When The Sun Goes Dark


This richly illustrated book is a fun way to help young astronomers understand all the excitement during a solar eclipse. The book tells how two curious children and their grandparents re-create eclipses in their living room using a lamp, a tennis ball, two Hula Hoops, and table tennis balls. Later, in the backyard and around the house, the family explores safe ways to view a solar eclipse and ponder phenomena from sunspots to phases of the Moon. Written by the authors of NSTA’s award-winning book Solar Science, When the Sun Goes Dark gives children and adults hands-on techniques for learning the science behind eclipses of the Sun and Moon.

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Reviews (8)
  • on Wed Aug 09, 2017 2:23 PM

Wonderful book with beautiful illustrations and suggested “hands-on” activities to help understand moon phases and eclipses. Combined into a story-telling mode, the activities are well known and frequently used in the science education community. I asked a friend to evaluate the book with her children. Here is her response: “My 6 and almost 10 year old enjoyed the beginning of the book yesterday. We made it through about half in one sitting. It is quite dense with information, and my kids are patient and enjoy science. Of course we stopped frequently to discuss questions and act out scenes like the kids in the book. Both of them seemed to be “getting it” although this is far from the first time we have discussed these topics together. My eldest (a boy) suggested that we skip the “kiddie parts” and I think he was referring to the comments the girl in the story makes about her little brother. He did however pay very close attention to the illustrations of the kids as they worked out the models and even asked to take apart our lamp as they did in the story. My daughter, the 6 year old, was still a bit young for the finer points but remains very eager for our planned trip to Nashville to see the eclipse for ourselves. “…If I could have made suggestions at the beginning of the process I might have suggested a bit more diversity present in the family and although they emphasize that “grandma is in charge” this still is a very traditional setting and style that may not click with the very audiences that might be most important to reach. “The illustrations are beautiful and contribute a lot to understanding the content.” The book has the usual distortions of scale and orbit illustrations that suggest huge elliptical rather than almost circular orbits for the Sun and moon. These are difficult to avoid, of course. The book also tries, occasionally, to show the Sun as its true white. Still, a very worthwhile book to share with children.

Deborah Scherrer
Deborah Scherrer

  • on Tue Apr 18, 2017 6:47 PM

When the Sun Goes Dark is a charming and straight-forward story that details how eclipses of the Sun and Moon occur. This nice, cross-generational story of a grandmother and grandfather helping their grandchildren model the motions of the Earth, Moon and Sun to explore lunar phases and eclipses. They use of ordinary items to make models, and explore common questions asked by the girl and boy in the story. The good illustrations make it easy for people of all ages to pick up a tennis ball or an orange, turn on a lamp, and explore the phases of the Moon and eclipses. Finally, the book models children asking questions and figuring out the answers, which is a wonderful way to learn something new. Again, Andy Franknoi and Dennis Schatz have show that curiosity about the natural world is fun, and leads to an appreciation our home here on planet Earth. For more, in depth lessons on the Sun, Moon and Earth, I recommend "Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses and More" Solar Science - Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More - PB403Xby the same great team of astronomy educators.

Edna DeVore  (Mountain View, CA)
Edna DeVore (Mountain View, CA)

  • on Sun Apr 16, 2017 8:06 PM

This book is the next best thing to an actual live workshop about eclipses. It's a story told by a 12 year old child about wisdom learned from eclipse chasing grandparents. It has how to set up a Sun-Earth-Moon model at home with a tennis ball as model Moon and a lamp as model Sun (with the family dog named Sirius lying under the table where the lamp is). This right off the bat can explain why we see phases of the Moon as well as why eclipses happen and the difference between partial, annular, and total solar eclipses. It can show how the Moon's shadow covers a path only a few dozens of miles wide. It also explains why lunar eclipses happen and why they can be seen much more frequently than total solar eclipses. Grandpa shows how two hula hoops can show why eclipses don't happen every month. Since most children won't be able to go to the path of totality, especially important is how to view partial eclipse stages using special eclipse filter "glasses", pinhole projection, or projecting an image of the Sun onto a white paper on a clipboard from binoculars on a tripod. My one criticism is that reactions of people watching the eclipse is only described as that they "oohed and aahed". In my experience, at the moment of totality, people go completely nuts (or bananas), including me.

Alan Gould  (Berkeley, CA)
Alan Gould (Berkeley, CA)

  • on Sun Apr 16, 2017 3:50 PM

“When the Sun goes Dark” is a the perfect book for this age level to support learning about eclipses and lunar phases. Rather than a presentation of dry facts, extensive astronomy content is developed for the reader through the narration of a character in a story as she learns about astronomy through conversations with her grandparents and younger brother. Not only does the story explain the astronomy of eclipses and phases of the moon, but it does so as the characters engage with several activities that help them learn about these topics. These activities are perfect for use by parents and children in the home or teachers and students in a school classroom. The illustrations helpfully demonstrate both the concepts being communicated and the materials needed to engage with these activities. I could see teachers using this to guide instruction by reading through a few pages then trying out the activities described in the book. Further, the children in the story bring up some of the common questions and challenges learners often have with these topics allowing the narrative to explain these issues for the reader. Finally, one of the real strengths of this book is how well it helps the reader, again through both the narrative and the illustrations, understand the complex spatial reasoning required to explain these phenomena. Excellent resource to add to your science library!

Julia Plummer
Julia Plummer

  • on Thu Apr 13, 2017 2:33 PM

When the Sun Goes Dark is a story told through the eyes of a 12 year old. It is an easy read with a realistic, engaging story line of grandparents explaining eclipses and other scientific phenomena to their grandchildren. This book is of particular interest to me as a grandparent as my grandson is 12 years old and he and his siblings will have this book as a continued reference for explanations of phases of the moon, what exactly happens during a solar eclipse and an example of how elements were discovered by looking at the Sun’s corona. I would highly recommend this book to all ages. This book will assist teachers and parents in explaining why we have eclipses (not only solar but lunar, too) while also explaining simple concepts such as what is a month. The illustrations that support the text are superb. The timing of this book by Authors Andrew Fraknoi and Dennis Schatz, two highly respected astronomy educators, prepares all ages for the solar eclipse that will be seen across the United States in August 2017.

Janice Harvey  (Hilo, HI)
Janice Harvey (Hilo, HI)

  • on Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:24 PM

I can't imagine a better book for youngsters who want to understand the Earth-Moon system AND who are preparing for the All-American Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017. Authors Fraknoi and Schatz explain, through lucid family talk and simple diagrams, what causes an eclipse. Kids will be able to follow-long easily — conducting experiments, themselves, with table lamps and balls. The authors decorate their explanations with bits of modern fun — from the word "eclipse" not being confused with "e-clips," to dogs wearing eclipse glasses for eye safety. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

Tucker Hiatt  (Corte Madera, CA)
Tucker Hiatt (Corte Madera, CA)

  • on Tue Apr 04, 2017 2:20 PM

When the Sun Goes Dark is an entirely new kind of science book for kids. Like others we’ve seen over the years for the upper elementary and middle school ages, it’s a beautifully illustrated story that communicates important science ideas—in this case the reasons for moon phases and eclipses of the sun and moon. What makes this one special is that it does much more than teach a few important concepts. First, by illustrating the reasons for moon phases and eclipses, it helps kids correct a common misconception that the crescent moon phase is caused by Earth’s shadow falling on the moon. Second, it goes beyond simple explanations to illustrate, in a clear and logical way, why we don’t see eclipses every month, and why we’re much less likely to see a solar eclipse than a lunar eclipse. And third, the timing of this publication couldn’t be better, since it provides practical and safe ways to observe the first total solar eclipse in decades to be seen across a large swath of the United States —coming up August 21 of this year!

Cary Sneider  (Portland, OR)
Cary Sneider (Portland, OR)

  • on Fri Aug 04, 2017 7:28 PM

The drawing on the cover does not accurately show what a solar eclipse looks like.


$11.96 - NSTA Members

$14.95 - Nonmembers

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