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scientists. Still, she accepted a rather tedious job measuring the positions and sizes of stars in images
photographed using the Harvard College Observatory telescope. Besides measuring and note-taking, she
analyzed the records on certain stars that appeared to blink on and off. Her discovery that the time between
blinks indicated both the star’s brightness and its distance from Earth led to the realization that the
universe was much larger than previously thought. Focusing on the life of the mind, the text is
contemplative and the illustrations are understated. In childhood, Leavitt is shown gazing at the night sky;
as an adult, her most active endeavor is a sedate walk. Still, the writing celebrates her achievement, and the
lovely artwork, set outdoors at night or indoors by day, includes yellow, tan, and white elements that are
luminous within the dimly lit scenes. A worthy picture book with informative back matter that will help
children understand Leavitt’s challenging times as well as her achievement.
Posted January 19, 2014
This book is a children's biography of Henrietta Leavitt, who worked at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. She made an important astronomical discovery that allows us to accurately calculate the distance to a certain type of star that varies in brightness in a regular way, wherever it may be.
Henrietta Leavitt is one of my favourite astronomers so I was delighted to discover this book existed. However, on reading the book, I found it characterised by sloppiness and lack of attention to detail.
The explanation of Leavitt's work is sufficiently unclear that it will only be undestood by those who already know what she did. The explanation is simplified to the point where it is wrong. Children are unlikely to understand Leavitt's work.
The assertions that adult Leavitt enjoyed reading the biographies of famous astronomers and that she liked "to repeat to herself her favourite 'sky-words': asteroid, cosmic dust and eclipse' are odd. No mention of these habits is made in other biographies and information about Leavitt's personal life is sparse. Whilst the former habit is plausible, the latter is peculiar and I was left wondering whether this is a little-known fact or an invention of the author.
The page devoted to Leavitt's education is misleading. The illustration depicts Leavitt the lone female in class of men. Zeal to explain the difficulties that women in general encountered in getting an education and pursuing careers in astronomy masks the fact that Leavitt graduated from an all female college.
The illustrations condemn the mediocre text. They are characteristed by lack of fidelity to the science they are trying to depict. The picture of the telescope at the Harvard Observatory seems to be suspended from the wall by means of a single metal bar, not attached to the floor by a complex steering mechanism as it should be. On the page that describes Leavitt looking at the Big Dipper, the stars in the picture are not the Big Dipper. Why not? The double page spread inserted part way through the story with the portaits of Copernicus and Galileo and sketches of various galaxies and planets is entirely superfluous and intrudes on the story like an ad break.
I intended to buy this book for many of the young children in my family to introduce them to Leavitt. However, the book is so poor I will not be giving it to any of them.