Written and Illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
(Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012)
In seventeenth century Italy, Galileo Galilei published a radical astronomical theory: the planets rotate around the sun. Although this theory was based on observable fact, his writings contradicted the Catholic Church’s vision of an earth-centered universe. The pope placed Galileo, who had spent decades studying physics, astronomy, and biology, who had invented a telescope and a microscope, under house arrest for the remainder of his life.
I Galileo, Bonnie Christensen’s picture-book biography of the astronomer, skillfully blends science, early modern history, and poignancy. Her first-person account of the scientist’s life transports readers from his happy boyhood as a music teacher’s son to his career as a scholar and inventor to his final, solitary years under house arrest. The voice Christensen gives Galileo is lyrical and confident and conveys his sense of wonder about the universe. Meanwhile, her illustrations also capture the beauty of science. The bit of night sky with the stars and moon atop many of I, Galileo’s spreads suggests that magic and science may not be so far apart after all. Her illustrations also allow readers to glimpse the enormous and tiny worlds Galileo revealed through two of his inventions: the telescope and the microscope.
I, Galileo is a trifle text-heavy for the youngest readers and listeners: with its descriptions of various scientific concepts and experiments, it often reads more like a middle-grade picture book. Still, it is possible to enjoy this picture-book biography on many levels, including that of one person’s intense commitment to the truth in the face of threats, punishment, and suppression. But suppression doesn’t last forever. As Christensen’s Galileo says, “The truth has a way of escaping into the light.”
Dorothy A. Dahm