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STAR OF THE PARTY: THE SOLAR SYSTEM CELEBRATES!

by JAN CARR

Illustrated by JUANA MEDINA

Crown Books for Young Readers

Written by Jan Carr Illustrated by Juana Medina

 

 When the planets realize that their beloved Sun is 4.6 billion years old, they decide to throw a birthday party to celebrate. Who should they invite? All the planets from the solar system, the ones who love Sun best!

LET'S START WITH – THE TITLE!

Carl Sagan as a young professor at Cornell University

STAR OF THE PARTY is the perfect title. But it wasn't the first one I came up with. For a long time I called the story BILLIONS OF BIRTHDAYS. When I was in college, there was a famous astronomer, Carl Sagan, who taught at my university. Though I never got to take his course, I used to see Professor Sagan when he came to pick up his son from the daycare center where I did my student teaching. Sagan had a popular TV show, and he often used to talk about "billions and billions of stars." That inspired me! Though we ended up changing the title, I kept the phrase "billions and billions" in the story. Can you find it in the book?

IS THIS BOOK NON-FICTION OR FICTION?

Some facts about the sun and planets. Art by Juana Medina

When you read this book, you might be a little confused – is it non-fiction (factual) or fiction (a story)? What are some clues?

 

Clue # 1: There are facts in the front matter and back matter, and sprinkled throughout the story. That would make it non-fiction, right? Not exactly.

Clue #2: Planets don't wear party hats or feather boas. They don't have conversations or plan parties. So that would make it fiction, right?

 

Some people call this type of book "Informational Fiction," and that's a good description. It's fiction, but with information woven in. Why did I choose to write a book about the solar system as Informational Fiction? Because it's fun! It's an easy way to digest information, and it helps kids (and me!) remember.

WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK

Illustration by Juana Medina

When I was a child, I used to look up at all the stars that dotted the sky. The universe was so vast, it was hard for me to fathom. Today, there are still many things about astronomy I don't understand. So I decided to start small, close to home, and read about our own solar system. As I read about our planets, all revolving around our sun, they seemed like a family to me, and I started to think of the planets as having personalities based on their characteristics. Maybe, because Jupiter is so big and gassy, he's a show-off. Maybe Mercury, the smallest, doesn't like big, braggy Jupiter. And maybe Venus is a little dizzy because she rotates the opposite direction from most of the others. Those fictionalized personality traits helped me remember some of the factual characteristics of the planets. Maybe they'll help readers remember, too!

THE CHALLENGES – AND FUN! – OF WRITING ABOUT SCIENCE

In 1981, I wrote an article about the moons of Jupiter for a kids' magazine, 3-2-1 Contact. At that time, we thought Jupiter had only 16 moons!

Many years ago, I wrote a non-fiction article for a kids' magazine, 3-2-1 Contact, about the moons of Jupiter. At that time, when there was no internet, I did all my research in the library of the American Museum of Natural History. Back then, we only knew about 16 moons!

 

By the time I started writing this book, we thought Jupiter had 67 moons, more moons than Saturn's 62. But before the book was published, astronomers discovered more. First, they discovered 12 more moons for Jupiter, so I changed the number. Then, they discovered more moons for Saturn – 20 more! By the time I finished writing, Saturn beat out Jupiter. Final Tally: Saturn: 82. Jupiter: 79. But is it the final? Keep watching the news!

WHAT ARE WE STILL INVESTIGATING?

Illustration by Juana Medina

Some of the information in the book we know fairly certainly to be true. But scientists are still investigating other information. For instance:

• Why does Venus rotate in the opposite direction of most of the other planets?

• How did our moon form?

• Was there ever life on Mars?

Are you a science sleuth? Can you find other information in the book that's still a mystery? Read through carefully and ask these questions: What do we know? What are we still trying to find out?