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Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer (with audio recording)

Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer (with audio recording)

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by Robert Burleigh, Raúl Colón

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Henrietta Levitt was the first person to discover the scientific importance of a star’s brightness—so why has no one heard of her? Learn all about a female pioneer of astronomy in this picture book biography with audio.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born on July 4, 1868, and she changed the course of astronomy when she was just twenty-five years


Henrietta Levitt was the first person to discover the scientific importance of a star’s brightness—so why has no one heard of her? Learn all about a female pioneer of astronomy in this picture book biography with audio.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born on July 4, 1868, and she changed the course of astronomy when she was just twenty-five years old. Henrietta spent years measuring star positions and sizes from photographs taken by the telescope at the Harvard College Observatory, where she worked. After Henrietta observed that certain stars had a fixed pattern to their changes, her discovery made it possible for astronomers to measure greater and greater distances—leading to our present understanding of the vast size of the universe.

An astronomer of her time called Henrietta Leavitt “one of the most important women ever to touch astronomy,” and another close associate said she had the “best mind at the Harvard Observatory.” Henrietta Leaveitt's story will inspire young women and aspiring scientists of all kinds and includes additional information about the solar system and astronomy. This eBook edition also includes audio accompaniment.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—Scientific biographers face an unenviable challenge: How does one convey the excitement and impact of an individual's discovery when all but a tiny minority of the audience know nothing about the subject's field of study? In writing about Henrietta Leavitt, a pioneering female astronomer whose contributions revolutionized methods for measuring large distances in space, Burleigh approaches the problem with exclamation points. He drops in on Leavitt from inquisitive youth to "human computer" calculating data in a male-dominated lab and takes several carefully worded pages to outline the basics of her remarkable discovery. His success in delivering the science with clarity and brevity deserves admiration. But barring prior interest in the night sky, readers may find the punctuation-and sporadic third-person questions-attempts to manufacture passion and curiosity not entirely engendered by a narrative that reveals little about the subject beyond her most influential work. The textures and geometric composition of Colón's distinctive colored pencil and watercolor illustrations radiate with a diverse palette that encompasses warm, neutral interiors and fresh, vivid celestial views. The full-page scenes and star-filled spots, though awkwardly dispersed throughout the text, evoke the thrilling mystery and beauty of astronomy. Back matter includes an afterword that fills in biographical details, such as dates and places, not mentioned in the main text.—Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY
Publishers Weekly
Burleigh (George Bellows: Painter with a Punch!) investigates a woman astronomer who made a significant discovery in the 1900s when most women in her field “were human ‘computers.’ Their job was to record. And measure. And calculate. The women were expected to ‘work, not think.’” Henrietta Leavitt didn’t comply. Working at the Harvard College Observatory, she closely observed photographs of stars and uncovered a way to measure their true brightness, paving the way for others to measure even greater distances to the stars. Burleigh’s narrative is simultaneously succinct, descriptive, and appealing: “When she closed her eyes, she could still see the star dots, dancing across the inside of her eyelids.” Working in his familiar warm, glowing style, Colón (Annie and Helen) uses colored pencils and watercolors to create feathery-textured illustrations. Some images of Leavitt at work are rendered in muted beiges and greens, which make the night sky scenes shine all the brighter with their vivid royal blues and brilliant points of white light. An afterword about Leavitt and her discovery, glossary, bibliography, and other resources round out this attractive picture-book biography. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)
When Henrietta Leavitt graduated from Radcliffe College in 1892, women were not seen as potential

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.

Kirkus Reviews
Burleigh weaves imagination and information to sketch the life of a female scientist and illuminate her achievements. Henrietta Swan Leavitt, born in 1868, was a graduate of Oberlin and of the school that would become Radcliffe. Her interest in astronomy led her to work for many years in the Harvard Observatory. Although women were prevented from taking part in many facets of academic exploration, Leavitt made a major discovery within the parameters of her assigned work. Though little is known of his subject's life, Burleigh posits an early interest in the stars that may help to engage young listeners. The conversational text moves quickly, taking readers from dreamy child to dedicated researcher. Sophisticated vocabulary and complex concepts, as well as the variety of supplementary information Burleigh provides, from quotations about the stars to brief information about other female astronomers, suggest that this would be most useful as supplemental material in a science curriculum. Colón's watercolor, pen and pencil illustrations extend the text as, for example, when the sideways glances of Leavitt's college peers effectively convey just how unusual her interests and accomplishments were for the time. They also capture the fascination and beauty of starlight, seeming almost to twinkle at times. The current educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM) will likely increase interest in biographies about women's achievements in these fields. An artful and inspiring effort. (quotations, afterword, author's note, glossary, Internet resources, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Publication date:
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AD600L (what's this?)
File size:
15 MB
This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Robert Burleigh is the award-winning author of many books for children, including The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn, illustrated by Barry Blitt; Night Flight, illustrated by Wendell Minor; and Black Whiteness, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop. His many other books include Hoops; Stealing Home; and Clang! Clang! Beep! Beep! He lives in Michigan.
Raúl Colón has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

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Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Barn_Owl More than 1 year ago
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.