There’s so much material astrophysicist Parshati Patel would like to have included in her debut book.
But there was just too little space for all that space.
My Book of Stars and Planets is a colourful, pint-sized blast through the vastness of the universe, in fewer than 100 pages.
One among the DK series of science books for kids (published by Penguin Random House), the newly released book will have global distribution, including in North America and U.K. bookstores.
The book commission came after an unexpected email from the series editor, who had watched a YouTube video of Patel explaining space to kids.
“She was looking for someone who could talk to a young audience and that video resonated with her,” said Patel, MSc’12, PhD’16, who has spent most of the past decade as a space scholar, science communicator and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educator.
Patel has organized large-scale events, such as Science Rendezvous and Asteroid Day at Western, led science-literacy sessions and organized talks in Canada and India about women and girls in STEM.
Education and outreach program co-ordinator at the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space), Patel is on an Interchange Canada assignment at the Canadian Space Agency as program designer and education advisor for youth.
Space has intrigued Patel since she looked through her first telescope as a young girl, so it’s natural that telescopes are among the topics she chose to write about. They include the SOFIA telescope, a flying observatory circling the Earth aboard a specially designed Boeing 747.
Other topics include constellations, meteorites and asteroids, space technology, pioneers such as orbit mathematician Katherine Johnson, and answers to questions such as, ‘Why is space black?’
And she had to write it all in kid-sized portions, each nugget with a photo or illustration, and each sentence packed with easily digested meaning – a far cry from her 200-page thesis examining gaseous discs that surround massive young stars. “I’m pretty sure this book is going to be read far more than my thesis,” she quipped.
The book is a full swap from a similar tome DK published more than a decade ago. A lot has happened since then: space tourism, reusable rockets, a lander’s touchdown on a comet, and imagery of a black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy.
Most challenging for Patel was figuring out what to leave out as she balanced the must-includes with the want-to-includes.
“There are so many cool things about space, so it was sometimes a matter of eliminating the least-cool stuff.”
Her deadline was tight, with most of the writing taking place between December 2020 and March 2021 so the book could hit the shelves for its release in time for Christmas.
She hopes it will add fuel to the spark of curiosity most children have about space. “This simple book could intrigue and inspire other kids around the world.”
That includes the young boy who asked Patel to write an autobiography so his parents could see that people from his province could become space scientists; and the girl who bought the book partly because they share last names and wants to become an astronaut.
For Patel – who also co-founded the Women of Color in STEAMM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics and medicine) Canada in 2018 – it’s a win for diversity, science and the pursuit of knowledge itself.
She credits her husband Nandish for reading every word of each draft; her parents and brother for their support; and two space-research friends who helped her dive deep into space writing without getting lost in detail.
While this was her first,, she is also eyeing writing other non-fiction and fiction books in the future.