The "How I Wonder What You Are" Mood

     You know what a magnificent spectacle the heavens have offered these last few frosty nights. Well, one of our youngsters has, I think, some turn for astronomy.
     "Look, father, what a great star! It's big enough to make the night light without the moon. It isn't always there; what's its name, and where does it go?"
     The boy was in the receptive 'How I wonder what you are' mood; anything and everything I could have told him would have been his––a possession for life.

So says a father about his inquisitive son in Mason's Formation of Character (p. 123) . Dad drops the ball in the next part, but then resolves to change things in the end.  More on that in a minute.

We were treated to a night of star-gazing the other evening.  Billy, the young man who showed us the sky with his 8" Schmitt-Cassegrain clearly caught the "How I Wonder What You Are" mood as a teenager from a passionate teacher. That awe and wonder is what we hope our children catch and keep their whole lives.  I love this quote from Mason on the study of astronomy:
In astronomy, for example, emphasis is laid upon phenomena that the child himself can observe, and he is instructed how to go about it. The rising and setting of the stars, the phases of the moon, the uses of the telescope, are explained in simple words. The mystery of these and other matters is not magical, as the child at first supposes. It is to deeper mysteries that his attention is here directed. (Vol. p. 267)
Pictures taken with the 8" Schmitt-Cassegrain Telescope - M51- The Whirlpool Galaxy
M57 - Ring Nebula - "The Cheerio"

"I see the moon and the moon sees me..."
Back to the dad.  Read how he handled the rest of the evening:

      "That's not a star, it's a planet, Tom," with a little twaddle about how planets are like our earth, more or less, was all I had for his hungry wonder. As for how one planet differs from another in glory, his sifting questions got nothing out of me; what nothing has, can nothing give...
      "Have they names? What is this, and this?"
      "Those three stars are the belt of Orion"––the sum of my acquaintance with the constellations, if you will believe it! He bombarded me with questions all to the point. I tried bits of book knowledge which he did not want. It was a 'bowing' acquaintance, if no more, with the glorious objects before him that the child coveted, and he cornered me till his mother interfered with, 'That will do, Tom: don't tease father with your questions.' A trifling incident, perhaps, but do you know I didn't sleep a wink that night, or rather, I did sleep, and dreamt, and woke for good. I dreamt the child was crying for hunger and I had not a crust to give him. You know how vivid some dreams are. The moral flashed on me; the child had been crying to me with the hunger of the mind; he had asked for bread and got a stone. A thing like that stirs you. From that moment I had a new conception of a parent's vocation and of my unfitness for it. I determined that night to find some way to help ourselves and the thousands of parents in the same ignorant case.

Through this vignette (ficticious?), we learn that the father truly did seek reform and the PNEU was founded to help parents properly educate their children.  There is much in the little story for us to learn, I think.  But now, persevering reader, I have a question for you!  I feel that being out in the night air with a knowledgeable guide is the best way to go about astronomy.  To help us along, we are using "The Stars" by H.E. Ray.  It does the job, but I would hardly call it "awe-inspiring".  Have you found a living astronomy book that does just that?  Would you kindly leave a note and tell me the title?


  1. I have two books that gave a little bit "more" when we first studied the stars. One is Journey to the Planets, by Patricia Lauber, with the usual caveat that there is some discussion about "millions of years, etc..."

    An even better book, if you can find it, is The Backyard Astronomer, by Alan E. Nourse. It was published in 1973, and really does emphasize the wonderful things you can watch and see for yourself in your own backyard, using just binoculars if a telescope is not available. It has clear directions about telling time from the Big Dipper, and other interesting things.

    For the awe-inducing aspect, I recommend Psalm 19:1-6.

  2. @ Karen: Thank you so much! Both titles are still readily available and I have them ordered. Excellent ending.

  3. What an amazing experience for your family! May God continue to feed Tom's mind the food necessary to grow more intrigued by the heaven's!

  4. oh I so wish that someone close to me knew something about stars... I am so in awe of the vastness... just staring and feeling small is enough to inspire this humble mommy for ages and ages to come, even if I don't know the names of the constellations and planets.

    most of the resources available are for the n.hemisphere, so I'm lost as to knowing where to begin.

    how I wish I did know something about stars... :)

    amy in peru

  5. Oh how I feel like that father, often!

    Let's do this again!

    Bobby Jo

  6. @ Phyllis - Thank you very much.
    @ Sally - According to the chapter, Tom's dad tuned in to how children learn and Tom's education was changed forever - thanks to the PNEU.
    @ Amy - you sound like me! I think the attitude you have is the starting point, don't you?
    @ Bobby Jo - Me too, but learning how to go about all this has been so great! Yes, we most definitely will do it again - please.

  7. I think you're looking for Signs and Seasons, a Christian look at classical astronomy for older kids. It's highly recommended especially for CM families, but also for everyone else.

    Here's a link: http://www.classicalastronomy.com/On_line_Ordering.asp

    Annie Kate

  8. Annie Kate,
    Thanks for the recommendation. I now have about a dozen titles to review! I'll post my findings in a few months.

  9. Because of this post I was encouraged to spontaneously take all the kids outside, snuggle up in a blanket and look out at the stars. The night was clear and brisk but beautiful. My little boy started singing a spontaneous praise song to God. I know very little about the "heaven's" but I didn't have to. Thanks for inspiring me to pay attention to these small things that can make a huge difference in the life of my children.