On a recent armchair travel adventure, I visited Sri Lanka, a teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean. Some call it the pearl earring of India, dangling as it does off India's southeastern tip. Formerly known as Ceylon, the island nation's difficult history of colonization was followed by a 25-year-long civil war that ended in 2009.
Many of us will be spending Earth Day at home for the first time in years. April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the event, the brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who was moved to start a "national teach-in on the environment" after he witnessed the devastation of a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I picked up Great with Child(W.W. Norton, $15.95), a collection of letters from poet and author Beth Ann Fennelly (The Tilted World) to her newly pregnant friend. Full of insights large and small about what it means to shift from pregnant person to parent, this book made me realize that while I had spent much of my pregnancy reading about what to expect while pregnant, I was still entirely unsure of what to expect once I actually had a child. I loved science-minded Emily Oster's Expecting Better(Penguin Books, $17), so I quickly purchased her Cribsheet (Penguin Books, $18),which promised the same data-driven exploration of the many parenting decisions I'd face in my child's early years.
I was in for something spectacular the moment I began reading The World Doesn't Require You (Liveright, $25.95), the second fiction collection by Rion Amilcar Scott. In the second story, two estranged friends reconnect over a childhood game, a variation of ding-dong ditch referred to by a reclaimed slur. Tyrone is a doctoral candidate, and his thesis speculates about the game's historical significance as a diversion tactic to help the enslaved steal from plantation owners or flee via the Underground Railroad. "While white folks, or even a house slave, answered the front door, there'd be black folk taking bread and hog meat... out the back." At night, they revive the tradition in a bougie white neighborhood--but there are tragic consequences.
My job is to detect planets around newborn stars. I study astrophysics because I love astronomy's outlook, the way it places us in awe-inspiring scales of space and time. As I wrote The Big Bang Book, I found that translating the adult world into approachable language for children does something similar: children's books simplify and lend us perspective, just like science explained well.