Pluto's Secret, by Margaret Weitekamp and David DeVorkin, illustrated by Diane Kidd
Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery is written by Margaret Weitekamp and David DeVorkin and illustrated by Diane Kidd. The authors are both curators for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery is published in association with the museum, which probably accounts for the great information at the back of the book. A section titled, "The People and the Telescopes Behind the Story" has a handful of great photographs, a Who's Who, a glossary and a note from the museum. Frankly, I appreciate all this. I am not particularly interested in astronomy and don't have an emotional attachment to Pluto's status, but I do wonder about it just enough to want some information about this whole kerfuffle and a non-fiction picture book is just my speed. And probably, hopefully, the speed of your average second or third grader.
Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery begins with the discovery of the icy world that we now call Pluto and the thinking that led to its discovery, personifying Pluto a bit in the story and illustrations. In 1930 when Clyde Tombaugh, using a powerful new telescopic camera at the Lowell Observatory, spots a small dot that appears in a different place upon subsequent viewing, the text reads, "'Hello, Earth!' said the icy world. But Clyde couldn't hear as he was very, very far away." As this illustrates, the authors do a fine job taking sometimes abstract and complex information and making it interesting and understandable for me - um, I mean kids. Once the planet has been discovered, we move on to the fun stuff - naming it! Eleven-year old Venetia Burney from England gets the honors, naming the planet after the Roman god of the dark underworld, reasoning, "The new little planet is so far from the sun that it must be a cold, dark place too." And I always thought it was named after Mickey Mouse's dog. Clearly it's the other way around.
Pluto, it turns out, is a pretty sassy little planet, switching places with Neptune from time to time, rarely staying in the same place for long. At this point in the book, Pluto sings, "You still have not figured me out! Keep trying!" Pluto is a tease, taunting scientists for decades until they finally figure out exactly what it is. Other icy worlds like Pluto were discovered and a whole new area of our solar system was discovered and named after the astronomer who first predicted it - the Kuiper Belt. In 2006 a new definition for planets was voted on by astronomers who vote and the fate of Pluto was decided. in Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery, Pluto seems pretty chuffed to have been declared "not-a-planet." Pluto is happy to be "the first example of something new . . . one of many icy worlds on the edge of the solar system."
Not only did Pluto help astronomers define what a planet is, Pluto also helped them to recognize the icy worlds around the stars all over the universe. And, in 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft will be Pluto's first visitor from Earth! And that, even to someone like me, is pretty cool!
Source: Review Copy