Samantha Balaban

Imagining your place in the universe can make you feel pretty small and insignificant, and in the midst of a global pandemic? Well, even more so.

"I think this moment that we are living through reminds us how fragile our species is, living on this small rock in the vastness of the cosmos," says astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana. But he doesn't think that the universe should necessarily make you feel alone. It's inspiring, he says, to remember the "intimate and enduring connections that we have with the rest of the cosmos."

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Animal shelters around the country say that they're seeing more interest than usual during the pandemic. Are you perhaps thinking of adopting a dog? Or B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music? NPR's Samantha Balaban worked with our Life Kit podcast to assemble advice on where to start and how to prepare.

JILLIAN MOLINA: If possible, I'd love to just see your yard to make sure it's, like, dog proof.

Sarah Knight has built a career on saying no.

Her latest book, simply titled F*ck No! is a 300+ page book about how to say a single, two-letter, one-syllable word.

It's tongue-in-cheek self-help that offers advice on how to do what Knight calls mental decluttering, in order to pare down life to the essentials.

When Nancy Redd's daughter was three years old, she started wearing a bonnet to bed. It's a "ubiquitous black experience that I grew up with, my mom grew up with, all my friends grew up with," Redd says — and yet it's one that she felt ashamed of as a kid.

"If the doorbell rang, I would immediately take it off — I didn't want anybody to know it existed," she recalls. "I didn't want my daughter growing up with that same shame."

But Redd couldn't find a book that celebrated black nighttime hair routines, so she wrote it herself.

Lois Lowry has written more than 40 books and won the Newbery Medal twice — for The Giver and Number the Stars — but she's never written a story in verse until now.

When Daniel tags along with his parents to work — they are janitors in a big office building — he's surprised to find a fantasy world full of kings, queens, a throne room and dragons.

Author Helena Ku Rhee drew on her own childhood as she wrote The Paper Kingdom. Her parents were night janitors for a law office in Los Angeles. They couldn't afford a babysitter, so they brought her along.

When illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh first read the manuscript of Story Boat, she recognized the children in it immediately. Kheiriyeh's family fled Iran after war broke out in 1980 — she remembers what it was like to leave everything behind, to escape to a safer place. So Kyo Maclear's story, about a little girl and her family who are forced to leave home, felt very familiar.

Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey have been "making stuff" together since they were kids. They grew up in a family of four brothers, and from a young age, Jarrett says, he and Jerome "just clicked."

Over four years is a long time to go between albums in pop music, and it has been an especially eventful period for Selena Gomez. In the space between 2015's Revival and her latest release, Rare, Gomez has battled Lupus, depression and anxiety, and had two high profile breakups — all while millions followed along on social media.

When Ellison Nguyen was 4 years old he got the chance to meet Thi Bui, the illustrator of one of his favorite books. He was so inspired by her work that he promptly wrote and drew his own picture book — "It came to me," Ellison, now 6, explains simply.

Author Susan Cooper knows what it is to be scared of the dark. As a child growing up in England during World War II, she remembers long, dark nights, with Nazi bombers flying overhead.

"We would be sitting in a raid shelter underneath the back lawn with Mum reading books to us by the light of a candle," she recalls. "When the bombs came closer, the candle would shake."

Children love to pronounce the name of Olive Senior's new book: Boonoonoonous Hair. ("You break it down into boo noo noo nous, and then you say it fast," she advises.)

It's a word that comes from Jamaica where Senior was born. She says this evocative term has fallen out of fashion, but she's working to bring it back.

"It's just a word that suggests something lovely, something beautiful, something warm, something wonderful," she says. "So if you're told you're boonoonoonous that's a great compliment."

In the spring of 2018, 2-year-old Parker Curry visited the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., with her mom, her sister and her best friend. They saw a lot of artwork that day — but it was Amy Sherald's portrait of first lady Michelle Obama that made Parker stop in her tracks and look up in awe.

Growing up in northwestern Ontario, author Brittany Luby would hear things in history class that didn't line up with what she learned at home. She descends from the Anishinabeg, and "growing up I would hear about our peoples being 'discovered' or our territories being 'discovered,' " she says. "It was really confusing when I would go home and my parents would tell me: That's not actually how things happened."

Author Eoin Colfer knows the world has plenty of "boy-and-his-dog books." So if you want to write a book about a boy and his dog, he says, "you have to have something new."

Colfer's The Dog Who Lost His Bark is a book in two halves: "In the first half the boy heals the dog, and in the second half the dog heals the boy," Colfer explains. Music plays a role in helping both characters cope.

Pages