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On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

There he is, Einstein, floating on the cover. No horizon line holds him to the ground, and his eyes are fastened on the sun.

Loose lines, gestural paintings, and gorgeous watery gouache come together to make me appreciate the childhood of Einstein…and serve to make children want to learn more about him, too. And now that Vladimir Radunsky is a naturalized citizen of these here United States of America, we can talk stop worrying about that little detail.

Sam Bloom wrote this lovely review in July. And to prove that I (in the hinterlands of Tennessee) do not coordinate with the Boston Big Wigs, here is Wednesday’s take on some great new science titles, including On a Beam of Light.

I was wowed by this book at ALA annual, even dragging people to the Chronicle booth so I could read large sections aloud to them. What did I like?

1. The endpapers are bedecked in plaid (referring to Einstein’s clothes and the clothes of the young scientists on final page) and serve as both the dedication page and copyright page. That is different. In a good way. I assume that they ran out of pages and came up with a winning solution.

2. The textured paper gives everything a warm, handmade feel.

3. I love the opening pages when Albert doesn’t say anything until about age three, but his parents love him…no matter what. Somehow, when you look at his parents, you know they have waited a long time for a baby and are willing to stay on his time frame. They watched him and knew his curiosity was something to encourage.

4. I love all the visual symbolism: Einstein looking out the (little boxes) of windows, when he had “lots of extra time to think and wonder.” Pointillism to show the existence of atoms. Crazy busy ink lines to show that “everything is always moving.” Albert floating, floating in a translucent sailboat over nothing and into nothing when he lets his mind wander.

It’s the warmth of this book that has stayed with me. I loved Albert, loved his parents, and wanted to know even more about him after reading this book.

The endnotes were very helpful, but the bibliography only referred to books for older readers (or from 1988). There is a dandy web address for the Einstein Archives Online, which is pretty fabulous, but not exactly child-friendly either. This might (or might not) be more of an issue for the Sibert committee than for the Caldecott.

Have you seen this? Have you shared this?

See, I didn’t even mention gutters. Aren’t you proud?

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Love it! Thinking of the paper, though – how much of a difference do you think that really makes to the committee? If it’s between this one and another book on semi-boring paper, and I like both of them equally, I would have a hard time NOT giving the edge to this one because of how beautiful that paper is. Too bad for the artist whose publisher chose the boring paper…

  2. Paper matters, at least to me. This is rich and textured and there is no shadowing. When I see how chock-a-block full, from endpaper to endpaper, of information and text this book is, I would love to know how the designer fit everything in!

  3. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Robin, I love that double-page spread of Einstein in the sailboat as well: how you can just barely delineate sky from water; how you can just barely see his right hand trailing in the water; how his eyes are looking forward yet somehow also looking inward. It’s a truly gorgeous picture. I find it interesting that after this spread the plaid suit goes away … can’t see any connection between the two, and yet it happens….

  4. Yes, the sailboat spread is amazing! Correct if I’m wrong – it’s been a while – but isn’t that one of the few pages where the background is colored in, not just the grainy paper? Whatever the case, that’s such a beautiful spread.

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