On the difficulties of sharing something you find exquisite

posted in: Eva Eriksson, Ulf Stark | 13

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.

universeAnd so when I opened When Dad Showed Me the Universe written by Ulf Stark, illustrated by Eva Eriksson and translated by Julia Marshall I knew the story would speak to me.

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!

When Dad Showed Me the Universe_Gecko_fullbook_Page_06right

When Dad Showed Me the Universe_Gecko_fullbook_Page_09left

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

  • A tarpaulin (to put on the ground in case it is damp)
  • A camping mat for each person
  • A sleeping bag for each person
  • A red torch – we used a back bike light, but you could use a normal torch with red acetate taped over or held in place using an elastic band. By using red light, your eyes will adjust more quickly to the darkness.
  • Hot water bottles and hats for extra cosiness

  • 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…

    Photo: Scott Wylie on Fiickr Creative Commons
    Photo: Scott Wylie on Fiickr Creative Commons

    …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:

  • When I Look Into the Night Sky by Lori Henriques
  • How Big by Eric Herman
  • When You Wish Upon a Star from Disney’s Pinocchio
  • Starlight, Starbrighy by LuLu and the TomCat

  • 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:

  • The whole variety of ideas included in the official Teaching Notes for this book, created by Gecko Press.
  • Watching a meteor shower. Here’s a great video on The Kid Should See This on how, where and when to do exactly this.
  • Asking your friends and neighbours for their tips on the most beautiful place they know nearby, and then committing to visiting it. Maybe you’ll discover new places and make new memories. I found even just asking myself (and the kids) what’s the most beautiful place near where I live got us thinking hard and engaged in quite lively and at times suprising conversation.

  • 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.

    13 Responses

    1. Claire Potter

      I know exactly what you mean about the sharing/going out on a limb thing – I do it all the time with adults and my kids and about half the time don’t get the response I’d like and am brought back down to earth and made to feel loopy! But I keep on doing it anyway and take that risk!

      And I suppose that is what blogging is about to a large degree. Sticking your neck out and sharing what you find awesome at the risk of other people thinking it’s not! But it feels safer because the audience are out there in the ether, not in your face!

      I have so many happy memories of going somewhere special with my children (sadly, not with my parents!), but I guess the beauty is in getting something special out of something ‘ordinary’ – like you did. Love it, and the sound of this book.
      Claire Potter recently posted..Guest interview: “We bounced off the walls!”


      Dear Zoe, I sadly don’t have children but hopefully I can pass my picturebook collection on to those who will love and value them. I have given books and been delighted to find the recipient has had a powerful response like mine. One such was Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree, which I’ve given to a relative and a friend, both who had suffered depression.

      I find this post a particularly lovely one. The description of When Dad Showed Me The Universe is beautifully written and it’s a privilege to have you share your self – and your readers – on this gorgeous blog. Playing by The Book continues to demonstrate the necessity and beauty of spending quality time with children.

    3. dianne Hofmeyr

      This was a wondrous post. Made me feel… why didn’t I write this book. Nights out with the stars and just the crickets for sound and the smell of grass was how I remember my childhood summers. My father was my mapmaker. When I was 5 he pointed out an elaborate architrave and its a word I’ve never forgotten… and the Zimbabwe ruins by moonlight when most children would’ve been in bed, was wondrous. Thank you Zoe for sharing the book and bringing back memories. Wonderful and the humour too!

      • Zoe

        Hi Dianne, a mapmaker! For me that’s a very story rich occupation, at least in my imagination. And yes, architrave is a beautiful word. So glad this post prompted good memories.

    4. Tim

      Looks like a real gem! will definitely track this book down. Thanks Zoe. Also love the idea of friends and family sharing tips on the most beautiful place they know.

      • Zoe

        Hi Tim, yes, give it a go. We found it really interesting to find out how different places we’ve all been have left different impressions on us and it got us keen to go on more trips as a family, even just into the local park.

    5. Katherine

      Beautiful, what a lovely thing to do. Last winter Bagl had an obsession with snowdrops, I remembered from taking him for nap walks as a baby that there was a huge patch of snowdrops on the coastal path not far from us. I took him there one afternoon, hoping that he’d love it, and he did, we spent quite a while running round them and exploring the nearby woods, I have a lovely photo of him standing in awe in the middle of them, all bundled up in his snowsuit. It was a really special afternoon.

      Do you know The Big Big Sea by Martin Waddell? It has a similar theme, mum and daughter go to the beach in the moonlight.
      Katherine recently posted..Bagl Reviews: Your Hand in My Hand

    6. gisele

      I didn´t find it here, in Brasil, yet! I want it! <3 Loved your review. I´ve read it many, many times so I won´t forget how lovely it is!

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