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Cockeysville author tackles astrophysics for kids with Neil deGrasse Tyson

"Explore the Cosmos Like Neil deGrasse Tyson"
"Explore the Cosmos Like Neil deGrasse Tyson" (Baltimore Sun)

When he was 12 years old, Neil deGrasse Tyson got his first telescope. Tyson was already fascinated with the universe, exploring the night sky with binoculars from the roof of his apartment building.

His love for the stars and planets grew as he studied astronomy in school and on his own. Today Tyson is a world-renowned astrophysicist — a household name — and his passion for the final frontier has not waned.

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In her new book, "Explore the Cosmos like Neil deGrasse Tyson," Cockeysville author CAP Saucier uses Tyson's life story as a launching pad to teach children about space in all its wonder and intricacy. She bounces between stories from Tyson's life and specific topics about space topics — all written in clear, straightforward language appropriate for older elementary school and middle school-aged readers.

"I want kids and parents to know that science can be fun and interesting," she says. "I think by focusing on a particular scientist and his or her work, it makes it less abstract."

Though space was a new topic for her when she started writing, Saucier knows science. Now 61, she spent about 15 years as a pediatric nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital before deciding she wanted to start writing and illustrating books for children. She enrolled in Towson University for a second degree, this one in art.

Though she was first interested in writing books for younger children, Saucier's real success began when she started writing about science for older children. Her first book was a biography of Dr. Donald Johanson, the paleoanthropologist who discovered the "Lucy" skeleton. Explore the Cosmos is her second book. (She uses her initials instead of her first name, which is Carol, to differentiate herself from others with the same name.)

"I think I have a way of putting science into plain language to understand," she says. "Astrophysics is kind of a hard subject but I think I did that."

She was inspired to write about Tyson after meeting him at an event hosted by the Explorer's Club, an organization that promotes field research and the advancement of science. "I had written about where we came from on land and thought I'd write about where we came from in space," she explains.

Saucier's research allowed her to immerse herself in the subject of space. In addition to reading Tyson's books, watching his videos and interviewing him in person, she got into the field a bit herself.

"My favorite activity was going to Kitt Peak in Arizona and looking through the huge telescope and seeing the moons of Jupiter up close. [I got to see] the Andromeda Galaxy and things I didn't know existed until I did the research."

At home in Baltimore County, she attended monthly lectures about "what's going on in the galaxy" at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) on the campus of Johns Hopkins University and worked closely with Henry Ferguson, an astronomer at STScI . "He checked my science for me as I went along," she says. "If I reworded something so a kid could understand it, I wanted to make sure I had it right."

In addition to tackling astrophysics, Saucier wove in challenging sociological topics, from race to 9/11, using Tyson's personal experiences as a guide. Her tone is straightforward and clear, whether she is writing about asteroids or Tyson's personal reaction to the September 11th attacks.

Saucier is working now on her next project, a book about the water, told through the story of a female scientist (she hasn't yet announced which scientist she will feature).

From land to space to seas, Saucier hopes readers will be inspired by her books. "I want kids to know that science isn't 'done' just because there are big scientists out there who have done a lot of work," she says. "There's more work to do."

"Explore the Cosmos Like Neil deGrasse Tyson," by CAP Saucier, is published by Prometheus Books. For more information about the book and author, visit prometheusbooks.com or capsaucier.com.

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