The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made of

by Kirsten W Larson (Author) Katherine Roy (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

A poetic picture book celebrating the life and scientific discoveries of the groundbreaking astronomer Cecilia Payne!

Astronomer and astrophysicist Cecilia Payne was the first person to discover what burns at the heart of stars. But she didn't start out as the groundbreaking scientist she would eventually become. She started out as a girl full of curiosity, hoping one day to unlock the mysteries of the universe. With lyrical, evocative text by Kirsten W. Larson and extraordinary illustrations by award-winning illustrator Katherine Roy, this moving biography powerfully parallels the kindling of Cecilia Payne's own curiosity and her scientific career with the process of a star's birth, from mere possibility in an expanse of space to an eventual, breathtaking explosion of light.

WOMEN IN STEM CAN CHANGE HISTORY: With women making up less than 30 percent of the science and engineering workforce, supporting young girls who are interested in STEM fields is more important than ever! This picture book tells the story of Cecilia Payne, a trailblazing female astronomer and role model for young girls to relate to and see themselves in, from even the youngest age.

LOOK TO THE STARS: Any reader or stargazer who feels dazzled by the striking night sky will be enchanted by this true story of discovery and invention, as Cecilia's contributions to science prompt us to wonder: What else is out there?

BEAUTIFUL, INSPIRING GIFT: With compelling visual storytelling and an inspiring role model for aspiring astronomers, scientists, and engineers (and for young girls in particular), this stellar biography makes a great choice for any giving moment, from birthdays to celebrations to the holidays.

Perfect for:

  • Parents, teachers, and librarians looking to instill curiosity and encourage scientific exploration
  • Lovers of astronomy, stargazing, space travel, and outer space
  • Anyone seeking narrative nonfiction and biography books about women in STEM for the classroom or choice reading
  • Gift-givers looking for a unique true story to delight and inspire girls and boys
  • Fans of Hidden Figures, Rad American Women A-Z, and I Am Malala
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Kirkus Reviews

A luminous thematic pairing. 


[M]akes a good addition to the astronomy shelves.

Publishers Weekly

English astronomer Cecilia Payne (1900-1979) shines in this homage, which unfolds as a dual narrative that maps Payne's life to a star's phases of formation. The figure's scientific leanings first appear during a country childhood exploring the outdoors. While a move to London initially feels lonely, Payne takes refuge in her school's dusty lab, and eventually lands a scholarship to Cambridge, where she learns about a new field: astrophysics. Battling gender-related prejudice, the determined graduate heads to a job at Harvard, where she uncovers the ingredients of stars ("It's a stellar discovery, breathtaking"). Marrying format, language, and subject, Larson conscientiously emphasizes Payne's accomplishments. A star's "heat grows--// and then, at last...// a new light," and simultaneously Payne feels that "deep inside her something glimmers/ and glows, growing stronger./ Something new." Taking place alongside inky interstellar sidebar views, accompanying pencil and ink illustrations by Roy glow with warm digital coloring. An author's note, scientific information, and timeline conclude. Ages 5-8. (Feb.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 2-6--A stellar subject, breathtaking artwork, and unique layout set this biography for young readers apart from the rest. It begins with two births: one of a young Cecilia Payne, toddling in the English countryside; and the other of a star, sleeping quietly in space. As the parallel stories progress, Payne grows into a Harvard-trained astrophysicist who isn't daunted by a scientific community that's largely male and reluctant to include her. Meanwhile, the star slowly develops and bursts into bright, blinding life. Back matter includes a time line of Payne's life and how her work changed modern astronomy, along with a fascinating and detailed look at how stars are born, grow old, and die. Payne's hard work, passion, curiosity, and self-belief shine through in this story and will inspire readers to persist in their own pursuits, whatever they may be. VERDICT Recommended for all collections.--Amy Fellows

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Kirsten W Larson
Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane and A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, along with several forthcoming titles. She lives near Los Angeles, California, with her family.

Katherine Roy is the award-winning author and illustrator of many science-based books for kids, including her Sibert Honor book Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands and How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild. She is also the illustrator of Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere and of Red Rover: Curiosity on Mars. She lives with her husband and sons in Oregon, where she loves gazing up at the stars.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Chronicle Books
Publication date
February 07, 2023
BISAC categories
JNF007090 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Science & Technology
JNF051040 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Science & Nature | Astronomy
JNF051170 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Science & Nature | Discoveries
Library of Congress categories
Women astronomers
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia

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