Kid Lit Review of “Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World” by Rachel Ignotofsky

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This book about great women scientists is also very much about great overlooked women scientists. Some of the telling sentences you will see in this book are: “Rosalind [Franklin] is remembered as a woman who should have won a Nobel prize.” And, “Despite Cecilia’s accomplishments [Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin discovered the sun is made mostly of hydrogen and helium gas], being a woman meant she was only recognized as a technical assistant at Harvard.” And “Unfortunately, [Nettie Stevens, who discovered XX and XY chromosomes] [was] largely overlooked and forgotten.”

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In fact, you will probably not recognize the names of most of these women, even though they made great discoveries. Rather, the men who worked with them or came after them got the credit. Fortunately, as the book moves forward in time, that trend changed, but not hugely; we are still more familiar with male scientists than females. This book seeks to change that pattern.

Fifty women get double-page spreads in this book, with clever illustrations by the author accompanying each profile. (At the end of the book there is an “addendum” with short blurbs on “More Women In Science.”) They are arranged chronologically by date of birth, beginning with the ancient astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher Hypatia in the fourth century and ending with Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, born in 1977. Each history includes background, achievements, quotes, reputation at the time, and legacy.

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For example, in the sketch on Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Theoretical Physicist, we learn:

“[She] worked most of her life for little or no pay. Despite this, she solved one of the great mysteries of the universe.”

Born in Germany, Goeppert-Mayer was one of the “physics superstars” at the University of Göttingen, but when she and her husband immigrated to the U.S., only he was offered a position. Johns Hopkins did, however, let her set up a lab in an abandoned attic, where she worked for nine years without pay and did research resulting in ten publications on physics, quantum mechanics, and chemistry.

Because of the need for her intellectual skills during the race to create an atomic bomb, she finally got a job. She went on to prove the nuclear shell model explaining how isotopes behave that is now taught to every student. In 1963 she was awarded the Nobel prize in physics. But does anyone outside of physics know her name?

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There are side graphics by each story also, featuring interesting facts and trivia about each person. To return to Goeppert-Mayer, she love smoking so much she often smoked two cigarettes at once! Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and computer scientist, had a Jolly Roger pirate flag on her desk, we learn, because she was relentless in getting what her team needed. She also appeared on the David Letterman show. Gertrude Elion, a pharmacologist who created drugs for gout, singles, and herpes, started out as chemist testing pickles for grocery stores.

The women profiled represent a wide range of interests and accomplishments, and come from a variety of nationalities.

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The book is enhanced by not only the marvelous illustrations by Ignotofsky, but has a timeline, statistics in STEM (acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), a glossary of scientific terms, and a list of additional sources.

Evaluation: This terrific book will provide inspiration and enlightenment for all ages.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, 2016

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3 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World” by Rachel Ignotofsky

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I NEED that book and wish there had books like that when I was young.

  2. I love these illustrations! I’ve started keeping a running list of books I possibly want to get for my little nephew, even though he is currently three weeks old and has not yet mastered lifting up his head by himself, let alone paying attention to stories. :p

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