• Happy birthday Norman Bridwell (Clifford the Big Red Dog), Doris Orgel (Sarah's Room), Elaine Landau (Popcorn!), Jan Spivey Gilchrist (The Great Migration), Sonya Sones (One of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies), and Art Spiegelman (Maus).
  • It’s the birth date of Richard Chase (1904–1988), The Jack Takes.
  • Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) was born on this day. Hence, it’s Susan B. Anthony Day! Read Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women’s Rights by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Amy June Bates.
  • It’s National Gum Drop Day. Read The Gum-Chewing Rattler by Joe Hayes, illustrated by Antonio Castro L.

Born on February 15, 1564, Galileo Galilei, Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, has often been called the man responsible for the birth of modern science. Even his name indicates his rock star status in the scientific world—he’s known by a single name only, just like Cher or Madonna.

In 1996, Peter Sís, an artist with incredible ability to explore history, turned his hand to presenting Galileo’s life to young readers, ages eight to twelve, in Starry Messenger: A book depicting the life of a famous scientist – mathematician – astronomer – philosopher – physicist. Although every now and then a picture book may be ideal for third to sixth grade readers, Sís has always created books—The Wall, Tibet, The Tree of Life—that best serve the child who can read novels, but who enjoys exploring complex picture books.

Sís begins his story with the common scientific misperception of the era—people believed the earth was the center of the universe. On a timeline throughout the book, he shows busts of the great thinkers like Aristotle and Copernicus. The latter began to think the earth moved around the sun, but could not prove it. In the city of Pisa, Galileo was born the same year as William Shakespeare. Studying at the University of Pisa, he eventually heard about telescopes and turned these “spy glasses” on the heavens, writing down his findings in a book called The Starry Messenger. Galileo became part of the Medici court, a famous author throughout Europe, and a controversial figure. Found guilty of heresy because he presented scientific ideas counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church, Galileo, as Sís notes, was finally pardoned three hundred years later.

As with all Peter Sís books, each illustration is a feast for the eyes, from the endpapers to the last page. Exquisitely detailed drawings provide so much information that readers can take hours poring over them. In fact, Sís does everything to slow down the reading/viewing process—some material is handwritten, some appears in circular notes, some has been printed on curves or sideways. All these details make the book look more like an ancient manuscript and all urge the eye to linger, savoring the details of these meticulous drawings.

Although Galileo’s life could be presented in many ways, Sís has focused this story on his persecution for his beliefs. Sís himself grew up in Czechoslovakia under the Soviet regime. Although his parents encouraged his artistic freedom, he found in art school “there was really no space for fantasy or individuality.” While creating a film about the 1984 Olympic Games, Sís visited Los Angeles and decided to remain in the United States so that he could explore whatever ideas he wanted to. He once said, “I think children should have choices, and I would like to participate in that growth.” Hence Sís brings his own personal experience to this impassioned account of a scientist persecuted for his ideas.

In Starry Messenger, Peter Sís makes the life of Galileo attractive and understandable for both children and adults. Some adults urge children to use a magnifying glass with the book—to focus on all the intricate details of the drawings. Anyone who spends time with this Caldecott Honor Book will learn a great deal about science and also about art.

Here’s a page from Starry Messenger:


Originally posted February 15, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Astronomy, Award Winning, Caldecott, History, Politics, Science
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Starry Messenger


  1. Autumn says:

    This is a fantastic picture book that I think people of all ages can really appreciate thanks to the wonderful pictures. Thanks for the background information on the author! It really widens my appreciation for the book.

  2. Erica S. says:

    I discovered Peter Sis last semester and absolutely fell in love. His illustrations are exquisite, and they really do bring new life to topics that have often been covered many times before as well as illuminate new topics for exploration (as in “The Wall”). I just read “The Dreamer” and thought it was so beautiful – I spent so long just looking at the cover alone, not to mention the illustrations inside!

  3. Rodney D says:

    I so enjoy books of this type that bring biography to young readers and make them accessible and enjoyable. Especially in books such as this, where the illustrations and text seem to work so organically

  4. Sam L. says:

    Children need to be introduced to science when they are younger. This book offers a way for children to learn about one of the great scientists, and children get to encounter some lovely illustrations.

  5. Ashley Barry says:

    I too discovered Peter Sis last semester and I fell in love with his work. I read “The Wall” and was thoroughly impressed!

  6. suzi w. says:

    I adore Peter Sis. I purchased the Prague book for my father when it came out as he has good memories from college of Prague. I even had a chance to hear him speak once. He is a genius. Thanks for highlighting such a man and such a book. (My father owns this one too.)

  7. Randy Coates says:

    Sounds like a fascinating book. Just the other day, I was teaching science in a grade 6 classroom and one of the students yelled out “Galileo” spontaneously. Nice to know that students know of him.

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