Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Today is extra special because we get to chat about a true shining star of Women’s History Month: Vera Rubin! And we get to talk about this wonderful woman with another talented star: writer Sandra Nickel, whose first picture book, Nacho’s Nachos was named, among other accolades, as a Best Picture Book of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews and a finalist for the SCBWI Golden Kite Award. Today, we’ll touch on Sandra’s other stories, but we’ll focus on The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro.
(From the jacket flap)
Before Vera Rubin discovered most of the universe, she was a girl who loved the night sky. She watched the Big Dipper circle the North Star. And when her eyelids grew heavy, she dreamed not about what she had seen, but about what she had not seen. She dreamed about the mysteries between the stars.
As Vera grew older, she tried to uncover those mysteries. At her first conference, the male astronomers said her ideas were “outlandish.” They said they were “ridiculous.” Vera didn’t like their harsh words, pushing her away. So she started studying far away galaxies no one else was interested in. The youngest wheeled like pinwheels. The oldest spun with their arms closed tight. And every single one showed that between the stars, there is stuff we cannot see. Scientists before Vera had suspected this “dark matter” made up most of the universe. But no one had been able to show it was there. No one, until Vera.
The Stuff Between the Stars tells Vera’s incredible story, celebrates her brilliance, and shows how a girl’s never-ending love for the night sky changed the way we see our universe today.
Kaitlyn: Hi, Sandra, thanks so much for joining us today!
Sandra: It’s my absolute pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
Kaitlyn: Thank you for agreeing to share about your wonderful books! To start off, can you share what inspired you to write this beautiful book?
Sandra: It all started with a New York Times eulogy that came out two days after Vera Rubin died. It talked about how she revolutionized modern physics and astronomy. Yet, as I read, Vera was so relatable. She moved slowly in her career as she raised four kids. She still got excited by small scientific discoveries. She wondered whether she was fascinated by galaxies simply because they were beautiful. And she also struggled, as many women struggled, in a male-dominated field. In fact, even after she proved the existence of dark matter, she was passed over time and again for the Nobel Prize in Physics, as it was given to men for a good forty years and never a woman.
Kaitlyn: Wow, she is so inspiring! I can see why you wanted to research her more and share her powerful story with kids. Can you share why you think this book is so important to share with children?
Sandra: First off, they should know the name of Vera Rubin because of the magnitude of her discovery. The New York Times said she helped usher in a “Copernican-scale change in cosmic consciousness.” What this means is that her discovery is as big as Copernicus realizing the sun doesn’t orbit the earth. But even more importantly, Vera Rubin is an extraordinary role model for children. She didn’t like the harshness and competitiveness of the male astronomers, so she quietly studied what none of them were interested in. She found her own way doing things. And by doing that, she discovered something immense.
Kaitlyn: That’s such a beautiful way to think of things: find your own lane while also helping others. What a wonderful thing to share with children! I have to tell you when I saw the opening pages of the book, I literally gasped. The stars are just stunning, like their own galaxies, and as beautiful as a painting. Then, as the book progresses, the art mimics your beautiful space analogies, did you imagine the art would be able to match your words so well?
Sandra: Thank you so much for noticing this. I worked hard at developing imagery that could be translated into visual metaphors. Even some adults struggle to understand dark matter. So, I knew the combination of literary and artistic imagery would be important. Did I imagine the beauty of what Aimee Sicuro would create? Never. Her work is wholly unique and gorgeous–unbelievably so.
Kaitlyn: Yes! Her work (as well as your wonderfully written imagery, as well) is stunning! Also, I got the chills when I read your art note about Vera being a “guiding light” to an entire generation of female astronomers. Can you share a bit about this quote?
Sandra: Vera felt a deep responsibility for young female scientists. Her daughter, Judith, also became an astronomer. When Judith told Vera that she was often the only woman at large conferences of men, Vera was demoralized. She had been the first woman astronomer to achieve so much, but a generation later, nothing had changed. Vera began actively going out of her way to make sure young female scientists received fellowships. At awards time, she picked up the phone to ensure committees had at least one woman on their lists of nominees. She worked very hard to elevate women. With this book, I’m trying to do the same.
Kaitlyn: Isn’t it amazing how our children often are the catalyst to such great change? I love this! Now, do you mind sharing who your editor is for this story, and what you enjoy about working with this editor?
Sandra: My editor is Maggie Lehrman at Abrams. Maggie is very astute at understanding how a story can be more than it is. In fact, it was Maggie who encouraged me to further develop the imagery that linked Vera’s life and work. One of the reasons I love working with her is that she and I have similar sensibilities relating to children’s literature. We both are products of Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Kaitlyn: It sounds like you two have a lovely working relationship! What a pleasure when you’re creating something so beautiful for kids. Can you share who your literary agent is and why you enjoy working with her?
Sandra: My agent is Victoria Wells Arms. I know different people look for different things in agents. It was important for me to have someone who was smart, who knew children’s publishing backwards and forwards, who would make editing suggestions when they were needed. But most of all, it was important for me to have someone who wasn’t simply an agent, but who was also a friend. Victoria is that, in spades. I’m so lucky to be with her.
Kaitlyn: Aww, that’s the BEST! I’m so glad you found the perfect match for you and your work, and thanks for sharing. Many of the Math is Everywhere readers are learning about what it’s like to have an agent, so this is wonderful insight. Can you share a bit more insight? What it was like to find out that your first book, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez, won such wonderful accolades?
Sandra: Honestly, the starred review, the Best Books, the Golden Kite finalist each came as a surprise. Since Nacho’s Nachos was my first book, I thought nobody would notice it. Each time somebody did, I could barely believe it. That said, I am thrilled beyond words, because each accolade means more people know about Nacho Anaya. He deserves to be known far and wide for the joyous snack he gave to us all.
Kaitlyn: You can’t get any better than that! And I adore that your focus isn’t on your book, but on the subject of your book–who is so cool, by the way, thank you for introducing me to Nacho! Can you share a bit about your next book?
Sandra: Next up is Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. Joanne was a contemporary of Vera and a female pioneer in meteorology. In fact, she is the first woman to earn a doctorate in meteorology. Like Vera, she faced immense resistance from the men in her field. Nevertheless, her work with clouds was groundbreaking and sparked a new branch of science. Also like Vera, Joanne was a huge supporter of women. One female meteorologist, who thrived thanks to Joanne, said Joanne didn’t simply blaze a trail for women, “she blazed a road.”
Kaitlyn: “She blazed a road.” What an absolutely beautiful way to share how much she did! I CANNOT WAIT to read Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson! Finally, if you could spend a day with your favorite author or illustrator, would you sit by a fireside and chat or go out on an adventure together?
Sandra: Both. We would go on an adventure that we could laugh about at the end of the day–next to a warm hearth, naturally.
Kaitlyn: Naturally! Hahaha!Thanks so much again for joining us and sharing such wonderful insight today!
Sandra: Thank you, Kaitlyn. I’ve enjoyed every minute with you.
Kaitlyn: Aw, you’re too sweet, same for me; it’s been such a joy! Thank you for all your fantastic passion for getting so many untold stories into the world; you’re definitely an author to watch for great books!
To Get A Copy of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
Abrams: https://www.abramsbooks.com/product/stuff-between-the-stars_9781419736261/# (from here you can click through to your favorite online bookseller)
Sandra Nickel writes books and poetry for young readers. In 2021, she has two books coming out: The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe (Abrams), and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Abrams). Sandra’s poetry can be found in SCOOP magazine. Sandra holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has presented workshops on writing for children and young adults throughout Europe and the United States. Sandra is a two-time winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for picture books and a finalist for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Award.
Kaitlyn review of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
Stunning! From the art to the imagery to the wonderful subject of Vera Rubin, this book is absolutely stunning. Every library–home, school, public–should have a copy. Please share this inspiring story with everyone in your life.
Two INTERNATIONAL winners will receive a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe (as long as Book Depository delivers to your area).
Here are all the ways to get into the giveaway (each one is an extra entry):
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you added The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you ordered a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
- Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe at your library
- If you’ve read the book, share that you’ve left a critique on Amazon or Goodreads
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.
Thank you all for joining us today! I hope to see you soon and read some awesome stories and pitches soon, too!
Come celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Ciara O’Neal and I!
We’re throwing a Twitter party to learn more about the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest, get to know other wonderful authors, and maaaybe win some cool prizes. Follow hashtag #SpringFlingKidlit starting at 5 PM PST/8 PM EST on March 17, 2021! If you’ve never done a Twitter chat party before, check out my post from last year’s #FallWritingFrenzy all about how Twitter chats work (just make sure you’re using #SpringFlingKidlit in all your tweets for this event).
I hope you’re also joining us for our free Kidlit Dance Party on March 20th!
I really hope you’re going to enter the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest–just a few weeks left to get your entry ready for the April 1st-3rd entry dates! Please share with all your picture book writing friends!
And, I have the pleasure of being on the Agent Pitch Party Panel this Saturday at SCBWI Southern Breeze’s 2021 Critique Fest! I can’t wait!