This week’s books feature girls and women with a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math!
Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe by Katey Howes, illustrated by Valerio Fabretti (Sterling Children’s Books; ages 3+)
Magnolia Mudd is a girl who loves creating new inventions with her uncle Jamie. She is more than a little disappointed that she now has to share her absolute favorite grown-up with his well-coiffed finance, Emily. Worst of all, they want her to wear a frilly dress and toss petals at the wedding. This is definitely not something Magnolia is comfortable doing. But when Uncle Jamie tells her to find her own special way of participating, Magnolia enthusiastically gets to work. Research into wedding traditions leads to several inspired but failed inventions. But with the unexpected aid of Miss Emily, Magnolia creates the perfect engineering solution to celebrate her uncle’s nuptials — a bouquet and confetti launcher!
This story is great fun and my kids are full of giggles when we read it. But my favorite thing is the message that girls of all kinds are capable of loving engineering and creating their own inventions. The non-girly Magnolia and the traditionally feminine Emily are equally capable and interested in engineering a superb bouquet-blasting machine. This is an excellent story for inspiring young girls to be true to their sense of self and follow their own interests. It’s also a great reminder to adults to embrace kids as they are, even if it differs from our original expectations.
Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley (Knopf Books for Young Readers; ages 4-8) tells the story of Margaret Hamilton — computer scientist, systems engineer, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and recipient of the NASA Exceptional Space Act Award — who wrote the in-flight software for Project Apollo.
We first meet Margaret as a little girl interested in learning about everything and full of questions regarding the limited career choices for women. A love of mathematics eventually leads her to computer science and a career as a software engineer. She then joins NASA in their pursuit of a lunar landing. We read about how she gave great, detailed thought to all the possible problems the lunar landing could encounter and accounted for each in her mountain of code (a stack literally as tall as Margaret herself!). It is this code that led to the safe and successful first lunar landing despite a systems overload that occurred within in minutes of approaching the moon’s surface. An author’s note including more biographical information, a bibliography, and additional reading recommendations close the book.
Margaret’s story is nothing short of inspirational, and her enormous contribution to modern computer science and space exploration is beautifully captured in this book. Her story is written with concise yet engaging text paired with warm illustrations that capture a genuine likeness when compared to the photos included in the end papers. The result is a reader experience of feeling that you get to know Margaret as a person rather than just an outline of her accomplishments.
This book is an absolute favorite in my home. My daughter has always been fascinated by computers and space, and when we read this for the first time she was aglow with delight at reading such a story about a girl like herself. As a parent, this moment was enough to make my heart burst with love for my daughter, Margaret Hamilton, this book, and its creators. Overall, this book is superb and deserves to be on shelves everywhere for its ability to show kids the power of following your passions.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ten Speed Press).
“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.'”
Women in Science opens with an introduction that summarizes the biases against women in STEM across history, the monumental challenges they faced, and the importance of learning their stories. Included are profiles of 50 women from different fields of science, countries, and times — all of whom made significant contributions in their field of study. A timeline highlights significant scientific achievements made by women (e.g. 1780s, Caroline Herschel, astronomer, was the first woman to become an honorary member of the Royal Society) and significant advancements in society for women’s rights (e.g. passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and The Equal Pay Act). A Statistics in STEM page highlights the ongoing gender gaps in STEM graduates and workforce. The book closes with an inspirational Conclusion page urging the women of today (over half of the population!) to remember the legacies of those in this book and continue the pursuit of scientific discovery.
This book is an absolute gem for its wealth of information, inclusivity, and superb execution. Each profile is detailed enough to appreciate the value of each woman’s contributions and the individual challenges she faced while also being concise and engaging. The modern, stylized art makes it visually appealing and adds plenty of extra interest to text-heavy pages. But my favorite aspect is the forthright discussion of the gender issues surrounding women in STEM — it is an honest yet encouraging education about the realities of persistent inequality and devaluation of women’s accomplishments. And I believe reading this book, learning about these pioneering women, and educating our children about these issues is a powerful step toward necessary change.