Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

Nonfiction Monday – The Planet Gods

Posted on | March 29, 2010 | 7 Comments

For my contribution to this week’s Nonfiction Monday I’m reviewing The Planet Gods: Myths and Facts about the Solar System by Jacqueline Mitton and Christina Balit

The Planet Gods is a tremendous, beautifully written, stunningly illustrated introduction to the solar system. Each of the planets (plus three so-called dwarf planets) in our night sky is given its own two page spread, with a short biography (written in the first person each time, so I suppose I should say autobiography ;-)) and a glorious illustration of the planet and the Greek god associated with it.

The planet biographies are immediately engaging for being written in the first person, but they are also poetic and imaginative. For example, Saturn’s entry begins thus:

What a glorious array of rings and moons surrounds me! I preside over a wealth of plenty, as Saturn the god did in the Golden Age when he reigned. My rings are shoals of countless scurrying moonlets, casting a multicoloured girdle about my belly. Braiding and streaming, clustering here, dividing there, they whirl by in a frenzy.

The illustrations are arresting – bursting with colour and embossed with gold, they sing off the pages. Balit’s style reminds me of Gustav Klimt, both in her choice of palette, gold details and use of geometric shapes and repetitions. Her work makes this book feel alive!

In addition to the planet/god biographies the book contains several very informative, more traditionally factual passages – for example on naming planets, on the history of planetary discoveries, and a summary of the different types of surfaces to be found on planets. There is also a helpful glossary and two pictures drawn to scale at either end of the book to give readers a handle on the different sizes of planets.

M and I found this book to have a perfect blend of literary style with factual information – indeed, in some ways it is not unlike Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (which I reviewed here) – a wonderful book that could as easily be catalogued to appear in the fiction part of the library as nonfiction.

Inspired by The Planet Gods we set to making our own revolving planets. Here’s what we did.

1. M draw around several circular objects onto card. (An older child could have used a compass instead to make circles of varying diameters).

2. M cut out the planets (circles).

3. M and J decorated the planets, first with pens, then with glue and glitter, in keeping with the sparkling illustrations in the book.

4. Once the glue was dry we pushed pencils through the centre of each planet to create a shaft. We found it was necessary to secure the pencil in the card with a little bit of sellotape on the underside of each circle before spinning our planets across a smooth surface.

In some ways the photos capture what happened better than we could see it for ourselves!






The Planet Gods: Myths and Facts about the Solar System: *** (3 stars)

Whilst we created our planets we were listening to:

  • How many planets? by They Might be Giants
  • Holst’s orchestral suite called The Planets
  • Life on Mars by David Bowie
  • Man on the Moon by REM
  • Planet Earth by Duran Duran (causing weird flashbacks to my own teenage years!)
  • The Planets by The eLeMeNos – available to download for free here


  • Other projects that we could have done with this book in mind include:

  • Creating our own solar system mobile as per these instructions from Enchanted Learning
  • Fashioning our own model of Saturn, with these instructions from NASA
  • Marking out a to-scale model of the solar system along the way to M’s school, inspired by this post from Universe Today
  • Painting our own Klimt-esque piece of art, with these suggestions from kinderart.com, or these from Ms Julie’s Art School


  • This week’s Nonfiction Monday host is Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what’s included in today’s round up – I hope you’ll too have some time to visit Tricia’s blog and discover some new nonfiction delights!

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    Comments

    7 Responses to “Nonfiction Monday – The Planet Gods”

    1. Choxbox
      March 29th, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

      Wow. The book sounds fab! All the activities you list are cool as well. That video was cute! here’s a link to another animation film, though this one is fantasy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhhPCbetdU8

      We took my 4 yr old to our planetarium last year to watch this awesome show on the solar system. It also has a huge model of the solar system in the entrance lobby plus a machine which will generate a little chart for you – showing your weight on all the planets. Great fun!

      Oh and we’d got a very long solar system floor puzzle from M&S years ago – wonder if they still stock them.

    2. Jeannine Atkins
      March 29th, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

      That looks like a great book, and wow, what creativity – and science — those talking planets inspired. Those pictures are a review in themselves.

    3. Amy O.
      March 29th, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

      What a great post! It looks as though you ALL enjoyed this one. :o)
      Thank you for taking the time to visit me and leave a comment. I’ve enjoyed participating in the Non-Fiction Monday round-up, and it’s nice to be encouraged!
      Also, thanks for the great recommendation for The Arrival. I will definitely be checking it out.
      Have a great evening and thanks again!
      Amy

    4. Mandy
      March 30th, 2010 @ 3:05 am

      Your creativity and projects that follow your books are inspiring. Your daughters are very lucky. Thanks for sharing.

    5. Zoe
      March 30th, 2010 @ 7:05 am

      Hi Choxbox,

      Thanks for the link to the lovely animation – I particularly like the image of playing hopscotch amongst the stars!

    6. Natalie
      March 30th, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

      Thank you for this great review! I am putting this list on our “To Read” list – it sounds terrific. And I also liked the craft that you did to go with it – so hands-on and fun.

    7. Margaret Perry
      March 31st, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

      I loved this book (and what a fun project!). As your girls get a little older, you should check out H. A. Rey’s The Stars

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