Archive for December 6th, 2018


by Sam Juliano

Ivy at age 9: The universe is expanding.

Doctor in Brooklyn: The universe is expanding?

Alvy at age 9: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!

-Annie Hall (1977)

Though there is little evidence suggesting the expansion of the universe initiated by the Big Bang of 13.7 million years ago will one day cause a final disintegration -there are those to be sure who have hypothesized that expansion will be infinite – there are understanding some who favor the idea that an end will ultimately following a beginning.  In any event the Big Bang theory has now become the prevailing cosmological model for the observable universe, the point of conception of everything we know and imagine, and the model relies on Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  The Big Bang is an event that signifies the birth of the universe when the laws of physics could be ascertained and verified.  Difficult to perceive and for young readers a practically inaccessible advance from nothingness, Newbery Honor winner Marion Dane Bauer applies concise lyricism to to the defining phenomenon of human cognizance in a magisterial picture book titled The Stuff of Stars.  Bauer traces the evolution of man from the time where nothing existed to advent of man, presumably around 200,000 years ago, by stirring the embers of imagination with descriptive language mastery, free of overwrought ostentation.  Against all odds Bauer acutely and powerfully traces billions of years with rhetorical leitmotifs that bring definition and understanding to the most colossal and defining subject of all.

Bauer’s illustrator is the extraordinary Caldecott Honor winner Ekua Holmes, and for once the oft-used expression “a match made in heaven” possesses cosmological heft.  Bauer sets the stage for the birth of existence, with a theological association at the incubation stage devoid of time, space, and configuration, a tabula rasa stage before matter and space have taken shape or form:  In the dark, in the dark, in the deep deep dark, a speck floated, invisible as thought, weighty as God.  There was yet no time, there was no space.  No up, no down, no edge, no center.  In a double page spread that suggests Lars Von Trier’s 2011 Melancholia with its portentous blue light and the closure of immutability in a scenario where end and beginning are blurred.  Holmes gives young readers the opportunity to imagine what a distant white speck might look like hovering over an infinite black hole.  Bauer reinforces this concept of an empty vacuum when nothing we know as real and tangible has taken form.  There is no environment, no living organisms, no people, no tress.  One grounded in religion might convey this as the time before God created the Earth and the heavens.  The Bang! which Bauer denotes as the beginning of the beginning of all beginnings is envisioned by Holmes as a kaleidoscopic web, or an application by an abstract expressionist such as Jackson Pollack.   The time of the band -one trillionth of a second suggests Bauer is seen in yellowed illumination segues into the delineation that a simple cloud of gas which collides, stretches and expands by bumping and accumulation which recalls the phenomenon of the 1958 science-fiction classic The Blob, though the Big Bang ignites star formations throughout the newly-minted universe, a time Bauer tells her readers that still pre-date the formations of planets and living organisms, emphasizing by contrast the minute time window of life in the endless span of time from the implosion to the first one celled organisms millions of years ago.  Hence Bauer tells her young readers without planets there can never be water, rock formations or mammals, as well as the sensory wonderments like “a violet blooming in a shady wood,” “no crickets singing in the night” and indeed no day or night as we know it.  Holmes shows this celestial anarchy as spacious and colorfully incandescent but without the clear lines of demarcation that will later define the formation of the solar system and numerous other galaxies. (more…)

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