Sharing something beautiful which means a great deal to you can be an awkward, even embarrassing thing to do. It can feel like going out on a limb. You take the risk of appearing sentimental and perhaps even slightly loopy.
Quite why this should be the case, I don’t know. After all, in trying to offer a special moment or experience, all the giver wants is for you to feel something of the same joy, calm, delight and warmth. But it’s a vulnerable moment, full of potential for dreams to be trampled on.
As a parent I’ve sometimes found myself in the situation where, just for a moment 😉 , I want my kids to take me seriously, to meet me as a friend and to fall in love with what I’ve fallen in love with. Don’t get me wrong, of course I want them to have their own opinions and discover their own places and times of magic. But I also want to gift them moments of golden glow inside them, serve up nuggets of warmth that will stay with them always, through bad times and good when remembering times and places that are somehow beautiful.
It happens a lot with books of course – I’ll start books I loved as a child with bated breath: What will the kids make of them? Sometimes it happens with music, and also locations with views or spaces that take my breath away or inspire excitement or awe.
A father decides that his child is old enough to be shown the universe, and takes him on a night-time walk through the town and out into an open space far from street lights where they can watch the stars together and marvel in the sparkle and space and silence. But what does the child make of all this?
The bright intensity of beauty is made bearable with bucket loads of dead pan humour. An extra pair of socks is needed because – it turns out – the universe is pretty cold (‘“Minus 263 degrees,” Dad said‘). The universe turns out to be fairly easy to find; with echoes of Neverland “the way there was straight ahead and then to the left.” And when they finally arrive at the destination picked out by Dad, “I had a feeling I’d been here before, that this was the place where people walked their dogs.”
Indeed, there is a final twist to the story which brings everyone back from interstellar dreams to everyday reality with quite a bump, brilliantly adding a layer of laughter to a moment of intimacy and affection; Father and child do get to create a special shared memory that will stay with them all their lives, but it may not be quite that which the Dad had anticipated!
Pitch-perfect words deserve exceptional illustrations, and Eva Eriksson’s soft and dreamy pencil work only enriches Stark’s text. Muted tones predominate, with the exception of an intense blue for the night time sky, giving those spreads extra impact. The story is told as a first person narrative – the child retelling the entire experience, and the illustrations also emphasise the child’s view of the world; (s)he is often looking in a different direction to his/her father, picking up on other things of interest, whether that’s the liquorice on sale in the shop or the abandoned trike in the park, I couldn’t help smiling broadly at the different facial expressions in father and child when first they gaze at the vastness of the stars above them.
[I think it is worth noting that although some may assume the child is a boy, the text does not assert this. Indeed, given the first person narrative, there’s no need for gendered pronouns when referring to the child, who could in fact be a girl. This possibility is one of the great things about this story and translation.]
When Dad Showed Me the Universe is a very clever, moving and extremely funny book about parental love. In fact, in sharing it with you here on the blog, I feel a little like the father in this beautiful book. I so want you too to gasp in delight, smile brightly and feel that sense of magic settling on you when you read this. I can’t give you starlight, but I can wholeheartedly recommend you find a copy of When Dad Showed Me the Universe without delay.
The hilarity in When Dad Showed Me the Universe has ensured that it is a book my kids have wanted to share multiple times. But already after the first reading they could see my thinking: Were they going to get to see the universe too?
First I prepared…
A perfect universe-gazing pack
This pack was left in the garden shed whilst I kept an eye on the weather forecast for a few days, looking out for a clear night. When one came along, I was all ready to go into slightly crazy mode and tell my kids that even though they had their pyjamas on, we were going into the garden in the dark.
I didn’t take many photos as the idea was to disconnect from all the buzz we normally have going on in our lives, and just to relax watching the stars twinkling.
We were super snug and spent about 40 minutes just gazing, sometimes chatting, sometimes just being quiet.
I’m no good at night-time photography (see above). What we saw wasn’t quite like this…
…but we did all feel a sense of awe and peace in a way that took me by surprise.
We didn’t listen to any music whilst we were outside, but here is a marvellously celestial playlist:
You might also like to take a look at this informative list of music (both classical and pop) inspired by astronomy, written by Andrew Franknoi.
Other activities which could go well with reading When Dad Showed Me the Universe include:
What’s your happiest memory from going somewhere special with a parent or a child?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.