As an elementary science specialist I am always on the lookout for picture-books that bring science ideas to an accessible level for my students. Celestial patterns, like seasonal daylight, lunar phases, and constellations are particularly valuable. The ever-changing day and night sky are phenomena present in everyone’s lives, but picking up on the subtle changes over time can be made difficult by obstructed views from city scapes, light pollution, and even early bedtimes!
Usha and the Big Digger by Amitha Jagannath Knight and illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat presents a model of night-time wonder and pattern seeking appropriate for all elementary age students, though the book is targeted for the PreK – 1 audience. A perfect fit for first grade classrooms aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, it follows the truck-loving, aspiring tumbler, Usha out into the backyard where she spars with Indian American sister and cousin over what a group of seven bright stars in the sky best represent.
A lesson in perspective can easily be segued into conversation or investigation into what cultures around the world and across time have interpreted in the patterns of stars visible in their skies. The author includes a constellation (or is it an asterism?) primer in the concluding pages investigations for children that bolster understanding the concepts of rotation and perspective shared in the book. Usha and the Big Digger will almost certainly launch conversation about what other objects can be imagined through patterns in the sky, when and where they can (and can’t) be seen, and who in the classroom is inspired to explore the skies tonight!
My boys and I have enjoyed reading this book together as it lends itself to active reading and investigation through multiple reads. The second time around they were both eager to “turn the book around” and create the sky orientations for themselves. I did not question their intentions when I later found them on the couch reading the book upside-down!