Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi

c.2022, Dutton Books for Young Readers         
128 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor

Twinkle, twinkle, little…

What? Natural elements, space dust, and turbulence that makes it all look sparkly?  Or maybe other creatures, planets, or whole other worlds with new ideas and inventions? In the new book Star Child by Ibi Zoboi, you’ll read about one author who came from stars, wondered what was beyond them, and dared to dream about it.

Laurice James Butler and his wife, Octavia Margaret, tried and tried.

Oh, how they tried to have a child together but the stars weren’t ready to let that happen. It took nearly 16 years after they were married before the universe said they were ready, and little Octavia Estelle Butler was born in June of 1947. Just days later, a UFO crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico; a year after that, the big bang theory was formulated.

Three years after her birth, little “Junie” lost her father and, from then on, she was raised by strong women: her grandmother, and her mother, who was “the greatest constant in her life.” Her mother protected her, and Junie wasn’t often allowed out of the house alone. Perhaps that was why she was a bit of a loner, preferring her books to almost anything else. Or she might have been an introverted child because she was very tall for her age, or because she was not a good student. Segregation might have had something to do with it, too. At any rate, she was quiet, observant, and bookish.

At some point shedding the nickname, young Octavia began to devour books on horses and fairy tales, and she jotted down stories of her own that never ended. She wrote tales about traveling to Mars and exploring space. She created other worlds and universes that pleased her. She “copied boys’ books” and the plots that she made into a book series later.

At age 13, Octavia discovered an abandoned writer’s magazine that someone had left on a bus seat. Curious, she read it all. It was then that she learned that it was possible to make money from the stories she told…

In latter chapters of Star Child, author Ibi Zoboi explains how she formed a friendship with Octavia Butler, and why she felt that she and the author were “kindred.” It’s a story that kids will love – what child hasn’t dreamed of meeting the person who wrote their favorite tales? – and it absolutely adds to this book. What may fall flat, however, is its poetry.

Zoboi says that Butler told her “Poetry simplifies” things but here, the “biographical speculative poems” seem to be too full of imagery to be helpful – particularly for kids on the lower end of the targeted age group for this book, some whom may not grasp the meanings of the fantasy-filled stanzas.

Think twice, then, before handing this book to a kid ages 10-13 unless you intend to help them understand it. Older kids and adults will appreciate it more, especially if they’re fans of poetry. For them alone, Star Child will shine.