Sunday, March 8, 2009

When You Wish Upon a Star...

Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954

updated by Chris Dolan in 1977

Rey's book on the night sky is not only charming, but informative. Though in places it seems rather technical Rey's friendly drawings (like the one above) make the text approachable. This is an excellent resource for young and old who crave an understanding of the stars and constellations. In the intro, Rey explains that his book will show readers how to recognize the stars and constellations that one can see year round in the middle and northern United States (about lat. 40 degrees). Because, of course, the night sky looks rather different if you are in Perth, Australia.

Rey uses the term "picture book in the sky" to describe how the constellations form images that readers will soon recognize. He begins with the Big Dipper and then shows how that constellation is part of The Great Bear. These are only two of the many constellations Rey identifies--more than 15 in the book. Early on in the book he shows how some stars are brighter than others and his maps depict that. He also teaches about the planets and other scientific concepts like light years.
Included are several panels of the night sky first with stars in their positions for that time of year and then a second image with the constellations mapped out for easy reference. He provides viewing charts and a handy list of tips for star-gazing outdoors. My edition of the book has an updated planet finder showing locations through 2006, though I suspect as long as this is in print there may be a more current chart.

The book is interactive providing opportunities to quiz oneself on the constellation identification. Rey also includes the mythological stories of some of the constellations which I believe really helps me connect the image in the sky to something I can remember. One example is The Andromeda Story; another is the Orion story.

As for me, I'll always remember Cassiopeia because of a John Cusack film -- Serendipity. In the film, Cusack points out to Kate Beckinsale that the freckles on her arm match the famous constellation and he describes it for her.

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