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You Are a Universe with Jason Chin

Jason Chin shares The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey, a dive into the microscopic building blocks of life.







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The Children’s Book Podcast

S6E09, You Are a Universe with Jason Chin

[1:13] Introduction

Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.

I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids.

And today we are talking about you and every tiny, microscopic, impossibly small, and absolutely wondrous particle, atom, and molecule that together make up you!

And we’ll do that with the help of an incredible picture book.

[1:47] Book Summary

Jason Chin, winner of the Caldecott Medal for Watercress, dives into the microscopic building blocks of life in this companion to the award-winning Your Place in the Universe.

In Your Place in the Universe, Jason Chin zoomed outward, from our planet, solar system, and galaxy to the outer reaches of the observable universe. Now, Chin reverses course, zooming in past our skin to our cells, molecules, and atoms, all the way down to particles so small we can't yet even measure them.

Like its companion, The Universe in You is a mind-boggling adventure that makes complex science accessible and enjoyable to readers of any age.

Impeccably researched, wholly engrossing, and with extensive backmatter for additional learning, The Universe in You is another knockout from the award-winning creator of Redwoods, Grand Canyon, and other distinguished works of nonfiction for young readers.

[2:56] Meet Our Guest: Jason Chin

Jason: Hi, my name is Jason Chin. I am an author and illustrator of picture books. My friend Mr. Marcus calls me an author-strator, which is a made up word, but I like it. So I am the author-strator of The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey.

[3:14] Jason Chin was a curious kid.

Matthew: This author-strator started out life as a curious kid.

Jason: You know, I think when I was very young. And I don't think there is a strict “when”. There was no moment that I can remember anyways. I think most kids are like that: always exploring and curious about the world when you're very young.

One way that I guess I expressed my curiosity was through drawing pictures. So I would see things and then draw them later on in the day if they, if I remembered them. My mom saved my first drawing. It was a kind of a scribble, you know, but it was a scribble of a car. At least that's what I told her.

So, you know, that was, I guess when I was two, when I did that.

Matthew: It is amazing how that curiosity you have for the world and the things around you from a very, very early age is something you can work to keep with you, to keep sharp, your whole life!

Jason: I think all kids are curious when they're very young. And it was important for me to keep that curiosity going. And I think that that's why I became an artist.

And when I started making the books that I do, you know, I had parents that fed that curiosity and teachers that fed it. If I had questions, they helped me find answers. And as I mentioned before, drawing was an important way to keep it going.

I loved Star Wars. So I would draw Star Wars. And then I'd invent and envision new Star Wars spaceships and storylines and characters. That's one example of the kinds of drawing that I used to do. And I think engaging my imagination, engaging, you know, visualizing these things, helped me to stay curious about the world because everything I saw and everything I learned could be put into the next drawing. You know, I'd collect ideas, I'd collect things and put them into the next thing that I was making or a picture that I was making. And that I think that's why I've enjoyed drawing. I think that's one reason that I enjoyed making pictures.

[5:49] Researching the Universe in You

Matthew: It takes more than creativity and curiosity to make a powerful picture book. It takes research. Knowing the topic forwards and backwards. Being able to explain it succinctly. Making sure that all of the information is accurate. These are all important steps in the process.

Jason: In the case of this book, I read a lot. That's true of all of my books. I read a lot. But when I read, I do a lot of envisioning or visualizing what I'm reading about. And sometimes that visualizing, in that process of visualizing, I make weird connections. You know, so… or maybe they're not so weird.

But for example, I was reading about the different parts that are in the cell. And as I was processing these words and learning the names of the parts and getting this information, I started to imagine that I was inside the cell and I started to try and imagine, you know, what it would look like if I were small enough to be inside the cell. If was the size of a water molecule or whatever.

And, and you know, that kind of slowed down my reading process because, you know, kind of in this other space, in this other world, daydreaming about that. But I've really valued that these trips off, you know, into my imagination because oftentimes that's where ideas for books come from or ideas that make their way into my book.

So that's a big part of my learning process is, you know, learning facts, learning the science, and trying to imagine what it would look like, visualizing, envisioning. And not necessarily for, uh, the book specifically, but just to help me learn it. It helps me to try and make a mental image.

[8:06] Creating a Companion Book

Matthew: The Universe in You has a sister book that a few of you may have read! It’s called Your Place in the Universe, and instead of journeying inward into the body, it explores outward beyond our planet.

Jason: When I started The Universe in You: a Microscopic Journey, it was, you know, intended to be a companion to the, to Your Place in the Universe.

Your Place in the Universe started as a book about scale because I was trying to make another book about the solar system, but I was having a difficult time explaining the scale of the solar system. So I thought, “Well, maybe this book should be just explaining that.”

And then I went way beyond the solar system to the whole universe. So that's how that book came about.

As I was doing that and as the shift, uh, in my focus went from the solar system to scale, at one point I tried to make a book that went from elementary particles like quarks all the way to the scale of the entire universe. And, you know, I tried to do the whole span of the very smallest and the very biggest in one book. And it was obviously too much after I gave it one fleeting attempt.

But from then, from that point on, I had it in the back of my mind that it would be nice to do a companion and go the other way. So I was kind of conscious of that being a possibility. And when I, when I made Your Place in the Universe, after, you know, making this whole book about how far away planets and the solar system and the galaxy and other galaxies are, my editor Neal said, “This book is about place. I mean, I know you've been saying all along, it's about scale, but it, it's really about place.”

It took me a little bit to come around to that idea, but he was absolutely right because when you learn how far away things are from, whether it's from your house to your school or your town to Washington, DC or from your country to China, um, you learn where you are by learning to measure distances.

And in the case of The Universe in You, when you zoom in and examine the scale of the very small, you learn what you're made of. So it became a book about what we're made of.

[11:06] BREAK

[11:15] Reading Aloud From The Universe in You

Matthew: I asked if Jason would mind sharing an excerpt of The Universe in You with all of you. The passage he chose occurs at the end of the book when the whole story is being pulled together through one beautiful thread. Please enjoy.

Jason: I'm gonna share the end of the book. Now in this book, for the first, you know, two thirds of the book, we've been zooming in and zooming in and zooming in to see the smallest things in the universe. And they're called elementary particles. And so for the section I'm gonna read, we're gonna zoom out again. So the pictures show us zooming back out to where we started. And here is the text.

Elementary particles are the building blocks of all physical matter. They make every atom, and atoms make every molecule in every galaxy star and planet.

Atoms and molecules combine to make Earth and everything on it, from the air you breathe to the water you drink from the ground beneath your feet… to life itself.

Molecules combine to make cells, which are the building blocks of living organisms.

All living things from the tallest trees and the longest whales… to the smallest birds, butterflies and bees are made of cells–just like you.

You are made of the same stuff as everything else in the universe. Your body is made of the same particles that make the stars. It contains the same elements that make the air in the ocean. The same molecules that are found in your cells, found in butterflies and hummingbirds.

But you are none of these things.

Your particles, atoms, and molecules are arranged into cells that are arranged into tissues and organs that form the body of a unique human being… a singular person, who can think and feel and discover… the universe within.

[13:24] The Same Stuff as Stars

Matthew: You, listeners, are made of the same things that make up everything in the entire universe. And yet you, listeners, are completely unique, unlike anyone else to ever walk the earth. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?

And that’s not all. Right, Jason?

Jason: This book is about what we can learn by looking close. And what we learn is how connected we are to everything else in the universe. We're all made of the same stuff, the same particles and atoms and so on.

But the beautiful thing is, and the real gift I think is that in all the universe there is just one of you and just one of me. Somehow all of these, you know, handful of building blocks, handful of particles, and handful of elements have combined by some miracle, if you will, into individual people who, you know, there's never been anyone… there's never been another you ever in the whole history of time. There's never been another me.

And somehow we're able to perceive the world. We're able to think and imagine and dream and read and make pictures. And it's a gift. It's an amazing gift we've been given.

[15:05] A Message from Jason Chin

Matthew: It is that time: when we say goodbye for now to Jason Chin.

I am grateful to Jason for looking inward and for finding place and purpose and meaning. And for helping us find it, too. I want to remember that I am made of the same stuff as the stars and of everything on this planet. That connection is powerful to me. But I am also so very grateful that Jason reminded us that never in the history of this planet has there been someone exactly like you or me. What a very special thing to hear.

As I prepare to return to a library full of children, and as you prepare for whatever is coming next in your day, I asked Jason if he had a message he would like me to share with all of you. And, of course, he did!

Jason: Feed your curiosity. I think you're gonna be in front of all of those kids and you know them better than me, but I'd be willing to bet they're all curious kids and they all have questions. And I hope that they are empowered to search for the answers. And the more answers they find, the more questions they'll want to ask.

So, you know, follow your curiosity. Feed it. And have fun doing it.

[16:38] Closing

Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner. Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.

Jason? Where can listeners find you?

Jason: My website is I also have an Instagram feed. I think it's Author J Chin, or maybe it's author Jason Chin. One of those is Instagram, one of them is Facebook, but you'll find me. The search function works.

Matthew: Visit for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.

You can also reach out and let me know what types of things you wonder about our universe. Or about the universe in you.

Write to me or send me a message at That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.

Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (

Our music is by Podington Bear.

Podcast hosting by Libsyn.

You can support the show and buy me a coffee at

Don’t forget to check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack, if you are a fellow teacher or librarian. It’s the perfect podcast to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities. It’s available wherever podcasts are found.

And on that note…

Be well. And read on.

End Of Episode

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