Thursday, August 22, 2013

On a Beam of Light

I wouldn't have thought Albert Einstein, poster boy for the word genius, a good candidate for a picture book biography. How could the life of the creator of E = mc2 be crammed into a few pages of text? Well, happily, Jennifer Berne has proven me wrong. Her biography, aimed at young readers between ages 6 to 9, is a masterful condensation of big ideas into clear and accessible prose.

The book begins, appropriately, with the universe: "Over 100 years ago, as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by the river, a baby boy was born. His parents named him Albert."

The text then follows him through his childhood (puzzling the secrets of the universe) to adulthood (still puzzling the secrets of the universe). We see young Albert mystified and enchanted by the workings of a compass and later wondering what it would be like to ride his bike on a beam of sunlight. As an adult, he watches sugar dissolve in his tea and pipe smoke vanish into the air and questions how one thing could disappear into another. By focusing on such concrete everyday examples, Berne grounds Einstein's remarkable abstract discoveries into things a child can comprehend.

Radunsky's innovated illustrations cast Einstein as a wide-eyed free spirit and allow you to see the child in the old man and vice versa. Through Radunsky's free-flowing hand, Einstein springs to life, striding through these pages as a wild-haired prophet in an endless search for the truth.

For readers eager to learn more, Berne provides an author's note covering other aspects of Einstein's life, such as his playful nature and his lifelong pacifism. A short bibliography is also included.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne
illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky
Chronicle, 56 pages
Published: 2013

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