On Reviving Rachel Carson’s Long-Forgotten Television Script

Rachel Carson's 'Something About the Sky' aired in 1956. And it was almost forgotten... until paper artist Nikki McClure stepped in.

IN THE FALL OF 2020, when my days had only sky and trees and shore, Orion magazine sent me words by Rachel Carson to see if I would illustrate them. Without reading them, I replied yes.

Yes because Rachel Carson changed how we think about science and progress. In her classic work, Silent Spring, she exposed how human-made pesticides and other biocides poison the ecosystem. Her words helped ban dangerous chemicals and awaken an environmental movement that still works to protect the earth today. She was a scientist who wrote many important books full of beauty and wonder. She contributed to the well-being of this planet. It is an honor to help share her voice.

In 1956, the American educational television program Omnibus presented her with a project. A young viewer had submitted a request to see “something about the sky.” Moved by the youthful wondering, Carson wrote a script, and the segment, “Something about the Sky,” aired on March 11, 1956. Orion sent the excerpts available publicly from this long-forgotten project. The parts were mostly about clouds. But I sensed there was more to it, a “something” that could form into a book. I contacted Rachel Carson’s estate, and they granted me permission to illustrate and publish the script. Carson’s full thoughts about the sky, long tucked away, would now become a book-shaped “something” to inspire cloud gazing and wonder.



Illustrating sky and clouds posed a challenge to me. How could I depict clouds in my usual method of cut paper? Clouds have no defined edges, and their shapes keep shifting, forming, and dissipating. I wanted softer tones than the black paper I usually work with. Late 2020 was a time of change, and there was no going out and shopping for materials. I had to use what I had: ink, paper from a long-ago trip to Japan, the camera on my phone, an eye to the sky, and time . . . time to just watch and draw clouds. Not knowing what would happen, I began. 

I painted the paper with sumi ink, letting the ink pool and fade, forming layers of washes marked by the texture of brushes. I experimented, messed up, and kept painting. The ink bled and faded and moved and swirled like clouds constantly changing shape and form. I painted sheet after sheet of paper. When there was a tall stack of paintings, I let the unique hues of each sheet inform the image, molding my sketches to the play of ink. The stack of paper was a stack of possibility and chance. With minimal drawing, I cut images with the paper, not just from it. The paper and I had conversations about what might happen.


I prepared the paper by first painting over it with inks.

I pulled Rachel Carson into these discussions. What would she want to see? What did she see? I read her letters to hear her voice in my head. I used photos from her seaside cabin; of her brooches; her writing desk, pen, and microscope; of her trying to work while caring for her mother, nieces, and nephew. I felt as though I was making the work with her. That it was a collaboration. I had a new friend in addition to the sky and trees and shore; there was Rachel.


I used photos of Rachel to guide me, as well as pictures of me trying to work with my son on my lap.

And her words! Her words are so calm and clean and comforting. The sky through which we earthlings peer into the vastness of the universe—into the past of distant suns—can overwhelm us with infinity. Rachel’s words offer assurances. The sky is grand. It is mysterious and powerful. And yet it is what provides us life and security. The sky holds us to this earth, this wonderful earth. That request for “something about the sky” caught Rachel’s attention. It wasn’t a task to write everything about the sky. This was no assignment of certitude, but of curious wondering. She wrote to a friend of her desire to help people have “a new look at clouds—to make people feel that they are seeing them for the first time.”



“It is not half so important to know as to feel,” she wrote in The Sense of Wonder. To feel instead of know. That is what I hope this book gives readers, a feeling that makes you look up at the sky and wonder.


Bring home a copy of Something about the Sky today.

Read more about Nikki’s cloud-creating process here.

Something about the Sky. Text copyright © 2024 by the Estate of Rachel Carson. Illustrations copyright © 2024 by Nikki McClure. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Nikki McClureis a self-taught cut-paper artist renowned for her calendars and her highly acclaimed picture books for children, including Old Wood Boat. Outspoken about living well and responsibly with the earth, she makes her home in Olympia, Washington.