Review of Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science

atkins_finding wondersFinding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science
by Jeannine Atkins
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    198 pp.
9/16    978-1-4814-6565-6    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-6567-0    $10.99

Atkins (Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters, rev. 5/10) here tells the stories, again in poetry, of three real-life self-taught female scientists and the challenges they face in pursuing their passions. In seventeenth-century Germany, Maria Sibylla Merian assists her painter father, secretly observing and studying silkworm metamorphosis and challenging both folk wisdom and social norms. A century later, in England, Mary Anning develops paleontological skills out of necessity, selling fossils to keep her siblings fed and clothed and deferring to wealthy patrons who credit her brother with her discoveries. On nineteenth-century Nantucket, Maria Mitchell joins her father at his rooftop telescope, sharing a curiosity about stars that extends beyond whale ship navigation, and pursuing recognition despite the humility encouraged by her Quaker upbringing. Although the work of these three women is now part of the scientific canon, the book allows readers to share in the initial drama through slow reveals that give emotional weight to the importance of their discoveries. Atkins guides readers through the themes that connect the women’s scientific quests, from a boundary-pushing desire for knowledge (“Questions aren’t like maidens’ ankles, / meant to be covered by long skirts”) to the satisfaction they find in their work (“She weighs old theories, draws new conclusions. / Claiming this world, Mary claims herself”). The verse format allows Atkins to zero in on small but telling moments in her characters’ lives without being heavy-handed in drawing parallels to the scientific process or to broader cultural shifts. Back matter includes information on Atkins’s research and a bibliography of relevant sources.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Rettger
Sarah Rettger is an independent bookseller in Boston.

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