The Universe in You by Jason Chin

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey by Jason Chin. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2022. 9780823450701

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? While on a field trip in the desert, a girl spots a tiny Calliope hummingbird; at 8 centimeters, it’s the smallest bird in the United States.  Thus begins an exploration of the smallest things in the universe, progressing from that hummingbird, through tiny hairs and skin cells, DNA and mitochondria, all the way down to the smallest elementary particles – quarks and gluons.  Those elementary particles, in turn, are the “building blocks of all physical matter,” from atoms and molecules to everything in the universe, living and nonliving, from the little hummingbird to the giant blue whale, as well as the unique makeup of “the universe within” each of us.  

The Universe in You covers a lot of complicated subject matter.  The text includes substantial detail but the tone is conversational and accessible for elementary and middle school students; size and scale comparisons add useful context as each new concept is introduced.  Every illustration and diagram is labeled and captioned to help readers understand what they are seeing; labels like “Everyone is Hairy” and “Elementary Particles are Weird” make the science fun.  The straightforward writing in the narrative and the text features will be appreciated by all, but not many illustrators could make molecules and atoms quite as interesting as Jason Chin does.  Starting and ending with the desert landscape, Chin uses watercolors, gouache, and some digital rendering to depict common living things, zero in on microscopic organisms, and conceptualize subatomic particles before building back out to the universe at large.  Some of the close-ups of organelles, cytoplasm and bacteria have a definite “ick” factor that will entice readers to try and figure out what they are looking at.  Back matter includes definitions and details that support some of the more complex topics from the text, and notes from Chin about his inspirations for the book and his illustrative process.  The girl with the hummingbird has brown skin and uses a wheelchair; diversity is implied among the human figures in her school group the desert. 

Anything you did not like about the book?  It’s just not a very kid-friendly topic.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Science-minded kids in grades 3 and up (including into middle school) will be fascinated by this book, and their teachers will appreciate it as well.  It’s great for fans of Jason Chin’s other nonfiction books, especially the corollary Your Place in the Universe.

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Nonfiction – #571.6

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts

Date of review: January 19, 2023

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