Review of Emmy Noether: The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of, by Helaine Becker and Kari Rust

Emmy Noether

The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of

by Helaine Becker and Kari Rust

Kids Can Press, 2020. 40 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book

I’m always happy to find a picture book biography of a mathematician, and practically over the moon when that mathematician is also a woman!

It’s tricky, though, to write a picture book biography of someone who worked with high-level ideas. Emmy Noether helped Albert Einstein with the equations for his theory of relativity and did her own work that “completely changed our understanding of the universe.”

But the book also explains why most people haven’t heard of Emmy Noether, even though the work she did was ground-breaking and revolutionary.

A big part of that was that she was working in a field that didn’t welcome women at the time, and in order to get to do the work, she had to work behind the scenes – and wasn’t always given credit.

Another part was that she had to flee Germany at the start of World War II and died shortly after she left.

This book does an admirable job simply explaining high-level concepts. It also does a wonderful job getting across Emmy Noether’s exuberant personality and eagerness to talk about math. Here’s a bit after she had finally gotten her degree but wasn’t allowed to be a professor anywhere in Germany:

Emmy loved math so much, she found a way to teach anyway – she did it for free! That let her keep doing the research she loved and come up with new ways to think about and do math.

But just like when she was a student, other mathematicians took credit for her work. Or “forgot” to credit her. They knew they could get away with it; if Emmy spoke up, she could get kicked out of the university, since she wasn’t supposed to be there.

It’s lovely to have a book that shows kids that loving math can be ladylike!

kidscanpress.com

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Review of Monument Maker, by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Shawn Fields

Monument Maker

Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial

written by Linda Booth Sweeney
illustrated by Shawn Fields

Tilbury House Publishers in association with the Concord Museum, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 14, 2020, from a library book

You can tell this is a monumental book when you pick it up and browse through it. It’s thicker than most picture books, printed on heavy paper. The pages are large, done with exquisitely detailed artwork, and pictures of two of Daniel Chester French’s statues done extra big by turning the book sideways. Almost all the pictures are in shades of gray, except the frame of the story with modern kids examining his work and shown in color.

The book tells about the whole life of Dan Chester French, the sculptor of the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial and of the Minuteman statue in Concord and of many more American statues.

He didn’t expect to become a sculptor when he grew up, but he witnessed great events – like the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. And it turned out that he liked making art.

The book tells about the influence of moving to the town of Concord, Massachusetts and the great thinkers who lived there. I liked the detail that he took lessons in art from Louisa May Alcott’s sister (the model for Amy in Little Women).

I never realized that Daniel Chester French, the sculptor, made smaller models of the statue of Abraham Lincoln and other people, stonecutters, were responsible for the final statue made of stone.

I like it when biographies of artists give you the feel for how the artist was inspired as well as what his art is like. This book does those things very well.

Twelve pages of back matter give more information. This is an engaging, informative, and inspiring book. It makes me want to go see more Daniel Chester French sculptures.

lindaboothsweeney.com
shawnfields.com
tilburyhouse.com

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Review of The Only Woman in the Photo, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

The Only Woman in the Photo

Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America

by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 44 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 3, 2020, from a library book

Did you know that a woman named Frances Perkins was instrumental in designing the New Deal? I didn’t. She was also the first female cabinet member, and it was twenty more years before there was another. This picture book biography tells her story and how she was in the right place at the right time to make a big impact on people’s lives.

The author tells us that young Frances was too shy to speak when she was a child, even to ask for a library book. But she was encouraged by her grandmother, and when she saw injustices around her, she joined the new field of social work and spoke up to help people.

She spoke up for people in poverty and for worker safety. She witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 146 people died. That made her all the more determined to be a voice for women being exploited.

Frances first worked in New York State, helping pass laws there to make workplaces safer. And that was where Franklin D. Roosevelt, the governor, appointed Frances the state’s industrial commissioner shortly before the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression.

So when FDR was elected president, he asked Frances to be his secretary of labor. I like the double-page spread about her decision:

So Frances decided she’d accept the job – if FDR allowed her to do it her way. She had been thinking up ideas for years. Now she wrote all her requests on slips of paper, a to-do list for helping the most vulnerable.

At their meeting, she held them up, and she watched the president’s eyes to make sure he understood what she was planning. The scope of her list was breathtaking. It was nothing less than a restructuring of American society.

Their talk lasted one hour – until he finally said, “I’ll back you.”

The next spread shows Frances cleaning out the desk in her new office in the Department of Labor – the drawers were crawling with cockroaches!

The book goes on to explain – in picture book terms that are easy to understand – how hard Frances worked to help American workers. Her dream come true happened in 1935 when FDR signed the Social Security Act into law.

One interesting thing about the book that I find rather refreshing: It doesn’t talk about her marriage at all, except the note at the back where we learn that she was the sole support of her husband and daughter, both of whom had significant health problems. Since books about great men don’t always mention their families, there’s something I like about this picture book glossing over that. Though I did assume she was single and that’s how she accomplished so much, so part of me which that had gotten some attention in the main part of the book. But it’s a picture book biography of a woman who was far ahead of her time, and it does succeed in presenting the significant details of her life and making the reader want to know more.

KathleenKrull.com
AlexandraBye.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Ruth Objects, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Ruth Objects

The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

written by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Disney Hyperion, 2020. 44 pages.
Review written February 12, 2020, from a library book

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a wonderful subject for a picture book biography, because her life story is an inspiring one of triumphing in spite of obstacles. She’s a trailblazer, clearing a path for other women to follow in her steps.

I enjoyed the book I Dissent a little more, since that was the picture book biography that first told me about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life. But this one fills a niche of being for a slightly older age group (good for upper elementary, I think). It gives more details of her life and her journey through law school, teaching, in courts, and to the Supreme Court. I liked that when she was teaching at Columbia Law School, she filed lawsuits for women workers there to get the same benefits as men. This book featured a lot of her cases that were about gender.

Doreen Rappaport has a series of picture book biographies. They all stand out for their large size with big, beautiful paintings of the subject (and always their face on the cover) and for the way she highlights quotes from the subject on every page. Those big paintings make this book memorable.

“Yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on the Court, and I respond when there are nine, people are shocked. But the Supreme Court has had nine men for ever so long, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

doreenrappaport.com
EricVelasquez.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Review of The Bug Girl, by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoët

The Bug Girl

(A True Story)

by the Bug Girl herself, Sophia Spencer,
with Margaret McNamara
illustrated by Kerascoët

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020, 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 02/20/2020 from a library book

This picture book is written in the voice of the author, who is a fourth-grade student – and does a marvelous job of telling other kids that it’s okay to love bugs.

Sophia begins with her first encounter with a bug – when she was two years old, in a butterfly conservatory, one butterfly landed on her and decided to stay the whole time she walked around the conservatory.

After that, Sophia became obsessed with bugs. She got books and videos about them and learned all she could about them. She collected bugs, and her mom let her keep them out on the porch.

In Kindergarten, other kids thought Sophia’s obsession with bugs was cool. But that changed when she got to first grade. Now they started teasing her and calling her weird. There’s a very sad page in that section:

Then I brought a grasshopper to school. I thought the kids would be so amazed by the grasshopper that they’d want to know all about it. But they didn’t. A bunch of kids crowded around me and made fun of me.

“Sophia’s being weird again,” one of them said.

“Ew! Gross!” said another. “Get rid of it!”

Then they knocked that beautiful grasshopper off my shoulder and stomped on it till it was dead.

Sophia became afraid to talk about the bugs she loved. She continued to be teased and excluded at school and called weird. She thought she’d have to give up her passion.

But Sophia’s mother was sad to see her so unhappy.

She wrote an email to a group of entomologists asking for one of them to be my “bug pal.” She wanted me to hear from an expert that it was not weird or strange to love bugs and insects. “Maybe somebody will write back,” said my mom.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Or at least call.”

We thought those scientists would be too busy to respond.

But an email came from an entomologist named Morgan Jackson who asked to put the letter online.

He asked other bug scientists – all around the world – to let me know if they had any advice for a girl who loves bugs.

That set off a flood of responses, with a hashtag: #BugsR4Girls

I couldn’t believe how many people around the world loved bugs as much as I did. And how many of them were grown-up women!

Some were scientists who wrote about the work they do in their labs. Others shared videos of themselves with bugs on their arms and sent pictures of themselves hunting bugs in the wild.

The response also set off more publicity of its own – Sophia got interviewed by newspaper reporters and even appeared on television.

Now, as a fourth-grader, Sophia has many other interests, but she still loves bugs.

This picture book presents all this in a child-friendly way with bright pictures and simple text. At the back are six pages of cool bug facts from Sophia.

margaretmcnamara.net
rhcbooks.com

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Review of Bird Girl, written by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Bird Girl

Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World

written by Jill Esbaum
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Calkins Creek, 2024. 44 pages.
Review written April 30, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

Bird Girl is a picture book biography of Gene Stratton-Porter. Many years ago, I read A Girl of the Limberlost, and I expected the story of her life as an author. Instead, the book told about her fascination with studying and caring for birds and her groundbreaking work as a nature photographer who photographed birds in their natural settings.

And then I remembered that I learned from her novels how important it is for farmers to leave trees on the edges of their fields – because then birds will help them eliminate pests. And that was only a bit of the nature lore in her novels.

The book is bright and colorful and uses entertaining anecdotes to tell the story. When she was a girl, she hid a hawk’s droppings from her farmer father so he wouldn’t know where the nest was and kill it. Later, when he did shoot down a hawk, she took care of it and befriended it until its wing healed.

As an adult, Gene Stratton-Porter had a house with a conservatory that had windows with special hatches so birds could come and go, and she kept food for birds throughout her house.

She began photographing birds because the illustrations a magazine wanted to use for her stories were drawings of stuffed birds in unnatural positions. She learned to photograph and develop her own film – and then she went out into the nearby Limberlost swamp to take the pictures.

She fights through spongy muck and tangled undergrowth – rattlesnake territory – to reach the hollow tree where a vulture nests. She goes back time and again to capture the world’s first photo series of a growing vulture chick.

She ended up with a vast knowledge of wildlife acquired through patient observation that began when she was a child. And her story shows kids the power of a quirky obsession.

jillesbaum.com
rebeccagibbon.com

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Review of Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children

by Jonah Winter
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written February 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The topic of this picture book biography stirred me up besides telling me about someone I hadn’t known much about. Mother Jones – Mary Harris Jones – was the “grandmother of all agitators.” She spoke out strongly against oppressive labor conditions, and especially about child labor. The title and the focus of the book are about a Children’s March where she led mill children on a protest march from Philadelphia to New York City in 1903, which she called the Children’s Crusade.

The book is written in first person from Mother Jones’ perspective. Quotes from her speeches are used in a few places, and famous quotes are included on the endpapers. All caps are used in places to convey her anger at injustice.

Well, I’ve seen lots of things to get RILED UP about, but the worst thing I ever saw was in the fabric mills of Philadelphia. I saw children YOUR AGE – nine and ten years old – who worked like grown-ups, forced to stand on their feet for TEN HOURS STRAIGHT, tying threads to spinning spools, reaching their hands inside the dangerous machines that make the fabric, sometimes getting skirts caught, sometimes getting hair caught, sometimes hands or legs, working for hours and hours, never resting, breathing deadly dust – robbed of their childhoods, robbed of their dreams, and all for a measly TWO CENTS AN HOUR, while outside the birds sang and the blue sky shone.

The majority of the book is about the Children’s March. They didn’t stop at New York City, but marched on to the summer home of President Theodore Roosevelt on Long Island – where he refused to see them.

But the actions of Mother Jones ended up resulting in child labor laws that are still in effect today.

I liked that the artist used a dark palette for this book, with sobering pictures of the kids – as well as happier pictures, such as when the kids tried out the rides on Coney Island.

This book gives an important story, and I’m glad I learned about it. It’s told in a way that kids can appreciate a woman – and children – who made a big difference.

nancycarpenter.website
rhcbooks.com

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Review of The Superpower Field Guide: Ostriches, by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

The Superpower Field Guide

Osriches

by Rachel Poliquin
illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 96 pages.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is the second Superpower Field Guide, and I just put the first one written, Beavers on hold. These are some of the most entertaining books about animals I’ve ever read.

The tone is conversational, directly addressing the reader. Although the writer includes scientific terms, she starts out with kid-friendly descriptions, so it’s all easier to understand.

To give you an example, here she is talking about Superpower #7, the Impossible Ever-Flow Lung:

First, bird lungs aren’t balloons. They are stiff tubes. The fancy word for these tubes is parabronchi, but I’ll just call them tubes. At either end, these tubes are connected to balloons – seven to twelve in total, depending on the bird. Ostriches have ten. These balloons take up about a fifth of the space in a bird’s body – that’s a lot! They squeeze around a bird’s organs; some are even inside its hollow bones.

Now, bird balloons are part of the whole lung system, but they are not actually lungs. And they are not made from millions of tiny alveoli like your lungs. They are just basic balloons. They all have names, but I’ll keep it simple. I’ll divide them into two balloon teams: TEAM FRESH and TEAM STALE.

What follow is an explanation, with diagrams, of how breathing works for ostriches (and other birds) so that fresh air is always flowing through their lungs, whether they’re breathing in or out – an amazing fact that I certainly didn’t know before reading this book.

Rachel Poliquin is good at making amazing facts about animals sound amazing. That’s the whole focus of the Superpower Field Guides. The superpowers she attributes to ostriches are: Colossal Orbs of Telescopic Vision, Thighs of Thunder, Toe Claws of Death, Super-fantastic Elastic Striders, Two-toed Torpedoes, Do-it-all Dino Flaps, the Impossible Ever-Flowing Lung, Epic Endurance, the Egg of Wonder, and the Hydro-hoarding Heat Shield.

Reading these books, you do realize how surprising some of these abilities truly are. These are the kinds of books I want to read more of because they’re so interesting, and I have no doubt they’ll have the same effect on kids.

rachelpoliquin.com
nicholasjohnfrith.com
hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, edited by Hana Volavková

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942 – 1944

Edited by Hana Volavková
Expanded Second Edition by the United States Holocaust Museum

Schocken Books, 1993. 106 pages.
Review written July 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I found this book in good condition, hidden in the children’s nonfiction section of our library. It’s a thin paperback, and not many had noticed it. Besides, it’s a thin book and doesn’t draw the eye. But instead of weeding it from our collection, I was pulled in. I checked it out and read a few poems a day while the library was closed.

This book is a collection of poems and artwork created by children who were incarcerated in the town of Terezin, a ghetto in the Czech Republic during World War II. Jews were sent there supposedly for their safety, but as a stop on the way to extermination camps.

There’s a description of the history of Terezin and what life was like there at the front. At the back, an index tells what happened to the children who created the art and poetry. Most died in the camps, though a few escaped.

Something that made Terezin remarkable, though, was that some teachers decided to encourage the children to write and draw about their experiences. And their work, miraculously, has been preserved.

If you think about the words and pictures in this book much at all, they’re heart-wrenching. Reading it felt like a small way to honor these children, who experienced things no child should ever have to deal with.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Lizzie Demands a Seat! by Beth Anderson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Lizzie Demands a Seat!

Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights

by Beth Anderson
illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Calkins Creek (Boyds Mills & Kane), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written April 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks, but in this book I learned about Lizzie Jennings, a free black woman who fought in court for her right to ride on streetcars with whites in New York State in 1854.

This picture book dramatizes her encounter. She was physically thrown off a streetcar on her way to church, but got right back on.

Five blocks later, the conductor hailed an officer.

Again a crowd gathered and watched in silence.

“Officer,” said the conductor, “the passengers object to this woman’s presence. It’s my duty to remove her.”

“No one objected!” Lizzie said, leaping up. “I have rights!”

The officer forced her off the streetcar. “Make your complaint. You’ll not get far.

Lizzie did go to court about it, with her whole community behind her. Her lawyer was Chester Arthur – who later became President of the United States.

The whole story is dramatic and inspiring. I’d had no idea that African Americans also had to fight for rights in the North – of course that shows my ignorance. It’s always good to read about someone standing up for what’s right. And especially good when they win rights for others as well.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with a nice variety of scenes pictured and a focus on faces. I’m glad this story is being told.

bethandersonwriter.com
eblewis.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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