Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 24 Nov 2023

Cosmic Wonder: Halley’s Comet and Humankind by Ashley Benham-Yazdani

I would imagine that Halley’s Comet must rank as one of the most readily recognised astronomical phenomena amongst the wider general public  – somewhere just behind the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the Milky Way. But I’m not sure just how many people appreciate what an extraordinary natural wonder it actually is.

The comet is, of course, ancient and travels through space on an orbit that makes it visible from Earth every 75 years or so. But it was the work of British astronomer, Edmund Halley who, back in 1705, was able to calculate that the comet in the sky then was the same one that had returned before and would return again. It was this discovery that earned the comet its name.

U.S. based author-illustrator, Ashley Benham Yazdani has found a wonderful way of bringing this scientific marvel to life for younger readers by way of a lavishly illustrated picture book.

She tells the story of the comet’s journey past Earth by imagining that the comet is the one looking at our planet rather than being viewed itself from the surface. To the travelling comet, Earth looks like a unique place:

“In all of its travels, the comet had never seen a planet like this before.

It saw softly shaped clouds that puffed through the sky.

It saw tumbling oceans, deep blue and pale turquoise.

It saw land in all shades of ochre, grey, brown.

And everywhere it saw life.”

But not human life at first. Then, as it came around again on one of its orbits, there were the first people – and the comet marvelled at how humanity grew and progressed every time it flew past.

Now there was someone looking back at the comet – extraordinary people with extraordinary lives, lived in different and remarkable ways. These humans looked to the stars in wonder until the comet passed again and found that they had discovered how to make their own light and were no longer looking to the stars in awe but in curiosity – making plans to reach out into space themselves.

Halley won’t visit Earth again until 2061 – an event I’m unlikely to witness but that will, I hope, be a marvellous moment for the youngsters this book is aimed at. Benham-Yazdani does a fabulous job of bringing the comet to life and, at the same time, making it truly awesome (in the genuine meaning of that word).

The book ends with some useful factual notes about comets, timescales and the human response to this returning wonderer for those children who want to move on from the poetry of the story the book tells and follow up the science and history it introduces them to.

Published by Candlewick Press ( a division of Walker Books), you will be able to get this book from your local independent bookshop – who will be happy to order it for you if they don’t have copies on the shelf.


Terry Potter

November 2023