Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

To Be Strong...

When you consider the words strong and strength more than one meaning comes to mind.  Each of these refers to being physically powerful and muscular with the ability to do heavy, demanding tasks. In deeper definitions they refer to talents, skills, endurance and resistance.  The smallest individual can exhibit great strength.

Today, at this writing, there is currently 7, 461, 558, 20_ people in the world with the last three numbers changing faster than you can imagine.  Of this number the percentage of women is slightly less than that of men.  For every 110 men born, 107 women are born. (as of 2013) It is stated that due to longevity, statistics tend to even out but for quite some time the number of women has been gradually decreasing.  Given these facts it is absolutely astounding the accomplishments of the women highlighted in Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed The World (Ten Speed Press, July 26, 2016) written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky.  In her debut book readers find themselves inwardly cheering for the contributions these women have made for the benefit of this planet and its inhabitants.

Many people thought women were just not as smart as men.  The women in this book had to fight these stereotypes to have the careers they wanted. They broke rules, published under pseudonyms, and worked for the love of learning alone.  When others doubted their abilities, they had to believe in themselves.

Throughout history many women have risked everything in the name of science.  This book tells the stories of some of these scientists, from ancient Greece to the modern day, who in the face of "No" said, "Try and stop me."

These two excerpts from the introduction serve to shine a spotlight on fifty brilliant human beings.  With the reading of each of these one-page biographical essays our admiration for their achievements increases.  Without their commitments to their life's work, some of us would not even be here to read this book.

We begin with a woman named Hypatia who lived in ancient Greece furthering the study of astronomy, mathematics and philosophy.  She lost her life when killed by religious extremists.  We have Maria Sibylla Merian, born in 1647, to thank for the connection between caterpillars and butterflies.  Born in 1768 and in her short life of twenty-nine years, Wang Zhenyi left a legacy of being the first to formulate a theory dispelling the mystery surrounding eclipses.  Although she was not allowed to publish her work due to being a woman, Mary Anning was an important figure in the field of paleontology in Victorian England, determining that bezoars were dinosaur poop.

Can you imagine a doctor not washing their hands before attending a patient?  Until Elizabeth Blackwell (b1821), the first woman to receive a degree in medicine, made this connection and the spread of disease, doctors could

go straight from treating someone with the flu to delivering a baby without even washing up.

It is with deep gratitude we read about Karen Horney, a German psychologist who moved to the States in 1932, for creating the field of feminist psychology.  Marie Curie was known for carrying vials of radium in her pockets.  Putting her life in danger made our lives better.  Without the work of Mary Agnes Chase would we know so much about botany and food? She also opened her home in Washington, D. C. to visiting Latin American women botanists.  Physicist Lise Meitner had to leave Germany during Hitler's reign, but was essential in the discovery of nuclear fission. Her colleague, Otto Hahn claimed the Nobel Prize in 1944.  Everyone can move about better and use items in our kitchens thanks to Lillian Gilbreth, a psychologist and industrial engineer.

Before computers there were human computers, working in groups to accomplish similar tasks.  Edith Clarke was one of them and the first woman to graduate from MIT with a master's degree in electric engineering.  Love of their work and of each other placed Gerty Cori and her husband, Carl in the medical history books for their work in biochemistry.  It must have been a sight to see zoologist Joan Beauchamp Procter walking her Komodo dragon on a leash.  Sometimes the genius of a single woman had to wait to be noticed.  Barbara McClintock waited thirty years to receive a Nobel Prize.

How many of you can remember reading Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us?  Her attention to our waters was and is much needed.  Try to speculate how many lives would have been lost if Dorothy Hodgkin had not studied penicillin.  People may know Hedy Lamarr was an actress but how many know she was a co-creator of the FHSS (frequency hopping spread spectrum).  In 2015 Katherine Johnson, at the age of 97, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Her work was essential to astronauts leaving and returning to planet Earth.  And talk about believing in yourself...Rosalyn Yalow had a bottle of champagne chilling at all times in the hopes of celebrating a Nobel Prize.  In 1977 her goal was rewarded.

Replica plating, proof of dark matter, discovering chimpanzees using tools, holding the women's depth record in deep sea diving, the first woman in space, co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, discovering pulsars at age 24, and finding telomeres and studying their importance are only a few more recent discoveries.  Who knew we had nerve cells that function like GPS?  I wonder if Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lietenant Uhura, knows how she influenced Mae Jemison.  Living to the age of 108, one of the most astonishing biographies is about Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  Through her studies and writing the everglades in Florida became a National Park.  No matter your age or gender, these women and their stories will inspire you to assess your goals and to accomplish them regardless of any obstacles in your way.

Not only does Rachel Ignotofsky write with accuracy in creating these portraits but she does so conversationally.  She points out the challenges these women faced due to gender, race and religious beliefs.  A great many of them was supported by either their father or mother but others had to make their own way. It is astounding to know how many of them worked without pay or recognition.  This did not stop them in their pursuit of needing to know and understand.

Around the full page illustration of each woman and the main body of text, Rachel places single facts about each individual.  Along the bottom of the image page, she includes a quotation usually attributed to the woman.  Here are two more sample passages from a single biographical essay.

Emmy worked for free for 7 years at Gottingen until she finally started getting paid, but she was the lowest-paid professor.  Despite the lack of recognition, she developed mathematical equations that are still an important part of the way we understand physics now. She produced developments in the field of abstract algebra by proving new concepts about groups and rings.  She made new connections between energy and time, and angular momentum.  In doing all of this, she developed the Noether theory.
Because Emmy was Jewish, the rise of the Nazi regime put her life in danger.  She was fired from Gottingen for being Jewish but continued to teach from her apartment in secret.  In 1933, Emmy escaped to America, where she was hired to teach at Bryan Mawr College.  Unfortunately, only 18 months after she began teaching with good pay and a real title, she became ill and died at the age of 53.

The intricate illustrations formed with delicate line work, and an attention to color and detail seen on the front of the book case are found throughout the body of this title.  The opening and closing endpapers are a mix of all things scientific, each one of importance to one or more of the fifty woman scientists.  Every body of text is framed in small pictures.

Opposite each depiction of the women in words on the right-hand side is a portrait featuring them, on the left, in attire appropriate to the time period.  Places significant to their world are showcased in this illustration.  Each one of them is holding one or two items of importance to their work.

The background of all of them is constantly the charcoal gray seen on the book case.  Black and other bright hues, yellow, blue, green, orange, pink, purple, and red, in a variety of shades, act to define the images and provide fill color.

One of my favorite illustration of many is of Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist and inventor.  She is wearing a pair of dark slacks and a lab coat, holding a large eye model in one hand and an instrument used in the examination of eyes in the other hand.  Around her are eyes wearing glasses and small statements of her talents.

A debut book for Rachel Ignotofsky, Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed The World, needs to be on every professional bookshelf.  Girls around the globe from all walks of life will see themselves in these pages.  No challenge is too great if you have the will to make your dreams come true.  Fifty women did it and you can do it too.  Throughout the book Rachel has placed other two-page places to pause, Timeline, Lab Tools, Statistics In Stem, and More Women In Science.  There are four pages of glossary terms and two pages devoted to sources, films, websites and books.

To learn more about Rachel Ignotofsky and her work please visit her website by using the link attached to her name.  At her website you can view numerous images from the book.  She also includes a more extensive list of resources for this title.  Rachel maintains Tumblr and Instagram accounts.  There is a website devoted to the title, Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed The World.  You can read an excerpt of this title at a publisher's website.

To view other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge do visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


  1. Thanks for the thorough review. I'll be on the lookout for this one. I am always wanting to find more information about women who have done things, but haven't been celebrated very much.

    1. You are welcome Crystal. This book is full of accomplishments which have benefited everyone.

  2. Perfect to pair with Jeannine Atkins's Finding Wonders! I loved the info, but I found the style a little bit too cluttered and difficult to read sometimes. Maybe it was the color choice.

    1. I need to find Jeannine Atkin's book, Maria. I think the style is very unique. I enjoy the inclusion of all the details.