Something About the Sky by Rachel Carson and Nikki McClure

Review by Amy Halvorson Miller

Back in the early months of the pandemic, Olympia artist and writer Nikki McClure was approached by Orion magazine about illustrating portions of a script Rachel Carson wrote for television more than sixty years ago. Of course, she immediately agreed, making arrangements with Carson’s estate to create a picture book titled Something About the Sky, which was published last month.

Rachel Carson is known for her classic book, Silent Spring, which revealed how humans were poisoning Earth and creatures were dying as a result–most notably from the pesticide DDT. The alarm she sounded was crucial for us to hear during the formative years of the environmental movement.

In words and art the author and illustrator, having never met, help us understand that Earth has two oceans: one of seawater below and one of vapor above. Both carry and nourish life. Both move in currents, often with similar patterns shaped like waves, eddies, or ripples. Carson explains the water cycle and cloud types accurately and poetically. Fog, rain, snow–stormy or gently fleeting–are constantly reforming with no end nor beginning.

 

Nikki McClure worked with what she had on hand during a time when shopping for art supplies was not an option. In those long quarantined days she watched the sky then painted stacks of paper in watercolor blues and grays. She read Carson’s works and looked through photos of her at her seaside cabin. Then with McClure’s recognizable cut-paper technique and minimal drawing, she put the weather on the pages. The result lets the reader feel the words.

The book includes a note from the illustrator, explaining how she approached the work and recommendations for further exploration. I recommend it for readers of any age, especially those interested in natural science and art.

Something About the Sky brings together Carson’s scientific knowledge and lyrical writing with McClure’s flowing illustrations. Their collaboration shows a love for the essential clouds: “[Clouds] are the cosmic symbols of a process without which life itself could not exist on earth.” This book of art and science is one to pore over. It will remind you to love the sky.