The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of

By: Kirsten W. Larson

Illustrated by: Katherine Roy

Published: February 7, 2023

Publisher: Chronicle Kids


At the age of 25, Cecilia Payne discovered that stars were made of hydrogen and helium. Her story, one full of determination and following her passions when others tried to tell her she couldn’t, is found alongside the poetic discovery of a star.

Cecilia Payne, born in 1900, grew up during a time when girls were not expected or allowed to be interested in science. Cecilia loved being outside as a child watching the bees and insects and smelling the flowers. But, when her family moved to the city, her world became very closed in. Eventually, a female science teacher befriends her and opens up the world of science to Cecilia again.

The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Cecilia was often the only girl in a sea of men studying science and astronomy, but it didn’t bother her. She was teased and told she couldn’t be a scientist, but that only made her work harder. She eventually graduated from Cambridge and moved to Harvard to work in the Astronomy department. It was there she found the recipe for stars.

Along with telling the story of Cecilia’s life, the author and illustrator have combined the two stories of both Cecilia and a star together on the page. “Soon everything shifts and separates-” as a star is becoming a cluster at the same time we find out Cecilia is living in the city, away from her much-loved quiet countryside. All through the book, Cecilia’s life is mirrored alongside the creation of a star. At the end of the book, the author includes a short biography of Cecilia Payne and a compilation of how a star is actually born in space.

This biography combined with a scientific lesson makes for an excellent read-to-learn opportunity for kids excited about science and space.

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane and A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, along with several forthcoming titles. She lives near Los Angeles, California, with her family. Check out her website, HERE.

Katherine Roy is the award-winning author and illustrator of many science-based books for kids, including her Sibert Honor book Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands and How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild. She is also the illustrator of Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere and of Red Rover: Curiosity on Mars. She lives with her husband and sons in Oregon, where she loves gazing up at the stars.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.
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