The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780062430151)
George Washington Carver grew up to be a famous botanist and inventor. In 1921, he spoke before Congress, talking about how the humble peanut could be used to make so many different products. This famous man’s connection with plants and the earth came from an early age in the form of his own secret garden. Born into slavery in 1864, he was kidnapped as an infant along with his mother. His mother was never found, but George was brought back to slavery. George and his brother grew up on the farm, even after slavery was abolished. Every day, George headed to the woods and the garden he was growing there. He learned all about plants without being mocked or teased, soon helping people in the area with their sick plants. He grew up, got an education, and became an Agriculture professor at Tuskegee Institute He also traveled the United States working directly with farmers to answer their questions and improve their farms.
Barretta’s picture book biography of this famous African-American scientist and genius is fascinating and filled with moments of wonder. The frightening kidnapping in his infancy, his start as a slave and then working on a farm for his previous owners, and his incandescent mind finding a way forward to learn and grow all add up to a remarkable life. The text is engagingly written for a compelling read.
Morrison’s art is phenomenal. The browns of the days of manual labor on the farm contrast with the bright greens, growing shoots, and tall trees of George’s secret garden. The two parts of his life could not appear more different.
A fascinating look at a remarkable man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoet (9780525645931)
This is the true story of a little girl who loves bugs, written by her. She first fell for bugs at two-and-a-half years old when she visited a butterfly conservatory with her mother. She loved books about insects and noticed them everywhere she went. In kindergarten, everyone thought that bugs were cool too. Sophia started a bug hunter club at school and had her own collection of live insects on the porch at home. But in first grade, bugs weren’t cool anymore and the other kids started to call Sophia weird for liking them so much. Sophia was dejected and tried to stop liking bugs, but that didn’t work. So her mother went online and reached out to scientists about their own love of bugs. Stories poured in, supporting Sophia and her passion for insects. Sophia was now making news herself and also got her name on a scientific article, all because of being the bug girl.
Written in Sophia’s own voice, this picture book is entirely engaging. It demonstrates how finding one’s passion in life is a powerful thing, but that the world can also be less than encouraging if you are a girl exploring science and creepy crawlies like insects. The change from kindergarten to first grade is dramatic and impactful, even resulting in one dead bug, killed right in front of Sophia. The end of the book offers an example of the sort of bug book that Sophia would love to write, filled with information on a variety of insects.
The art is bright and fresh, done in watercolors on white pages. They move from full-page illustrations to smaller ones that capture events in a brisk and friendly way.
A book about following your bliss, particularly if it’s a trail of ants. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)
Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.
Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.
A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.
Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil Degrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780399550249)
This book rightfully starts with the Big Bang and then moves on to a young Neil Degrasse Tyson being inspired by the Hayden Planetarium. At age nine, Tyson was inspired to start investigating the stars and the universe around him. He began with binoculars and in a few years had his own telescope. He worked to get a better telescope and also started to build his library of science and astronomy books. In sixth grade, Tyson attended a class at the Hayden Planetarium, often one of the youngest people there. At fourteen, after drawing the attention of the education director at the planetarium, Tyson was taken on a journey to northwest Africa to view a rare solar eclipse. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and went on to start speaking publicly about astronomy. His hero, Carl Sagan, tried to get Tyson to attend Cornell University, but Tyson chose Harvard instead. Eventually after getting a PhD, he returned to the planetarium that had originally inspired him, becoming the director. It was there that the controversial but scientific decision to eliminate Pluto as a planet gained Tyson public attention, leading to him becoming one of the foremost speakers and authorities on astronomy in the nation.
Krull, a master nonfiction author, writes an inspiring story here, showing that from a single experience, a lifetime of enthusiasm and knowledge can be born. Throughout the book, Tyson’s drive and wonder at the universe is clear. Tyson’s willingness to be visible as an authority on astronomy is clearly depicted as he understands the power of media to reach people and demonstrate that people of color can be scientists too.
Morrison’s illustrations also demonstrate the wonder and awe that Tyson feels for the universe. The illustrations have a wonderful vibe to them with people frozen in action and Tyson shown as the heart of the book. There are shining pages filled with black sky and brilliant stars that are particularly striking.
A strong biography of a national science hero, this book will lead young people to dream and wonder. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy (9780316393829)
Otis loved the ocean since he was a boy. He experimented with different ways to dive lower and lover in the water. Will didn’t discover the ocean until later in life, spending time in the woods, trekking the world and climbing volcanoes. Otis heard that Will wanted to dive deep into the ocean and with his background in machines knew that Will would need a very special submersible to survive. Otis reached out to Will again and again until Will agreed to see him. Otis built the machine and Will planned the expedition. The two tall men managed to squeeze inside the small space and then down they went into the deep. Lower and lower they went, creaking and remembering to breathe. They reached 800 feet and then returned to the surface, smiling.
Rosenstock has created a wonderful text for this book that captures the importance of teamwork and connecting with others who have a similar passion but different skills. The differences between the two men are highlighted and then it is even more powerful when the two come together and work on a common goal. I particularly enjoy Will supporting Otis as they descend into the depths. That same support of remembering to breathe is very effectively used to create drama as the depth increases, since readers too may be holding their breath. The art by Roy is exceptional, adding to the drama of the tale by showing the Bathysphere as isolated, suspending in the dark water. The two men and the contortions they go through to fit and work together in the small space are also charmingly captured in the illustrations.
A winner of a science read. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.