Come See the Earth Turn


A sickly child, a poor student, and a medical school dropout, Léon Foucault seemed an unlikely candidate for greatness. But his ingenious experiment—simple, beautiful, and stunningly original—changed how we see the world.
Scientists knew that the earth turned on its axis. But how could they prove it? Countless experiments had been tried . . . and had failed. Then, one historic day in Paris, Léon ...

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A sickly child, a poor student, and a medical school dropout, Léon Foucault seemed an unlikely candidate for greatness. But his ingenious experiment—simple, beautiful, and stunningly original—changed how we see the world.
Scientists knew that the earth turned on its axis. But how could they prove it? Countless experiments had been tried . . . and had failed. Then, one historic day in Paris, Léon Foucault gave a magnificent demonstration that offered the proof everyone had been looking for.

Discover the improbable story of the man behind the famous Foucault’s Pendulum.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Foucault was small and slow moving as a child, but he had a clever mind. Drawn to science as an adult, he made an incredible discovery, one that would allow him to prove the unprovable--that the Earth does indeed spin on an axis. Mortensen's prose infuses this small scientific drama with remarkable tension, while Allén's dramatically lit paintings, often organized into elegant panels, have a cinematic quality and amplify the action even further. It should enchant not only science lovers but any child who has felt awkward and dreamed big. Ages 7-9. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Review, The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2010:
"An atmospheric picture book. ...The story of Foucault's tripumph—enhanced by the visual drama of Raúl Allén's sepia-toned illustrations—makes a suprisingly diverting read for young children."

Review, Scientific American, December 1, 2010:
"... elegantly illustrated ... "

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
In the nineteenth century, scientists agreed that the earth turns on its axis. But over years they are unable to prove it. This is the true story of Leon Foucault, a sickly youngster and poor student, but an accomplished scientist who found that proof. His delicate experiments with a pendulum must be made at night, when there are no outside vibrations. In 1851, he invites the scientific community to Meridian Hall in Paris, where there is a precise North-South line, to see what he has discovered. After he sets a pendulum free, it swings away from the line, proving the rotation of the earth. Allen's pencil and watercolor illustrations, enhanced with photo editing software, recreate the nineteenth century Parisian milieu while portraying the events in the text. Dramatic colors in the brown family are almost somber in their naturalistic depiction of the experiments, as well as in the final demonstration. Included with pronunciation guides are Notes, a glossary, and a bibliography. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—A 19th-century figure formerly relegated to entries in collective biographies at last gets his due in a solo picture-book biography. The pendulum that bears his name, designed as proof that Earth spins on its axis, is still regarded as one of the most elegant scientific demonstrations ever. Despite this and other technical achievements, however, Foucault spent most of his short life outside the French scientific establishment. Why? A lack of advanced academic credentials for one thing, suggests Mortensen in her matter-of-fact narrative and more detailed afterword—but also, without making a direct claim, she points to evidence that he may have suffered from a spectrum disorder. Allén's digitally finished paintings mix sequential panels and larger tableaus to depict a frail, thoughtful-looking young man working alone in a tidy, shadowy workshop or showing his latest invention to small groups of marveling onlookers. Readers will marvel too, at the genius of this little-known scientific wizard.—John Peters, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews

Slow in school but gifted as a craftsman, in 1851 Foucault was the first to find a way to demonstrate the earth's spin on its axis, using a pendulum. Mortensen invites young readers into this French scientist's life with a quick description of his childhood difficulties, but the focus of this enjoyable story is the "beautiful experiment" for which he's noted. The author describes earlier efforts to show the earth's spin and goes into detail about the accident that gave Léonhis insight, ending her account with his demonstration before a distinguished crowd. Allén's digitally finished pencil-and-watercolor paintings in browns and deep reds vary in size and placement on the page. They add to the sense of time and place but are less successful in illustrating the actual experiment. A series of small paintings shows the rod wiggling in the lathe, but in a similar series the pendulum's movement away from the longitude line is less clear. Readers will come away with a better sense of the history than the science. (author's note, illustrated glossary, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 7-9)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582462844
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 910L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Like Léon Foucault, when LORI MORTENSEN was a kid, she was surrounded by experiments—not her own experiments, but experiments conducted by her father, a research chemist. As she grew older, her father dazzled her and her sister with all sorts of demonstrations—white waxy stuff that burst into flame when exposed to oxygen, food coloring that wicked up wet paper and separated into its primary colors, and backyard weeds that he distilled into his own special brand of cologne. Although Lori did not become a chemist, she remembered the fun of learning and discovery. Today, she is an award-winning, multi-published author who writes about all sorts of fascinating subjects ranging from Ancient Egypt, to honey bees, to Amelia Earhart. She lives and writes in the foothills of northern California with her family and a cat named Max.
RAÚL ALLÉN grew up in Valladolid, Spain. He received a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Salamanca and then moved to Boston to study illustration and design. Raúl’s work has been exhibited in New York, Boston, Madrid, and Barcelona, and has appeared in Rolling Stone and GQ magazines, among others. Raúl now lives in Spain. His first American picture book, Ocean Wide, Ocean Deep, was also published by Tricycle Press.

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Read an Excerpt

0ne ordinary autumn day, September 18, 1819, a baby was born in Paris, France.
He wasn’t like other babies.
Instead of being fat and hearty, he was thin and weak.
Instead of a normal-sized head, his head was too small.
Instead of peering straight into his parents’ eyes, his eyes looked away.
Each day his mama worried—would the baby live?
But day by day, the baby survived.
His parents named him Jean Bernard Léon Foucault.

Léon grew into a shy and awkward boy who often sat in a corner reading by himself.
At school, he was a tortoise among jackrabbits. Léon answered questions too slowly. He moved too slowly.
And he was so slow finishing his homework that most of the time it was late.
His teachers shook their heads. What was wrong with the boy, anyway?
Léon passed his classes only with the help of his devoted mama.

Then Léon discovered that he had a talent for building things.
First he made a model boat, and then an optical telegraph just like the one on top of the neighboring Saint Sulpice Church.
Even though Léon’s slowpoke ways got him in trouble at school, working slowly and precisely at home allowed him to make things exactly the way he wanted them to be. 
Soon, family and friends marveled over the quiet boy’s clever inventions and magnificent contraptions.

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