July 23, 2018

PB's Comet

Written by Marnie Parsons
Illustrated by Veselina Tomova
Running the Goat Books & Broadsides
32 pp.
Ages 4-9
March 2018

While stories that support children's interests in the sciences, tech, math and engineering are becoming more and more common, I don't think there is one out there anything like PB's Comet which promotes the idea of following one's STEM dreams, even if ridiculed or ignored by others, with sheep and and a goat and Newfoundland flair.

PB is a lamb of Toads Cove (the original name of Tors Cove, NFLD) who, with other sheep and a goat, is taken over to Fox Island for summer grazing. While the others bide their time, grazing and watching tourists and whales, PB is reading about astronomer Edmond Halley, studying star charts and staying up at night to ponder the night sky. Her focus is on calculating when the next comet might stream across the sky.  But the old goat "who was inclined to be grumpy and rather remote" (pg. 12) does not appreciate her efforts.
From PB's Comet by Marnie Parsons, illus. by Veselina Tomova
So he'd hide PB's spyglass and munch on her maps
and jumble her numbers while poor PB napped.
But no matter the ills of the old goat's devising,
PB maintained an extremely surprising
insistence that soon her comet would come,
and with every assurance that goat seemed more glum. (pg. 15)
But when that old goat glimpses the night sky, which he'd been missing because of heading to bed earlier than most, PB's pest becomes her protege, joining her to watch the night sky and learn.
From PB's Comet by Marnie Parsons, illus. by Veselina Tomova
Though a picture book which many people incorrectly assume to be only for the very young, PB's Comet is sophisticated in its text and artwork and probably better suited to early and middle grade students who will be able to delve deeper into the science and history of the story. (The endpapers have a colourful timeline of possible sightings of Halley's Comet from 3 c. BC through 1986.) Still, though Marnie Parson's appended notes tell the story of Edmond Halley's 1700 visit to Toads Cove as well as the practice of Tors Cove farmers to take their sheep over to Fox and Ship Islands for summer grazing, PB's Comet is a story even bigger than these elements.

Marnie Parson's rhyming text is rich in word choice and mood. In fact, the rhythms propel the reader through PB's story easily with the text's rhyming scheme (AABBCC) and Marnie Parson's choice of vocabulary. But the text is neither simplistic nor contrived. It has a depth of language that seems of another time and place and perhaps that is what it is supposed to convey. Veselina Tomova's artwork supports that spirit including such elements as a sextant and old-fashioned telescope in PB's scientific tools. Veselina Tomova's etchings also have a grittiness of a time and place less sterile than today, more earthy and humble, and totally appropriate for the story of PB's Comet.

PB's Comet has an important message about following your own path and passions, even those not supported by your community. The reader can feel PB's intention and passion for the stars and elements of the night sky, as well as the old goat's indignation, perhaps because it feels threatened, with a young sheep who doesn't follow the path of the others. Still, young readers will realize that the lamb can do astronomy, even if there are those who oppose her efforts and even sabotage them, and it's this message that should be heeded.

PB's Comet is funny, rhythmic and imaginative, but more than that, for lambs, girls and those pursuing their passions, PB's Comet has an important message about self-actualization that teachers and parents would do well to share.

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