Cover of Margaret and the Moon shows Margaret Hamilton contemplating the full moon as an astronaut and lunar module drift pastLot of recent books about female scientists! An eighteenth century astronomer. a marine biologist, a computer programmer. And today, a female member of the moon launch team is profiled in Margaret and the Moon.

I loved the voice of the book, and its quick pace. The book starts, “Margaret Hamilton loved to solve problems. She came up with ideas no one had ever thought of before.” The spare, efficient text tells about her interests as a child and about how finding computers changed her sense of what was possible. It’s exciting to see her struggling with the problems faced by space travel. The culminaton of the book is the moment when it looks like the computers may fail the astronauts in space, but it becomes clear that Hamilton’s careful computer coding has properly anticipated the problems, and solved them far in advance.

The illustrations are by graphic novelist Lucy Knisley. I loved her art in Relish and it’s just as accessible and fresh here. All of the text is hand-lettered (or maybe just looks hand-lettered?). The back endpapers include black and white photos of the real Margaret Hamilton. I kept flipping back and forth between the photos and the illustrations. Knisley does a great job capturing the look of the actual Margaret Hamilton in the illustrations.

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley. Alfred A. Knopf: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Cover of Shark Lady shows a woman in scuba gear underwater with a sharkIt’s sometimes tough for kids–and adults!–to look at successful adults and figure out what their success has to do with the day-to-day life they had as children. In Shark Lady Jess Keating does a wonderful job of showing how childhood interests and passions led to Eugenie Clark’s important discoveries as a marine biologist.

Clark is today known for her discoveries about sharks, but she didn’t even see her first wild shark until after college. And yet a full half of the book is devoted to Clark’s life before she graduated from college. How does Keating make it work? She helps us see the rich imaginative life Clark had as a child: “What would it be like to swim with her sharks? To breather underwater with gills of her own?” She shows us things Clark did not specifically related to sharks that eventually helped her as a scientist. We see her reading in the library. We see her tending a home aquarium with guppies, goldfish, and snails. We see her swimming and diving for fun. By the end of the book I was convinced of Clark’s passionate exuberance for her subject matter, and I loved thinking about how everyday childhood interests propelled her down her path.

The art in the book is rounded and delights in whimsy–fish and sharks swimming down the aisles of the natural history museum along with the patrons, lurking behind bookshelves in the library. The endpapers are covered with wonderful drawings of sharks and sea creatures.

The back matter includes digestible and highly entertaining “Shark Bites”–fascinating quick facts about sharks, a nicely composed timeline of Eugenie Clark’s life, and an author’s note focusing on Clark’s legacy and the research Keating did for the book.

This is, of course, a great book to pair with Swimming with Sharks, Heather Lang’s picture book biography of Eugenie Clark, but it stands exuberantly, delightfully on its own, the story of one child’s passion fueling an entire career.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the World’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens. Sourcebooks: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Cover of Caroline's Comets shows a woman looking through a telescopeOur family traveled to see the complete solar eclipse. An adventure story for another day! But that has had me thinking about the heavens and the people who explore them. One of those people was unlikely indeed. Caroline Herschel was an aristocratic woman, a spinster, in the eighteenth century. She spent most of her life running her brother’s household, but on the side, she became one of the world’s great astronomers. Caroline’s Comets: A True Story tells her story.

When I first read this book, I was surprised at how very old-fashioned it felt. Of course, old-fashioned is not a bad thing for a book set in the 1700s. But I flipped to the copyright page to make sure it was really a new book. It is–published in 2017. I finally decided it was the combination of Emily Arnold McCully’s art and her direct, clear prose that made me wonder how old it was. I have spent years reading and loving McCully’s books–she is one of the standard bearers of nonfiction picture books–and it is wonderful to see her work her magic again here.

I loved the way she wove quotations from Herschel’s autobiography into the text. McCully has a keen eye for the telling detail. She explains that once Caroline learned to knit:

From that day forward, I was fully employed in providing my brothers with stockings.

Later, McCully writes about how she helped her brother when his hands were occupied grinding a lens:

I was constantly obliged to feed him by putting victuals by bits into his mouth.

And the quiet understatment:

Last night…I discovered a comet.

Indeed, Caroline Herschel became one of the most renowned astronomers of her day and was recognized by the King of England as a royal astronomer, the first woman to earn that honor.

This book, with its timeless art and prose, will appeal to any little girl who found herself fascinated by the solar eclipse.

Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully. Holiday House: 2017

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

 

Photo of an animal, the olinguito, in a treetop.The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species is aptly named. Sure, it’s about a big-eyed, cuddly mammal. And the book is full of photos that will make you fall in love with the olinguito. But the emphasis in the book is on the scientific work that went into that discovery.

The book tells the blow-by-blow account of the scientist who first started to suspect that the olinguito might be a separate species and not just a different kind of a mammal the world already knew. Then we watch him assemble a team to test his hypothesis and see how each member of his team plays a specific role. My favorite part of the book was when, after they’d satisfied themselves that they had found a new species, they tried to publish their results:

“They submitted it to a scholarly journal for publication to share the news. A number of experts checked the report, and it was rejected.”

The scientists get back to work and spend another seven years researching and strengthening their argument before their work is finally published.

As I do school visits, I’m always surprised by how fascinated kids are in how long it takes to publish a book. I think this book, with its emphasis on the scientific process, complete with occasional rejection, will fascinate kids, too.

I was fascinated to see that the Source Notes are all from telephone calls the author made to various scientists involved in studying the olinguito.  This book will feel to readers like their own conversation with these scientists.

The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species by Sandra Markle. Millbrook Press: 2017.

Cover of book shows woman looking across ocean sceneI love to find nonfiction picture books about women in science! This lovely new picture book tells the story of Marie Tharp, a cartographer and ocean researcher. She didn’t live that long ago, but she still encountered lots of opposition to her working in science. She managed to carve out a tiny place for herself at the ocean-studies lab at Columbia University and with a colleague came up with the idea of mapping the ocean floor.

Because she was a woman, she wasn’t allowed to actually do the research required to make the map, but she gathered all the data and figured out how to put it into a usable form. In her work, she became convinced that the theory of tectonic plates was accurate and then used her maps to convince her colleagues. What a great role model of a gutsy, persistent scientist!

The book is written in first person, a choice that makes it easy for the reader to identify with Marie Tharp’s passions, patience, and success.

The back matter includes an interesting glossary (interesting! a glossary!) of terms related to Marie Tharp’s work: Pangaea, Ring of Fire, seafloor spreading. There’s also an interesting section titled “Things to Wonder About and Do” which invites young readers to do things like make soundings in a lake, to research deep ocean spots online, and to speculate about the center of the earth.

Raul Colon’s art is beautiful and lovely accompaniment to this biography. This video profiles another book he did using the same materials he used in this book.

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Coloon. Paula Wiseman Books (Simon & Schuster): 2016.

mesmerizedThis elegantly-constructed story tells about Ben Franklin’s visit to France during the Revolutionary War and his encounter with the healer Franz Anton Mesmer. Along the way, we see the scientific method in action and see how every step applies to a real life experience, learn about blind studies and the placebo effect, and learn where the word “mesmerized” actually comes from. It was a historical story I didn’t know, and Mesmer was a historical character I’d never heard of. Rockliff paints him vividly and sympathetically but Ben Franklin is the hero.

And the kids reading the book may approach those science class discussions of the scientific method with entirely new eyes.

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Candlewick: 2015.

sky

I was fascinated by the structure of this story. The first half of the book seems to be a natural history of peregrine falcons. We see a pair return to their nest, watch the male display for the female, and see them hunt. We see the mother lay a clutch of eggs.

Then, suddenly, there is a human in the illustration. She’s rapelling down the side of the cliff, where the nest is, and she steals the eggs! We’re as mystified as the birds, but they get on with their lives and lay a second clutch of eggs. Tragically, all but one of the eggs breaks before chicks hatch.

And there, in the middle of the book, we move away from the natural history and learn about what made the falcon eggs so dangerously thin and brittle: the pesticide DDT. We watch a protest against DDT, and breathe in relief as it is banned.

In the concluding section of the book, we see what the scientists are doing to help the peregrine falcons recover. We get to see those chicks, hatched from the stolen eggs, and watch how the scientists work with them to preserve their species.

The illustrations of the peregrine falcons are beautiful, and it’s a fascinating and inspiring book that gets into the nuts and bolts of what it takes to help a species back from the brink of extinction.

Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World, by Celia Godkin. Pajama Press: 2014.

sharkss

“Every September the great white sharks return to San Francisco. Their hunting grounds, the Farallon Islands, are just thirty miles from the city. While their 800,000 human neighbors dine on steak, salad, and sandwiches, the white sharks hunt for their favorite meal.”

This opening catapults us into the hunt. And what are those great white sharks hunting for? Katherine Roy builds up suspense with a series of brilliant page turns (in which I was wondering–is it people?) until we see that they are hunting seals.

After that engaging, page-turning opening, the book is organized to give us details, page by page, of the process of a shark actually consuming that yummy prey, the seal. We learn why the seal is an ideal food source for the shark, how the shark’s body helps him move as a hunter, how the shark’s jaws actually function during an attack, and much, much more.

There’s even a subplot to this book! Just when it feels like the book is coming to an end, Roy introduces the scientists who are trying to study the sharks, and we learn how they study them and what they’ve learned from those studies.

Roy’s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous (even if they are a bit gory). The book is absorbing and fascinating–a definite page turner!

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands, by Katherine Roy. Roaring Brook Press: 2014.