The Librarian Who Measured the Earth

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth

2.0 3
by Kathryn Lasky, Kevin Hawkes

A colorfully illustrated biography of the Greek philosopher and scientist Eratosthenes, who compiled the first geography book and accurately measured the globe's circumference.


A colorfully illustrated biography of the Greek philosopher and scientist Eratosthenes, who compiled the first geography book and accurately measured the globe's circumference.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Newbery Honor author Lasky (Sugaring Time) deserves high marks for her attempt to present formal mathematical concepts in a picture-book format. The result, however, is a somewhat uneven amalgam of fable, history and science that struggles to find an appropriate age group. She tells the story of Eratosthenes, the ancient Greek librarian who figured out how to calculate the circumference of the earth by a sophisticated process involving sun and shadows. In an author's note, Lasky explains that since there is little extant documentation pertaining to Eratosthenes himself, her job as historian became to ``responsibly imagine based on what we already know.'' Unfortunately, the simplistic language and imagery she uses to describe his life contrast awkwardly with the somewhat daunting details of his mathematical innovations. Older readers who can understand abstract calculations might well be put off by such lines as ``More than two thousand years ago a very smart baby was born.'' Hawkes (see The Nose, reviewed above) handsomely illustrates both the mathematical and historical concepts with his signature touch of whimsy. His stunning acrylics add significant interest to the volume. Ages 6-10. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-This picture book covers the life of Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a geographer who estimated the circumference of the Earth in around 200 B.C.. Though he was in fact a librarian, he is famous for his scientific accomplishments. Since little is known about his personal life, Lasky describes his early years in general terms. He liked to ask questions, loved learning at the gymnasium, and sailed off to Athens to further his studies. He became tutor to the son of King Ptolemy III of Egypt, and eventually became the head of Alexandria's magnificent library. Readers don't come to know the subject intimately, but they do get to know his times very well. The narrative is filled with fascinating details about his world. Hawkes's illustrations make a large contribution, as they contain authentic examples of the art, architecture, and social structure of ancient life. His paintings are rich and warm and filled with touches of humor, making the people, as well as their environment, come alive. The pictures combine with the text to give a clear explanation of how the man came to make his key discovery about the Earth's circumference. A fine combination of history, science, and biography.-Steven Engelfried, West Lynn Library, OR
ger for reading aloud. Introducing a person and a period largely unknown to children, this picture-book biography depicts the life of Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek who eventually became the head of the famous library in Alexandria. His most notable achievement was a remarkably ingenious method for measuring the earth's girth. After determining the angles of shadows in two cities and the distance between them, he used geometry to calculate the circumference of the earth Illustrating the text with warmth and humor, Hawkes' acrylic paintings capture the period details of the setting and clarify the geometric concepts used in the measurement. The often dramatic compositions vary from page to page, while the sunlit reds, oranges, and yellows glow brightly against the cooler blues and greens. Even unnamed characters look like individuals, with their own concerns and personalities. Hawkes' attention to detail and his occasional visual humor will reward any child who studies the illustrations Entertaining as well as instructional, the text presents the man, the story, the geometry, the geography, and the ancient world itself in simple prose. Lasky can be commended for making history so readable. And yet . . . is it history? Is it biography? Or is it fiction In the introductory "Author's Note," Lasky explains that there are gaps in our knowledge of Eratosthenes and that "we cannot fill them in by making up facts, but we can try to responsibly imagine based on what we already know, which is what I've tried to do in this book." Unfortunately, the reader has no way of knowing what parts of the book are factual and what parts spring from Lasky's imagination. As a baby, was Eratosthenes really "curious and full of wonder"? Well, probably; most babies fit that description. Did he "crawl across the kitchen floor to follow the path of ants"? Maybe. Did he wonder "why there were beads of water on the cistern in the morning" and "why the stars stayed in the sky"? Or did the author "responsibly imagine" that part? How about the details of school life at the gymnasium in Cyrene? Was Eratosthenes "a real whiz in math" as a schoolboy? Or does Lasky imagine that he must have been a whiz as a child because of his later achievements in the field as an adult A more careful wording of the text would separate knowledge from supposition, a fundamental principle of scholarship. When she speaks of Eratosthenes measuring the earth's circumference, Lasky says, "Perhaps he imagined the earth as a grapefruit." The word "perhaps" makes all the difference. If she had taken that approach from the beginning, this book would be outstanding. As fragmentary as the record may be, there's something special about real history, and readers can sense it The old juvenile biographies with invented conversations fell out of favor for good reason. Readers count on nonfiction to deliver the truth: maybe not the whole truth, but nothing but the truth, within the limits of the author's knowledge. Eratosthenes sounds like a fascinating man, but it's difficult to sort out which parts of this book are historically accurate and which are not. The author's and illustrator's bibliographies of 25 books and articles reassure us that "they" know what is history and what is invention. But in calling the book a biography, the author has a responsibility to let "readers" know, as well. Otherwise, the book should be placed in the equally respectable category of historical fiction, which also requires enormous research but gives greater range for an author's imagination Although flawed in its presentation of the main character, "The Librarian Who Measured the Earth" belongs in many libraries because it contains an entertaining introduction to the ancient world, a clear explanation of Eratosthenes' measurement of the earth, and remarkably vibrant illustrations.

Product Details

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.87(w) x 11.25(h) x 0.50(d)
AD840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Kathryn Lasky has written a variety of books for children, including fiction, picture books, and many nonfiction books. She is the author of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series and several titles in the Dear America series, and her book Sugaring Time was awarded a Newbery Honor in 1983. In 1986 she received the Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Award for the body of her nonfiction work.

Kevin Hawkes has written and illustrated many books for young readers, including Library Lion and Then the Troll Heard a Squeak. In illustrating The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, he was inspired by the Greek landscape and light, as well as the challenge of bringing a subject like ancient history to life. Kevin lives with his wife and children in Southern Maine.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Librarian Who Measured the Earth 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lasky tries to oversimplify the mathematics and manages to munge the explanation. My 9 year old can see that the earth would have to curl around the sun in order for the sun's rays to shine straight down every hole. It might take another page or two, but really, if you're going to explain the mathematics, do it right or not at all.