Sparking Girls’ Interest in STEM: Biographies of Women Scientists by Marta Magellan
Getting girls interested in STEM is becoming an important goal of educators and many parents. One of the best ways for parents and librarians to support igniting that spark is through nonfiction biographies. Many picture books about women scientists are being published to the delight of parents wanting to read them to girls before prejudices about math and science begins to germinate.
So many women scientists were not just brilliant and dedicated, they were much more. There are many good picture book biographies showcasing amazing female inventors and scientists, but here are some to get your started.
Beatrice Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf
Illustrations by Juyin Wu/ Albert Whitman, 2020
The crayon-drawn illustrations hint that we are looking at Beatrix Potter’s sketch books. The creator of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny was, of course, a beloved children’s picture book author, but that’s not all. The author spends most of the book on Potter’s life as a self-made scientist. Although her parents were good enough to buy her microscopes and whatever she needed to study mushrooms and animals, she was not sent to school. That was saved for her brother. In spite of that, she was the first to discover how fungi spores reproduced. She withdrew her paper and took up the writing of Peter Rabbit, giving the world her wonderful mind and talent in a different form. The author describes Potter’s experiments and discoveries in detail. Appropriate for middle grade.
Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Walmark
Illustrations by Katy Wu/ Sterling Children’s Books, 2019
Hedy Lamar whose beauty got her many rolls in Hollywood wasn’t simply glamorous. She was also brilliant, proving that absolutely nothing has to be sacrificed to be a scientist. This picture book biography focuses on her work with composer George Antheil to design a device whose idea has been applied to the wireless communication technology of today. They designed and patented a ‘frequency hopping’ device during WWII to make it impossible for an enemy to redirect torpedoes. The illustrator cleverly drew a cover with the inventor’s face half in black and white with diamonds to represent Lamarr’s movie-making era. The other side of her face is in color with pens in her pocket and graphs and reports in the background. The author, herself a scientist, gives readers a comprehensible explanation of the invention. Appropriate for middle grade.
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist
By Jess Keating, Illustrations by Marta Álvarez Miguéns/ Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017
The illustrations have you diving in the ocean along with zoologist Eugenie Clark, whose loved sharks since childhood. It was Clark who fearlessly swam into a shark-filled cave and discovered a slew of them resting peacefully. Her discovery dispelled the accepted knowledge of the time that all species needed to keep moving to stay alive. More importantly, pictures of a woman in close encounters with sharks helped many people to see that they weren’t mindless killers needing to be eliminated. The illustrator places sharks all around Clark in the library when she reads about them as a child. After becoming a zoologist, she plunges in the ocean with real ones, making for an exciting, boldly illustrated picture book. Middle grade, but could be read to younger children.
Marta Magellan has written award-winning nonfiction books about animals for children, books for the educational market, and magazine and newspaper articles for adults. A former full professor at Miami Dade College, she taught Creative Writing, English Composition, Survey of Children’s Literature, and Issues in Literature and Culture. She was adviser to the college’s award-winning literary magazine from 2001 to 2016, and she received three Endowed Teaching Chairs in the Humanities, the 2013 Distinguished Adviser Award, Florida College System Hall of Fame, 2014. She leads a Florida SCBWI critique group in Miami and travels into wild places to watch birds and other creatures whenever possible. Learn more about her at www.martamagellan.com