Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 28, 2016

Picture Books about Women in Science

Like many picture book biographies, two recently published picture books about women in science begin with childhood stories that suggest a future course. Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean is told in first person as if the scientist is looking back over her productive life. Marie is shown helping her father make maps showing soil conditions for farmers, work that kept the family moving a lot, though never near the sea. The book by Robert Burleigh continues with a summary of Marie’s college years studying geology, a nod to the discrimination she faced as a woman looking for work in science, and a celebration of her persistence. (Not mentioned here is the reason that finding work at all was made possible was because she sought a position during the WWII years, when men joining the armed forces had left spots that were filled in by women such as her.) Marie is shown working with Bruce Heezen, her most important colleague, using soundings to find depths in parts of the ocean and making charts to compare them. This led to the discovery of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which helped prove the earth moves and support the theory of continental drift.


Raúl Colón’s watercolor and pencil illustrations, with lots of blues and greens, are gorgeous. The book includes a glossary, bibliography, and “Things to Wonder About and Do.”


Original and lively perspectives were rendered with pencil by April Chu for Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark. The story is told in a simple but delightfully exuberant style, beginning with a baby born to a mathematician and a more famous father, the poet Lord Byron. A scandal is referred to, and the mother takes away the baby who will never again see her father. Ada grows up loving invention and numbers. When she contracts measles that leave her temporarily blind and paralyzed, her mother provides plenty of mathematical exercises to keep her busy as she recuperates.

As a young adult, Ada finds generous and intelligent mentors in Mary Somerville and Charles Babbage. When Babbage shows her his idea for a mechanical computer, Ada works out an algorithm for him to follow, making the world’s first computer program. Sadly, she never got to see the program run, but her work inspired others, and her name today is honored in ways such as Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates women in STEM.

The book has a timeline, a bibliography, and an extensive Author’s Note.

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