If you are a bit unclear about what a neutrino is, you need this picture book. And if you wonder what makes a good non-fiction picture book, read on.
As the title suggests, I’m a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe is told in the first person, beginning: “Hi! I’m a neutrino, and I am so small / that matter to me barely matters at all.” The author’s choice of this point of view personalizes the text, making it easier for the reader to identify with this tricky aspect of science.
The text is in verse and kept minimal making this an easy read like other picture books. However, the author, Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis, does not shy away from including the challenging aspects of these mysterious particles. They can pass through solid objects (like the child reading this book!). They come in three “flavors” – electron, muon, and tau – and can switch between them. Their mass is so tiny that their weight is still not known. And neutrons come from “…the sun, or the earth, or from space.” Lots of big concepts are conveyed simply.
The author wisely suggests that perhaps the reader will someday discover the weight of neutrinos. This offers children an open door to explore the science of particles and their many mysteries; particles existing since the beginning of time and across our universe.
The illustrator, Ilze Lemesis, the author’s mother, had an incredible challenge too. How does one depict a minuscule, invisible particle? Using three colors (to show their flavors), glowing bodies, and neon-like outlines, she portrays these infinitesimal entities dancing in sprightly poses with energy and personality.
While the text’s brevity and lively illustrations make this complex subject appealing to children, more detail is needed, which is supplied in three pages of endnotes. Accompanying thumbnails of each double-page spread, a paragraph explains the concepts covered in each. In this way, the physics and history of Neutrinos are described in more depth.
Characteristics of a good non-fiction picture book
Some non-fiction books have plots while others do not. All strive for the following qualities.
- Engaging writing. Make Strunk & White proud! Consider your target audience’s age group and reading level, and keep the text concise, fluid, and fun to read. Dr. Vavagiakis chose to write in verse to keep the tone light and the text short. This works well for a topic that could quickly feel overwhelming.
- Factual accuracy. Children will believe what is written in your book, so be supremely careful with your research.
- Written by an expert or involving personal experience, if possible. Dr. Vavagiakis, author of I’m a Nutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe, holds a Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University. She has been involved with the Atacama Cosmology Telescope and co-directs the high-energy physics blog ParticleBites. Also, the book’s publishing imprint, MIT Kids Press, is in effect a peer reviewer of the book’s contents.
- Appealing visuals. The art is half of the book so using a style and tone that will attract the reader is significant. Ilze Lemesis used digital means to create her illustrations, which was certainly in keeping with the subject matter, yet she kept the style loose and open for a painterly result. She also succeeded in depicting neutrinos invisible to us, the cosmos over time, and equipment like the Super-K detector and the concept of a particle accelerator, in simple, colorful compositions.
- Endnotes for more challenging concepts. Three pages of endnotes explain further the concepts introduced in the book’s verse. Also included there are URLs for more in-depth information on the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, the history of the universe, Neutrinos, and others.
- Not didactic. While reserving deeper details for the endnotes, the first-person point of view and simple text work well for I’m a Neutrino. Some concepts and terms in the main text will be beyond many children’s understanding but invite curiosity.
- Need for books on this subject. Although the first realization that neutrinos may exist came in 1930, and many discoveries about them have since been made, there is still much to know. And kids are curious about the universe. Current, in print, picture books on neutrinos could explain this exciting science to young children, yet I did not find any other than I’m a Neutrino.
I’m a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe is a well-considered picture book for curious young kids. Perhaps one of them may someday follow Dr. Vavagiakis’s enthusiasm for neutrinos and become a career scientist.
Published by Candlewick Press
Ages 7-9 years / Grades 2-4
1536222070 / 9781536222074
This review is based on a hardcover copy supplied by Candlewick Press.
Photographs of the book by Egils Zarins.