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BLOOMINGTON - If you look into the night sky you can see a constellation of stars that resembles a spider's web.

The Native American story of how a tiny grandmother spider achieved something that bigger and younger animals couldn't is the legend that Bailie Johnson, 11, liked the best when she visited a portable planetarium at Bloomington Public Library Saturday.

The legend says the spider spun a web up to the sun to bring back a piece of its brightness to light the animal kingdom.

The opportunity for Twin City kids and their parents to hear myths and legends about the stars while sitting inside the tent-like Starlab at the library is part of a statewide reading program called Mission Read.

"The story shows that it doesn't matter how old you are or how big you are, you can do great things," said storyteller and educator Melody Arnold of the Macon County Conservation District in Decatur.

Arnold shared her stories with about 160 parents and kids who crawled into the big tent that served as Starlab in the library's Community Room.

Bailie, and her mom, Darlene Johnson, were among a group of about 20 who took off their shoes and crept through a narrow tunnel into the Starlab. The Starlab was on loan from the Children's Museum of Illinois in Decatur.

The Johnsons, of Bloomington, attend the reading program together every summer. "I like to read the books she reads so we can talk about them," said Darlene Johnson of her daughter. Their current selection is "The Bridge to Terabithia," a mystery novel about a boy's success in a traditional Japanese art.

Inside the Starlab, younger children sat on their parents' laps and ooohed and aaahed as the stars appeared on the ceiling of the darkened tent.

Arnold talked about familiar constellations, including the Big Dipper, and lesser known stories about animals. She explained how different civilizations perceive the same groups of stars. Sometimes half a continent away, people see the same things in the stars. For example, Greek and Roman mythology pointed to Orion as a hunter; in North America, that same grouping of stars is also seen as a hunter.

Sometimes children are scared at first in the dark Starlab tent, but as soon as they see the stars and hear the stories, they begin to relax, Arnold said. Just like the children, she said, "I find the star legends fascinating.

"I also like to encourage people to look at the night sky. Not enough people do that anymore."


Sky programs

Other Mission Read programs about the sky include:

Night Sky Storytelling

When: 10 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Community Room, Bloomington Public Library, 205 E. Olive St., Bloomington

Why: Storyteller Arthur Avery will tell school-age children and their parents about Native American legends that explain how objects in the night sky were formed.

Spaceman Craft Day

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Children's department, Bloomington Public Library

Why: To make an astronaut: a simple craft for all ages.

Stories Behind the Stars

When: 7 p.m. July 17

Where: Story Room, Bloomington Public Library

Why: The Twin City Amateur Astronomers will provide a multi-media tour of the night sky and stories of its heroes, heroines, birds and beasts. The goal is to tell a mini-story about each of the 88 constellations.

Source: Bloomington Public Library

Compiled by Phyllis Coulter

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