cover image Starry Messenger

Starry Messenger

Peter Sis. Farrar Straus Giroux, $18 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37191-3

Extraordinary pictures light up this tribute to Galileo, telling the story of his discoveries, rise to prominence and excoriation by the Church. Sis (Follow the Dream), an experienced and sophisticated chronicler of history's visionaries, outdoes himself with his illustrations. Detailed and delicate, ingeniously conceived, his paintings convey abstractions with an immediate impact. The artist expresses the simultaneous wonder and prevision of Galileo's celestial observations, for example, in a luminous multipaneled composition: in the center, Galileo trains his telescope on the moon; surrounding panels replicate Galileo's notes about and sketches of the lunar surface. Other paintings take inspiration from contemporaneous maps and treatises; still others borrow historical imagery to convey the loneliness of the censored scientist. Handwritten passages from Galileo's own works embellish the pages and supply information missing from the text. Even with the powerful art, however, this volume does not open up Galileo's story to the uninitiated: the brief text oversimplifies the issues, even for a picture book, and seems to presume the reader's awareness of the historical significance of Galileo's struggles. While the book's usefulness may be limited, its strengths are not: it is a book with deep if not broad appeal. Ages 6-up. (Oct.)