Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns (9781492642046, Amazon)
Eugenie was a young girl when she first visited an aquarium and fell deeply in love with the creatures there, particularly with the sharks. But it was the 1920’s and girls were expected to become housewives or secretaries not scientists. Still, Eugenie never gave up on her dream and continued to study sharks at the library and join the local aquarium as a member. At the time, people thought that sharks were heartless and frightening killers, but Eugenie set out to prove them all wrong. Eugenie got her degree and earned a place on a scientific vessel to study marine life. That was just the beginning of a career that spanned many decades, led to several books and articles, and proved that women have a place in science.
Keating shows the growth of Eugenie’s scientific aspirations in this nonfiction picture book, moving from her childhood fantasies of swimming with sharks to the lack of support at school and finally to the discoveries that she made as her dreams became reality. The book has a tone of pure curiosity and joy where readers will cheer Eugenie as she overcomes the many obstacles standing in her way.
The illustrations are lighthearted and playful. Aquarium hallways are filled with floating sharks and fish as Eugenie dreams about them. They celebrate the beauty of the ocean and its lifeforms, showing sharks as graceful and amazing rather than dangerous.
A vibrant and celebratory nonfiction picture book that embraces women in STEM wholeheartedly. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (9781585369942, Amazon)
When people start to move into McCall, Idaho in the 1940’s, they encroach on the beavers who were already living there. Soon the new human homes and roads are flooded as the beavers build their dams. In this sort of struggle, it is always the humans who win. But a unique conservation effort is undertaken by the Idaho Fish and Game Department to move the beavers to a safer and more sheltered habitat. The problem is how to get the beavers into the pristine wilderness where there are no airports and no roads. Perhaps the solution can come from World War II parachutes and one brave beaver named Geronimo.
Wood takes care with the amount of prose she has on each page, offering just the right amount of detail and action for young readers. Her prose is also playful, as she describes both the beauty of Idaho and the damage that the beavers can do. The tone serves the book well with the whimsical use of parachutes and boxes that can open when they hit the ground. The story is a fascinating one and the book makes sure to explain that this sort of solution would not be done today where it is expected that humans and nature find a way to co-exist.
The illustrations are a mix of workshop images and desks where plans are made and then the Idaho landscape and horizons. The images settle the book deeply into the wilderness and the setting in which the book takes place. There is a sense of isolation and beauty in the images where the beavers land in their new habitat.
Fascinating and fun, this nonfiction picture book tells the story of a unique solution to a wildlife issue. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Sleeping Bear Press.
Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley (9780399551857, Amazon)
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Margaret Hamilton and her work on computers. When Margaret was a girl in the 1930s and 1940s, she wondered why girls weren’t studying science and math, so she did. She went to MIT and started working on computers back when they required handwriting code and the computers filled entire rooms. She eventually went to NASA where she programmed computers to help astronauts travel to the moon and connect to one another in space. When Apollo 11 came and astronauts were going to land on the moon, Margaret wrote the programs to get them there and back safely. In fact, when disaster struck it was Margaret’s programming that kept everyone safe and accomplished the goal.
Robbins writes with a celebratory tone in this biographical picture book. His appreciation for Margaret’s ability to ask tough questions and figure out answers is clear. Throughout, he keeps the tone playful and light, showing the hard work behind the accomplishments, and her inquisitive nature as the keys to her success.
It is great to see graphic novelist Knisley illustrating children’s books. Her illustrations match the tone of Robbins’ writing, keeping the entire book light and celebratory. The amount of work done by Margaret is staggering and is shown by Margaret next to a pile of papers that showed the length of her code. That same image is repeated as a photograph at the end of the book.
A wonderful example of women in STEM, this picture book speaks to the power of brains and determination. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins (InfoSoup)
This compelling verse novel tells the story of three girls who grew up to be women who made their own personal mark on science. There is Maria Merian, a girl born in 1647 who loved nature. Through careful observation, she discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. Her artistic talents also helped document the life cycles of insects. Born in 1799, Mary Anning helped her father collect stone curiosities in England. When she saw a huge creature in the rocks, she discovered the first of the many fossils and dinosaurs she would uncover during her life. Born in 1818, Maria Mitchell grew up helping her mapmaker father in Nantucket. Exploring the night sky together, she spent years looking through her father’s telescope before discovering a new comet. All of these women battled societal expectations and familial pressures to become the scientists they were.
Atkins uses verse to directly tell the stories of these girls, the way they were raised and how they grew to become scientists. Readers unfamiliar with them will be amazed that they were able to reach such prominence in the time periods they lived and that their fathers were the ones who allowed them the freedom to learn and explore. These women demonstrate that through tenacity and determination one can become exactly who they were meant to be, despite almost everyone disapproving. The tales are inspiring and insightful.
Atkins has chosen three women whose stories work particularly well together. There are commonalities between them even though they span more than a century and involve different types of scientific endeavors. The strong focus on faith in all of the stories shows the way that scientists even today must reconcile their religious beliefs with scientific truths. Faith is handled with a frank sincerity here, an important part of family and life, but also something that can be personal to an individual.
Beautifully written, these brief glimpses of amazing women in science will introduce new sources of inspiration to young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Colón (InfoSoup)
This picture book biography tells the story of Marie Tharp, a scientist who was the first to map the ocean floor. The daughter of a mapmaker, Marie grew up following her father into the field as he created his maps. In the 1940s, Marie became a scientist and looked for a place to focus her attention where she could have a new idea. Scientists were just starting to measure the ocean depths using soundings, using echoes to assess depth. Marie worked to piece all of these measurements together into a map of the ocean floor, revealing mountain ranges under water and helping prove the theory of plate tectonics as she revealed a deep narrow valley running the length of the Atlantic Ocean. Marie Tharp is one of the 20th centuries most important scientists thanks to her discoveries as she mapped the ocean floors of our planet.
Burleigh has once again captured a female scientist and the importance of her role in science and in breaking barriers. The understated drama here is nicely handled, the defensiveness of some male scientists, the way that women were not welcome on boats, and the quiet way that Tharp worked to make her own unique impact on science. As readers see the importance of perseverance in scientific discovers and the importance of resilience in the face of resistance, they will understand that these apply to their own lives as well.
Working once again with Burleigh, Colón shows in images the vital importance that mapping the ocean floor had in understanding our planet and the way that it functions. The mapping of the ocean floor offers great images from the large maps to the underwater scenes that invite readers to think about what lies unseen under the ocean.
A dynamite pick for public and school libraries, this is an opportunity to learn about an important female scientist. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (InfoSoup)
In a small French village lives a strange man who is interested in the smallest of creatures, the insects around us. He lures flies with dead animals that he pays the children in the village to find. His home is filled with specimens. No one realized that he was one of the greatest naturalists of his time. Jean-Henri Fabre grew up in the countryside where he was fascinated by the natural world around him. No one else seemed interested in the same things that he was, but that didn’t deter him from investigating them. Henri became a teacher and studied hard, but not about insects. It was not until a book rekindled his interest that he started to study them in a serious way as an adult. He discovered things about insects that no one else had ever seen and he documented them fully. So when scientists in France nominated one of their own for a tremendous national honor, they voted for Fabre.
Smith writes with a gentle tone throughout, documenting Fabre’s entire life from his childhood to the great honor he received from his peers and his nation. The story starts with the arrival of the president of France for the award and then shows how Fabre’s fascination with insects started as a boy. The period of time when insects were not a focus is clear but also brief and then the book grows almost merry as it documents the many accomplishments of this humble man who followed his own interests in science.
The illustrations are pastoral and lovely. They capture the beauty of the French countryside and also the wonder of the insects, showing them in great detail. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that also reflects the childlike joy that Fabre found in his wonder about insects.
A lovely book about a scientist who followed his own dreams and interests to great acclaim. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
This is a picture book biography about Carl Sagan and how he got interested in the stars. It all started when he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and was inspired. He started researching stars and space and wondering about the universe around us. He got his doctorate and worked with other scientists to create machines that would investigate planets and take pictures of them. Then he went on television with his show Cosmos and told everyone about the universe and how we are all made from the same stuff as the stars. This is an inspirational story of how a child who loved the stars turning into a man who taught a generation about them.
Sisson keeps this book at the exactly right level for young readers. She does not dwell on Sagan’s time in college, but instead spends much more time on his childhood dreams and interests. She focuses too on his work as a scientist and then speaks very broadly about his time on television. I greatly appreciate that his work was not narrowed to just Cosmos, but instead it is celebrated as a part of what he accomplished in his life. The book ends with an Author’s Note and a bibliography and source notes that readers looking for more detailed information will find useful.
In her illustrations, Sisson wisely incorporates elements of comic books with panels and speech bubbles. These give the book a great modern feel and help propel the story forward. Done in a friendly cartoon style, the illustrations make astronomy approachable and friendly for the reader.
Children will be inspired to see a young person’s dream become their vocation in life. This picture book is a new way for Sagan to inspire people to learn about the stars. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CaTia Chien
This is a stellar autobiographical picture book written by and about a wildlife conservationist. Alan was a boy who could not speak clearly. He battled stuttering all of the time except when he talked with animals. When he visited the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo, he could whisper fluently into the ears of the cats. He also spent a lot of time with his pets at home, speaking to them and telling them that if he ever found his own voice, he would serve as their voice since they had none and would keep them from harm. Alan became the first person to study jaguars. In Belize he felt at home in the jungle. He worked to protect the jaguars and eventually had to speak for them in front of the President of Belize, hoping to save their habitat from destruction. But can he speak clearly in the short 15 minutes he’s been given?
This book is made all the more compelling by the fact that it is true. It gives readers a glimpse into the world of a child struggling with a disability, one that mars every verbal interaction he has. And thanks to his ability with animals, readers quickly see beyond the stutter to the boy himself and to the gifts that he has to offer. Even better, once Alan becomes an adult, readers get to see a man who is taking advantage of his uniqueness to make a difference in the world and for the animals he cares for so much.
Chien’s art is rich and varied. She moves from backgrounds of wine red to brilliant yellow to the deep greens of the Belize jungles. She shows an isolated boy, alone that contrasts beautifully with the man working happily alone in the jungle – so similar and yet so very different.
An extraordinary autobiography, this book shows readers not to judge anyone by how they speak but rather by what they do. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Kate Sessions is the woman who made San Diego into the green city that it is today. She was a pioneering female scientist who grew up in the forests of Northern California. After becoming the first woman to graduate with a degree in science from the University of California, she moved to San Diego to be a teacher. San Diego was a desert town with almost no trees at all. So Kate decided to change all of that and began to hunt for trees that survive and thrive in a desert. Soon trees were being planted all over San Diego, but that was not enough for Kate who then worked to fill entire parks with her trees and gardens. Kate Sessions was a remarkable woman who helped San Diego become the great city it is today.
Hopkins takes a playful approach to this picture book biography. From the beginning he uses a format that ends each new event in Kate Session’s life with “But Kate did.” Not only does this create a strong structure for the story, but it shows Session’s determination to not be swayed by what others thought was possible. From the beginning, she was a unique person with a unique vision. It is that vision and her strength in the face of societal opposition that made her so successful.
McElmurry’s illustrations add a beauty to the book. She captures the lush green of the California forests and then allows readers to experience the transformation of San Diego from a barren desert to the lush green of Session’s many trees. She also shows all of the hard work that it took to make that transformation possible.
Sessions will be a newly found historical figure for most of us, and what an inspiration she is! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.