This biography of the famous scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson is part of the Step into Reading Series, specifically in the Step 3 category for grades 1-3 (appropriate for ages 5-8). Educational factoids and definitions of concepts are included.
The story begins when Neil is nine, and he goes to the Hayden Planetarium in New York. The experience left him “starstruck.” He determined that he wanted to be an astrophysicist. He got odd jobs to save up money for a big telescope. On the roof of his building with his big new telescope, he was taken for an armed robber with a rifle. But when the police came, he just showed them the planets, and they too were dazzled.
He wasn’t too successful in school, since he was only interested in astronomy. One teacher finally told him there were classes for young people at Hayden Planetarium and he started attending them: “The classes were hard. But he wouldn’t quit. Neil pushed himself to learn more and more.” He was thrilled to get invited along with scientists to Africa to view a rare solar eclipse. He was only fourteen, but he felt like a science superhero.
He was accepted into the Bronx High School of Science, and attended astronomy camp in the California desert. He even began speaking to adults about science. The author notes that by the end of high school, many scientists knew about Neil and competed for him to attend their colleges. He chose Harvard, and after eleven more years of study, he earned the highest degree possible in astrophysics.
At age 35, Neil went to work at Hayden Planetarium, “where his love of the stars had begun.” Part of his job was to appear on television to share the latest news about space.
In 2000, Neil contributed to the discovery that Pluto was only a dwarf planet: “Neil showed that science can change as new facts get discovered.”
The author concludes: “Today Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rock star among scientists.”
Charming illustrations by Frank Morrison add interest to the text.
Evaluation: The author elides over the fact that Tyson is Black, although she could have expanded on the incident with the police being called when he was on the roof with his telescope. Tyson himself, in a 2020 article, “Reflections on the Color of My Skin,” refers to other encounters he and his colleagues in the National Society of Black Physicists had with police. He writes, “We were guilty not of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), but of other violations none of us knew were on the books: DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black), and of course, JBB (Just Being Black).” He noted:
“None of us were beaten senseless. None of us were shot. But what does it take for a police encounter to turn lethal? On average, police in America kill more than 100 unarmed black people per year. Who never made it to our circle? I suspect our multi-hour conversation would be rare among most groups of law-abiding people.”
The important point that even world-famous astrophysicists who are not white have to contend with racial prejudice would have enhanced this otherwise excellent biography. The message about being in charge of your own education, however, is well made.
Published by Random House Children’s Books, 2018