About the Holiday
Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by recent events and increased activism, this year’s theme is “Press for Progress: a Push for Gender Parity worldwide.” Rallies, performances, and discussions as well as special events and lessons in schools are just some of the ways that International Women’s Day is commemorated.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Written by Margot Lee Shetterly | Illustrated by Laura Freeman
“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.” The United States was involved in World War II, and Dorothy wanted to help the war effort by working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to make planes faster, stronger, and safer. Developing new airplanes required lots of tests at the Langley Laboratory in Virginia. Today, we use computers to do the kinds of math needed, “but in the 1940s computers were actual people like Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine.”
Even though Dorothy was a woman and an African-American in the segregated South, Dorothy did not think her dream of getting a job was impossible. After all, she was really good at math. She applied and was hired as a computer. At Langley, whites and blacks worked in different buildings and had separate facilities. After the United States won the war, Dorothy stayed on to create better aircraft.
Now America and Russia were in competition to build the best airplanes. This required more math, more tests, and more computers. Mary Jackson was hired at Langley to test model airplanes in wind tunnels. Mary had her sights set on becoming an engineer, but most of the engineers were men. To prepare, Mary needed to take advanced math classes, “but she was not allowed into the white high school where the classes were taught.” Mary didn’t take no for an answer. She got special permission to take classes, got good grades, and “became the first African-American female engineer at the laboratory.”
In 1953 Katherine Jackson was hired for a team who tested airplanes while they were in the air. Her work was to analyze turbulence to make planes safer in dangerous gusts of wind. She wanted to go to her team’s meetings, but she was told by her boss again and again that it was impossible; women were not allowed to attend meetings. At last her persistence paid off, and she became the first woman to sign one of the group’s reports.
When machine computers were installed at Langley in the 1950s, they were faster than the human computers but made many mistakes. “Dorothy learned how to program the computers so they got the right answers and taught the other women in her group how to program too.”
In 1957 Russia launched a satellite into space, ramping up the competition with the United States. Now “the United States started building satellites to explore space too,” and the name of the agency was changed to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency or NASA. Then President John F, Kennedy set a goal of sending a man to the moon. First, however, there would need to be many experiments, new space craft, and tests to send astronauts into orbit. This meant more people who were good at math would be needed.
When the first manned space flight was planned, Katherine calculated the trajectory that would take John Glenn into space and bring him home again. In 1967 Dorothy Darden came to work at Langley. She loved electronic computers and wanted to become an engineer. “Her first job was to help with NASA’s mission to the moon.”
When Neal Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface for the first time on July 20, 1969, he said it was a giant leap for mankind. “It was also a giant leap for Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine, and all of the other computers and engineers who had worked at the lab over the years.” The moon landing was just the beginning. NASA engineers were already dreaming of trips to other planets and super-fast spacecraft. And although it would be hard and require a lot of numbers, “Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine knew one thing: with hard work, perseverance, and a love of math, anything was possible.”
Margot Lee Shetterly brings her compelling story Hidden Figures to children in this exceptional picture book that skillfully reveals the talents and dreams of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine as well as the work atmosphere and social injustices of the time period. While acknowledging the struggles and obstacles the four women faced, Shetterly keeps her focus on the incredible achievements of these brilliant women and the positive changes and opportunities for others they created. Brief-yet-detailed descriptions and explanations of math, science, and computer terms flow smoothly in the text, allowing all readers to understand and appreciate the women’s work.
As Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, Christine each begin their work at Langley as young women, Laura Freeman establishes their dreams and their particular field of expertise through richly colorful illustrations that highlight the schematics, tools, equipment, and models they used. In one particularly affecting spread, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine go off to their offices on the left-hand side, and their white counterparts head out to theirs on the right-hand side while the blueprint of their building lies under their feet. Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine’s clothing is also mirrored in color by the women on the other side of the fold. Period dress and electronics show progression through the years, and kids may marvel at the size of early computers. The final image of Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine as older women is moving and inspirational.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race is an outstanding biography of four women who contributed their gifts for math as well as their self-confidence not only to science but to dreamers in their own and future generations. The book would be a stirring choice for classroom and home libraries.
Ages 4 – 8
HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062742469
Discover more about Margot Lee Shetterly and her books on her website.
To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.
International Women’s Day Activity
Women in STEM Coloring Book
Discover five women who broke barriers and made important contributions to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields in this printable Women in STEM Coloring Book created by the United States Department of Energy.
Picture Book Review
About the Holiday
Today’s holiday recognizes the spirit of inventors—those women and men, girls and boys who look at life just a little bit differently and not only imagine the “what if?” but make it happen. Inventors come from all backgrounds and with all different kinds of experience. Today, we celebrate those pioneers of the past, present, and future! If you have a creative mind, today’s the day to tinker around with your idea. Inventions don’t always haave to change the world. Have a better way of organizing your closets, a new game to play with your pet, or a new recipe to use the leftovers in the fridge? Go for it—and be proud of yourself!
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
By Rachel Ignotofsky
“Nothing says trouble like a woman in pants.” With this revealing attitude from the 1930s, Rachel Ignotofsky introduces her scintillating biographies of 50 intelligent, self-confident, persevering, and inspiring women working in engineering, math, medicine, psychology, geology, physics, astronomy, and more sciences from ancient history through today. The book begins with Hypatia who lived in Greece in the late 300s to early 400s CE and became an expert in astronomy, philosophy,and mathematics, making “contributions to geometry and number theory.” She became one of Alexandria’s first female teachers, “invented a new version of the hydrometer,” and can be found among the intellects in Raphael’s painting “The School of Athens.”
Zipping ahead to 1647 readers find Maria Sibylla Merian, considered one of the “greatest scientific illustrators of all time.” Her specialty was entomology. By carefully documenting the lifespan of butterflies, she taught people about the science of metamorphosis, publishing a book on the subject filled with notes and illustrations in 1679. Later she scoured the rainforests of South America, gathering information on never-before-seen insects from that region. Her book, The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname “was published in 1705 and became a hit all over Europe.” Maria was so famous, her picture appeared on German money and stamps.
Other women in the nature sciences include Mary Anning, who as a child discovered the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton and went on to become a paleontologist; Mary Agnes Chase, a botanist and expert on grasses; Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, who as a conservationist helped save the Florida Everglades; and Joan Beauchamp Procter, a zoologist specializing in reptiles who discovered the Peninsula Dragon Lizard in 1923; and more.
One of the earliest women astronomers and mathematicians was Wang Zhenyi, born in China in 1768. Creating her own eclipse model, she proved her advanced “theories about how the moon blocks our view of the sun—or the earth blocks the sun’s light from reaching the moon—during an eclipse.” She also measured the stars and explained the rotation of the solar system. At the age of 24 she published the 5-volume Simple Principles of Calculation. Zhenyi died at the age of 29, but in her short life she published many books on math and astronomy as well as books of poetry.
Women in Science includes many other women who have looked to the stars and mathematics for their careers. Some of these are: Ada Lovelace, the first person to write a computer program; Emmy Noether, who helped Albert Einstein develop his theory relativity, created the field of abstract algebra, and “made new connections between energy and time, and angular momentum”; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin a quantum physicist in 1900s England who “discovered that the sun is made mostly of hydrogen and helium gas” and in 1956 became Harvard University’s first astronomy professor; Mae Jemison, who in 1992 became the first African-American woman in space and later started her own technology consulting firm as well as founding BioSentient Corporation, and a science camp for kids; plus many others.
The book also features Engineers, such as Hertha Ayrton who improved electric lights by inventing “a new rod that made a clean and quiet bright light” and the Ayrton fan that blew away mustard gas during World War I; and Lillian Gilbreth, who used her theories of “organizational psychology” in inventing the foot pedal for garbage cans, shelving for refrigerators, and even the “work triangle” for kitchens “that determines the distance from the sink to the stove” and saves time. There are Geneticists such as Nettie Stevens who discovered the “X” and “Y” chromosomes, and Barbara McClintock—the pants wearer from the beginning of the post—and the first person “to make a complete genetic map of corn” and discover jumping genes, or “transposons.”
The field of Medicine has benefited from women such as Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor; Alice Ball, a chemist and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Hawaii, who helped cure leprosy with her chemical work; and Gerty Cori who discovered how our bodies covert glucose, helping us better understand diabetes. In 1947 she became the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize.
And this list only begins to scratch the surface of all the fascinating stories of women who overcame social, political, and personal obstacles to follow where their intelligence took them. Inspirational, entertaining, and undeniably eye-catching Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science presents expertly written, one-page biographies that hit all the high (and sometimes unfortunate low) points in these scientist’s lives. The striking layout of both the text and illustrations keep readers riveted to the page, The left-hand side contains a representational drawing of the scientist surrounded by the subjects and materials of her work as well as trivia about her and a quotation. On the right-hand page, small illustrated facts frame the woman’s life story.
Interspersed between the biographies are pages offering a timeline of women’s milestones, depicting lab tools, and graphing statistics of women in STEM. The back matter is impressive, with two more pages presenting 15 more scientists, a four-page, illustrated glossary, resources including films, websites, and books, and an index. Rachel Ignotofsky concludes her book by saying, “Let us celebrate these trailblazers so we can inspire the next generation. Together, we can pick up where they left off and continue the search for knowledge. So go out and tackle new problems, find your answers and learn everything you can to make your own discoveries!”
Ages 7 and up
Ten Speed Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-160774976
To discover more books by Rachel Ignotofsky, visit her website!
National Inventors’ Day Activity
What Kind of Scientist Would You Be? Word Search
Scientists like the women in today’s book make inventions for every area of life! In the future you might become a scientist and develop something new or different. If so, what kind of scientist would you like to be? Find the names of eighteen scientists in this printable puzzle! Then pick one and write why you would like to be that type of scientist!
Picture Book Review
About the Holiday
The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909 during a time of great change and increasing industrialization that saw more and more women demanding equality in working hours, pay, safety, voting rights and more with their male counterparts. Women across the globe are still fighting for these rights. This year’s theme is Be Bold For Change (#BeBoldForChange), and reminds us that we must always be vigilant in securing and keeping equal rights for all.
Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark
Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jordi Solano
When young Eugenie Clark pressed her face against the aquarium window at the sharks swimming by, she did not see “piercing eyes…rows of sharp teeth…vicious, bloodthirsty killers.” Instead she saw “sleek, graceful fish” and dreamed of being inside the tank to swim among them. She loved to spend Saturdays at the New York Aquarium sharing her knowledge of fish with visitors. She wished there was more information available about sharks and hoped for a day when she could learn more about them.
At home her mother bought Genie her own little fish tank, and soon the whole apartment was full of fish and reptiles. Genie kept careful notes on her pets as she tried to answer her many questions. William Beebe, a famous scientist who studied fish, was Genie’s hero. She too wished to explore the ocean like he did. But this was the 1930s and not many people “dared to study the depths of the sea, and none were women.” Eugenie’s mother suggested she study typing and try to become Beebe’s secretary. The life of a secretary was not what Genie had in mind.
Eugenie received a Master’s Degree in zoology, and when a well-known ichthyologist offered her a job as his research assistant and an opportunity to take oceanography classes, she moved to California. There she collected fish and water samples. The beauty of the underwater world astonished her. In the lab she was able to dissect a swell shark to learn “how and why it puffs up.” But Genie wanted to dive deeper—to swim with sharks.
One day, Genie’s professor allowed her to try helmet diving. Wearing the heavy metal helmet, Genie was able to descend into the cold, murky deep where kelp forests waved with the current. “In 1949 the US Navy hired Genie to study poisonous fish in the South Seas. As she collected fish, she came face to face with a shark. The shark swam closer and closer then suddenly dove and disappeared out of sight. Genie was thrilled by the encounter.
In 1955 Eugenie moved to Florida and opened the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, becoming the first to study sharks in their natural environment. The more she studied sharks, the more she realized that they were intelligent creatures, not stupid “eating machines” as most people thought. She wondered if sharks could be trained.
Eugenie set up an experiment in which a shark needed to press a white board to receive a reward a short swim away. Soon, the female shark of the pair realized that if the male shark pressed the board, she could swim to retrieve the reward. The pair remembered the exercise even after a ten-week break. Soon, scientists from around the world wanted to work with Genie.
Word reached her about “‘sleeping sharks,’” off the coast of Mexico. Instead of swimming around, these sharks stayed on the ocean floor. Eugenie was determined to learn how they breathed without moving. She dived deep into their territory, finding a requiem shark in an ocean cave. Here, she was face-to-face with one of the most feared fish in the sea. Genie swallowed any worry and watched as the fish opened and closed its mouth, providing itself with oxygen as a remora fish cleaned its gills.
Genie took water samples and completed other tests that revealed astonishing facts about the ocean caves and the habits of sharks. But while Genie was learning the facts about these mysterious sea creatures, most people still feared them and considered them with suspicion and superstition. As time went by, Genie began seeing fewer and fewer sharks on her dives. They were being killed out of fear, for their fins, and because people thought it would make beaches safer.
Genie began talking about her research, and people listened. “Dr. Eugenie Clark had become one of the most respected fish scientists in the world.” She taught people that there is always more to learn and “always more surprises.”
An extensive Author’s Note about the life and work of Eugenie Clark as well as more information on sharks follows the text.
Heather Lang delves into the life’s work of a woman who fearlessly challenged herself and the prevailing science to increase our knowledge of sharks and change people’s perspective on these beautiful creatures. Readers will love Lang’s comprehensive storytelling—beginning with young Genie’s fascination with fish and the sea—that reveals the pivotal events which led to her discoveries. Fascinating anecdotes from Eugenie’s research and personal encounters with sharks will enthrall children, and the idea that there is much more to discover will resonated with young scientists in the making.
Jordi Solano takes readers to the depths of the ocean in his sea-green, atmospheric illustrations that beautifully mirror the world of sharks. Textured and layered images of marine plants and a variety of creatures give children an up-close view of Eugenie Clark’s work and the fish she encountered on her dives. Each type of shark is magnificently and realistically drawn, giving kids an idea of coloring, size, movement, and more. Children will also see Eugenie’s research facilities and the equipment she used in her studies.
For anyone interested in marine science, history, biographies, or the environment in general, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark is a can’t-miss book.
Ages 5 – 9
Albert Whitman & Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807521878
Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website!
View a gallery of artwork by Jordi Solano on Plum Pudding Illustration!
International Women’s Day Activity
Fascinating Sharks Word Scramble
Picture Book Review