Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell

K-Gr 3-The story of Maria Mitchell and the curiosity that led to her amazing discovery of a comet is wonderfully told in this picture book biography. The author carefully shows that Mitchell fulfilled what were considered her household duties, but also found ways to satisfy her own voracious curiosity "feeding her mind with ideas as sweet and juicy as oranges." Incidents such as repairing a broken chronometer for a ship's captain or using silk by unwinding a cocoon to fix her own telescope emphasize her determination and ingenuity. Collage illustrations capture the look and feel of early 1800s Nantucket and Mitchell's nights stargazing with her father. The endless inquiry that led her to decide "she would rather look for stars than whales" is reinforced by the image of the words from her thoughts captured in the steam rising from her teacup, as well as the repeated inclusion of her journal in various scenes. The story comes full circle as Mitchell, after a long stint as an educator, returns to the seaside with her own nieces and nephews and, "they asked questions. So many questions!" Back matter includes an author's note about life in Mitchell's era, her Quaker background, and her belief in freedom of choice for boys and girls, as well as a list of resources. VERDICT A well-told and attractive addition to biography collections, ideal for introducing famous astronomers, female scientists, or other pioneers in STEM fields.

My review originally appeared in School Library Journal, June 2022, pp.58-59.

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