Black Holes and Parallel Universes: Science Fiction Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Universe Above and Below Us in “Manfish,” “Reaching for the Moon” and “Gravity”


Myra here.

We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. For September and October, we are featuring Black Holes and Parallel Universes: Marvels of Science and Speculative Fiction.

Iphigene has outdone herself with this beautiful widget she created.
Iphigene has outdone herself with this beautiful widget she created.

I brought these three beautiful picturebooks together as I feel that they portray the beauty of the universe that exists above and below our feet. Well in space, there is really no such thing, which makes this a questionable contention. Regardless, I think you know what I mean.

IMG_6375Buzz Aldrin: Reaching For The Moon

Text By: Buzz Aldrin Paintings ByWendell Minor
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

When I found out that Wendell Minor has illustrated this gorgeous picturebook biography, I knew that I had to find it for myself. The story is told in Buzz Aldrin’s voice, and what a solid, confident, articulate voice it is.

The story begins with Edwin Eugene’s (Buzz’s real name) childhood until the time that he and Neil Armstrong set foot upon the moon and planted the American flag into the moon’s soil.


What struck me the most were little anecdotes that demonstrated young Buzz’s tenacity. One of which can be seen in the photo shown above. Buzz would rather hang tight to his bucket of stones and drown, than give any of his collection away to his friend who pushed him off the dock. He was also a man of action – continually involved in sports – those which involve team work (such as football) and those in which he could excel on his own (like swimming and pole vaulting). It was not surprising, then, that he joined West Point so that eventually he could be in the Air Force.


After serving his country in the Korean War, and piloting planes in Germany that flew faster than the speed of sound, he was inspired to join the space program through his friend, Ed White, who shared that most astronauts were pilots just like them. He was not fazed by the rejections he received from NASA when he first applied to become an astronaut. Once again, Buzz’s sense of determination shines through as he took it upon himself to go back to school, and eventually earned a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics, and the rest as they say is history.


There were several lines in this picturebook that drew me gently to it:

… It took us less than two hours to go all the way around the world.

But the speed didn’t seem real to me. I felt as if I were gently floating while the Earth spun beneath me. I could see the great curve of my home planet: the brown mass of Africa, night falling over the Indian ocean, a shower of green meteors tumbling into the Australian desert.

This kind of experience is life-changing. It alters one’s perspective of the world – seeing its expanse, its beauty, and knowing how tiny human beings are in the overall nature of things. More importantly, reading the above passage made me realize how the universe lives within each one of us.

For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, you may want to explore this extremely comprehensive downloadable PDF link, an Educators’ Resource Guide on Walking On The Moon. This Tom Hanks iMax movie also made use of Buzz Aldrin’s words: “Magnificent Desolation”.

Manfish: A Story Of Jacques CousteauIMG_6369

Written by: Jennifer Berne Illustrated by: Eric Puybaret
Published by: Chronicle Books, 2008
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I love everything about this picturebook: from the typography to the overall layout and design, from the lyrical text to the luminous art that made me feel as I was breathing underwater.

Jacques Cousteau was born in France. From the time that he was a little boy, he was already in love with the water. He has always longed to breathe underwater and fly in the universe of the sea.


I like how Jacques was also portrayed to have other interests such as building machines, writing books that he illustrates himself, and making movies. I particularly enjoyed seeing how all these interests came together in the end, as he eventually learned how to create his aqualung that allowed him to breathe underwater for a long enough time to film the wonders that he discovered in the bottom of the ocean – farther and deeper than any man has ever gone.


Jacques passion for the universe below us has likewise made him a strong, credible, and highly articulate advocate for the environmental protection of the seas, as he witnessed with his own eyes how sea creatures and all the underwater life forms are gradually dying and becoming extinct with the ignorance and unmindfulness of human beings. There is also a detailed backmatter that teachers can further explore, in terms of resources, as well as suggested activities to follow Cousteau’s lead in photographing or filming what the young reader may be passionate about. This is a book that one can drown in – such beauty, such marvel, such wondrous possibilities.


Text and Illustrations By: Jason Chin
Published by: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, 2014
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

When I saw this book being featured by fellow Nonfiction Wednesday enthusiasts, I knew it was the perfect book to feature for our science theme.

If you are expecting a book filled with little notes about gravity, peppered with factoids scribbled in the margins – you will do Jason Chin a horrible injustice. With startlingly-sparse text, Chin managed to convey the wonders of gravity in powerful visual elements, as he plays with perspective and experiments with a book-within-a-book format; add the inception-like element to the narrative, it’s almost philosophical! Check out the first four pages of the book (including the title page) to get what I mean:





When I realized what he has done in these first few pages, all I can say was “Oh wow, oh wow.” And I had to flip the pages back and forth to understand what he has done here. It is so deceptively simple, it’s brilliant – making me wonder how could anyone not have thought of this before?

For teachers who are keen on having text to provide anchors to their lesson, you’d be happy to note that there is a considerable back matter (beautifully illustrated as well) that provides more information about gravity without overwhelming the senses. Jason Chin has also listed down several web resources that you can explore to teach the concept of gravity.



Reading Challenge Update: 258-260 (25)


Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 55-57 (25)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Universe Above and Below Us in “Manfish,” “Reaching for the Moon” and “Gravity”

  1. Gravity sounds awesome! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love hearing about Buzz Aldrin, will see if our library has the book, Myra, & I’ve seen the other two-just wonderful books! I grew up watching the Cousteau tv shows, my first real look at the ocean since I’d never experienced it. Manfish is a good tribute to him.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] Mapping The Ocean’s Depths (and Secrets) – Gathering Books

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