A Song for the Cosmos:
Blind Willie Johnson and Voyager’s Golden Record
From The Creative Company/Creative Editions, 2022
32 pages, Ages 9-12 years (Grades 4-7)
This non-fiction picture book tells the true story of a song by a Texas gospel bluesman that was included on the Golden Record, now speeding into interstellar space on NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2.
Illustrations by Gary Kelley.
When our differences divide us, this song and the Golden Record are a reminder that, in spite of our circumstances and origins, all human hearts are fundamentally the same. We live, feel, and create together on this “pale blue dot” that is Earth, spinning in the vast expanse of the cosmos.
” . . . Drawing on folklore and fact, Lower begins this blend of science and biography with an overview of the Black street musician from Texas who sang and strummed the blues on his guitar . . . In the fitting, melodious narrative, she describes Johnson’s now iconic song and why years later a team of astrophysicists, writers, and artists chose this ‘song of the human heart’ to be ‘a bit of golden light in the dark, dark of night.’ Kelley matches Blind Willie Johnson’s tone and the space subject matter with softly colored scenes of the musician and Voyager set against indigo blues and occasional orbs, planets, and records. More information about Johnson, the Golden Record, and Voyager conclude this lovely STEAM selection.” (Angela Leeper, 07/01/2022)
Chronicle Books’ Through the Reading Glass:
” . . . In their breathtaking book A Song for the Cosmos, author Jan Lower and illustrator Gary Kelley tell the story of Johnson’s hardscrabble life and how a song born of difficulty represents a condition familiar to many on our planet. So much so that it now journeys ever onward through the cosmos, seeking others who may also identify with the truths inherent in its tone and melody.” (July 2022)
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
“Lower’s picture book fusion of biography (noting “What’s known about Willie Johnson is from stories handed down”) and Voyager mission is appropriately touching and uplifting, leaving readers with a sense of bittersweet vindication for the triumph that posthumously crowned Johnson’s hard life. Kelley’s illustrations glide easily between dusty, grainy-textured scenes and naif imagery of Johnson’s story, and more ethereal renderings of Johnson among luminaries represented on Voyager’s golden record. Comprehensive end notes further explore the connection between Johnson, his song, and the Voyager mission; source notes are also included.” (September 2022)
“More than just a biography of Johnson, a musical legend many may not have heard of, this picture book also provides information and context for his special place in history: as creator of a beautiful message about what it means to be human.” (October 2022)
Children’s Literature (childrenslit.com):
“The text is evocative but easy to understand. . . . The text and illustrations pair the two topics together well, creating a symbiotic feel of a whole greater than the sum of its parts. . . . Recommended for use as part of either a science or music curriculum.” (November 2022)
Thank you to the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education for naming A SONG FOR THE COSMOS as one of the Best Children’s Books of the Year for 2023!