About the Holiday
This month we celebrate women inventors, both past and present, who have changed our lives and the world for the better through their intelligence, creativity, unique vision, and perseverance.
Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer
Written by Robert Burleigh | Illustrated by Raúl Colón
Henrietta Leavitt loves the stars. Every night she sits on the front porch and asks herself what were—in the early 1900s—unanswerable questions. How high is the sky? How far away are the stars? She traces the form of the Big Dipper to the North Star and feels that the stars are trying to tell her something.
As a young woman she takes an astronomy class—one of the few women to do so. She learns about light years, planets, and the vast distances that fascinate her. After graduation she takes a job at an observatory, and while it houses a large telescope to study the sky, Henrietta is not allowed to use it. She and the other woman who work at the observatory are only there to record, measure, and calculate data, not to have new ideas.
But in doing her job, Henrietta begins to notice a pattern in the brightness of certain stars. She discovers new “blinking” stars. Taking careful measurements, Henrietta finds that a star with a slower “blink” time—the time it takes for a star to go from dim to bright, or from off to on—contains more light power than stars with faster blink times. But what does this mean? After more study she realizes that the blink time can determine the true brightness of any blinking star, even those far, far away.
Henrietta has made a breakthrough in astronomy! By knowing the true brightness of a star, astronomers can figure out the star’s distance from Earth. Henrietta publishes her star chart in a magazine, and it helps other astronomers measure first the Milky Way and then galaxies they didn’t even know existed! Henrietta is an astronomer–one who advances her beloved science! Even as she grows older Henrietta continues to look to the sky, to ask questions and dream.
More information about Henrietta Leavitt and her discoveries, Internet and print resources on astronomy and other women astronomers, a glossary, and more are provided on the final pages.
Instead of first presenting Henrietta Leavitt as an adult already working as an astronomer, Robert Burleigh chooses to introduce her as a child, when all she had were questions and dreams about the sky and the stars. It’s a fitting emphasis for a picture book aimed at children who themselves are only just discovering the questions that will guide their lives. Burleigh’s style is simple and straightforward, revealing pertinent facts about the working conditions of a woman scientist in the early 1900s, but emphasizing Henrietta’s internal contemplations that led to her important discoveries. It’s good for children to see that one does not always need to be the “astronaut” rocketing to the Space Station to contribute— the life of the mind is just as noble and needed a pursuit.
Raúl Colón’s watercolor and ink illustrations echo the theme of dreams and contemplation with soft muted colors and antique, sepia tones. Brightness on the pages comes from the points of light that fill the skies and Henrietta’s mind. As a child and young woman, Henrietta sits and stands in the glow of the stars and, one can imagine, her own thoughts.
Ages 4 – 8
Simon & Schuster, 2013 | ISBN 978-1416958192
Discover more about Robert Burleigh and his many, many books in the categories of science, art, poetry, adventure, sports, and more for children and adults on his website!
National Women Inventors Month Activity
Be the Star You Want to Be Coloring Page
Everyone has “stars in their eyes”—dreams and hopes for what they will accomplish in life. Decorate this printable Be the Star You Want to Be coloring page to show what’s in your imagination and in your heart.