I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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7 Qs with Sandra Nickel about her NEW nonfiction pb, The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

February 16, 2021

I’m completely starstruck by Sandra Nickel’s new NF picture book:

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe 

Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams

releasing March 2, 2021

Click here to view trailer. 

I was hooked from the start by the lyrical title of Sandra Nickel’s #must-read NF picture book biography, and it certainly lived up to its promise. Readers of all ages will be drawn in by young Vera, growing, questioning, and persisting in a world where women were to be seen and not LEARN or–heaven forbid–enter the man’s world of astronomy. Nickel’s lovely imagery is equally matched by Aimée Sicuro’s magical illustrations.

This book is truly “made of stars.”

Interior art from The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel / Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams.

“This engaging biography will appeal to budding scientists, particularly those with a penchant for sky searching.”  ― Kirkus Reviews

And we get to learn more about it!

Q 1. When and how did you first learn about Vera Rubin?

Sandra Nickel: I learned about Vera the day after she died. The New York Times put out a long, beautiful tribute to her, and Kate Hosford, a fellow picture book author, told me about it. I was immediately captivated by Vera and her accomplishments. I was also heartbroken. She had showed what no other scientist had been able to prove—that dark matter makes up 80 percent of the universe—yet she had been passed over year after year for the Nobel Prize in physics, as it was given to men and never a woman. It was so immensely unjust that I started researching Vera’s story that day. I can’t give a Nobel, but I can tell kids all over America about the incredible woman and scientist that Vera Rubin was.

Vera Rubin working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., in 1965. Photo Credit: Carnegie Institution

Q2. Are there any qualities in Vera Rubin that you see in yourself—or you wish you had?

Sandra Nickel: There are many qualities I admire in Vera. One is the love and dedication she gave her children. In fact, her dedication, in a way, led to her discovery of dark matter. Other astronomers were racing to gather data so they could be the first to pull ahead of the pack with new theories and observations in other areas of astronomy. Vera didn’t have the time to join the race because of the time she gave her children. Instead, she chose to look at questions no one else was looking at. By doing so, she made the immense discoveries relating to dark matter. 

Vera also showed her love and pride for her children by putting them on her CV, which is magnificent! Why aren’t we all doing that?

Q3. Which of your many previous jobs have most influenced your career as an author? (ED Note—I’m a theater teacher and my husband is an attorney so I’m guessing one of your answers is actor or lawyer, but then again there’s Playground supervisor… Nurses Aid…)

Sandra Nickel: I think about this question all the time. Recently, I’ve come to it from the other side, asking: What inside me drew me to each of these different jobs? One thing is a love of stories and storytelling. This is how I ended up acting and lawyering—and writing, of course. But through journeying through all these different jobs, I’ve come to realize that storytelling—and storylistening—is the yarn that bound me to each of them. It didn’t really matter if I was in a nighttime room in an old folks home or on the grass of a playground or taking an order at a restaurant, the story of each person is what I noticed and keep to this day.

Q4. Taking a page from your own blog… What’s on your street? Your desk? Your TO DO list?

Sandra Nickel: This is so much fun! I’ve never had the chance to be on this side of the What Was on questions. So, let’s see, What Was on Sandra’s. . .

Street: Lots and lots of grapevines. In the 12th century monks terraced the land around the road I live on in Switzerland. They planted white grapes for winemaking and folks still grow the same grapes today. If you continue downhill through the vines, you run into Lake Geneva and after about 8 miles of water, you run into the French Alps on the opposite side. It’s an unbelievably beautiful part of the world.

Desk: Not very much. I’m a bit of a neat nick when it comes to my desk. But behind me are shelves stockpiled and messy with picture books, favorite things, old family photos, and my picture-book muses.

TO DO List: Read the 39 books of the 21 other authors in my fabulous promotional group, The 2021derfuls. Prepare for school and bookstore visits coming up in February and March. Attend the SCBWI Golden Kite Gala, to celebrate the finalist books, among which is Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. Elevate Women.

Click here for fun NACHO’S NACHOS activities!

Q5. What might we find on Vera Rubin’s TO DO list?

Sandra Nickel: Elevate Women. (Yes, it’s true, I copied her for my own list.) Vera Rubin always made time to support women. She read their articles. She discussed their ideas. And when committees met to award prizes, she picked up the phone to make sure the committees didn’t forget the impressive women in her field.

Interior art from The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel / Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams.

Q6. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Sandra Nickel: You can overcome roadblocks. You can forge your own path that is different from how others are doing things. And, for my young girl readers, despite what the weight of history may tell you, you can make incredible contributions to the world, whether it’s in science, in the arts, or as a citizen of the world.

Interior art from The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel / Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams.

Q7. Can you tell us about your next project, BREAKING THROUGH THE CLOUDS?

Sandra Nickel: With pleasure. Breaking Through The Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson is about the first female meteorologist in the world.

As with astronomy, meteorology was a real boys club in the 1940s and 1950s. The male meteorologists actively worked to keep women out. One professor at the University of Chicago even told Joanne Simpson that “No woman ever got a Doctorate in Meteorology. And no woman ever will.” The male meteorologists also ridiculed her for being interested in clouds, which they thought didn’t affect the weather in any significant way. Well, Joanne was tough as nails—and stubborn—and she proved them all wrong. She not only earned her doctorate in meteorology, her work with clouds sparked an entire branch of science. Like Vera, Joanne was also a huge supporter of other women. A young female meteorologist, who flourished in the wake of Joanne and her work, said Joanne Simpson didn’t simply blaze a trail for women, “she blazed a road.”

I don’t have a cover yet for Breaking Through the Clouds, but here is a photo of Dr. Joanne Simpson in 1956 at the Woodshole Oceanographic Institute. Photo Credit: Nasa Archive


To learn more about Sandra and her books check out sandranickel.com  and follow her on

Twitter: @senickel 

Instagram: sandranickel

Next up on the blog:

Happy Book Birthday to

Dow Phumiruk, illustrator of…

 An Equal Shot: How the Law Title IX Changed America 

Written by Helaine Becker / Henry Holt

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