later studies physics, she is the only woman in a GALAXY of men, but around 1925, she makes a STELLAR discovery—that stars are mostly hydrogen and helium.

The story of star formation parallels the story of Payne’s formation as a scientist, and a fuller explanation of that process is provided in the back matter, along with additional insights regarding Cecilia’s discovery, and a timeline of her life and accomplishments.

Illustrator Katherine Roy masterfully reflects Cecilia’s emotions and experiences, and also creates scientific depictions of star formation, displaying an ability to stretch into widely differing content. The dust jacket combines a scientific image with a whimsical figurative one. Note to Chronicle: Using that illustration for the book’s cover would have been a gift to its readers.