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Review of Caroline’s Comets: A True Story

Caroline’s Comets: A True Story
by Emily Arnold McCully; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Holiday    40 pp.
3/17    978-0-8234-3664-4    $16.95
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3796-2    $16.95

McCully’s profile of remarkable nineteenth-century astronomer Caroline Herschel reveals the scientist’s complicated yet productive life as her brother William’s co-researcher and housekeeper. After childhood illnesses (typhus and smallpox) for which she received inferior treatment (“there was no one who cared much about me” is a direct quote from Herschel’s journals), Caroline moves from her birthplace in Germany to England, where she becomes an unpaid assistant to William when he is named King’s Astronomer. McCully carefully details all of Caroline’s contributions to the creation of “their” telescopes—from grinding and polishing mirrors to spooning food into her brother’s mouth so he can keep working—as well as her astronomical discoveries. Caroline’s work was eventually recognized and awarded: she was the first woman to find a comet (the 1786 “Lady’s Comet”) as well as the first to receive a salary for her scientific work (in 1787, she began being paid by King George III), and she was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Passages taken from Herschel’s diaries document her “prickly personality,” as do the delicate, spiky pen-and-ink illustrations that capture her serious expressions and dedication to her work. Appended with an author’s note, a bibliography, a glossary (of both scientific terms and nineteenth-century vocabulary), and a timeline.

From the May/June 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Danielle J. Ford About Danielle J. Ford

Danielle J. Ford is a Horn Book reviewer and an associate professor of Science Education at the University of Delaware.

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