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Denise/D J Mathews
Author, Service Provider
Great American Women in Science and Environment

Young Adult; Science, Nature, Technology; (Market)

Had Elizabeth Blackwell planned on being our first woman doctor? Or Madam C J Walker, a self-made millionaire? Or Sally Ride, an astronaut? What about Grace Hopper being the mother of computer programming? These young women found inspiration, mentors, and others help to become our "Great American Women" in the fields of science and environment. Not that they all came by this easily. Erin Brockovich was a beauty queen and mother before she became a legal assistant and environmental activist. Gertrude Elion was a chemist, but it was upon obtaining a position at Burroughs Wellcome that she became a top cancer researcher for children and adults. These and more are in the chapters of this informative YA biography.
Mathews (Let’s Run Our Schools Together) details the inspirational stories of notable American women in this homage to female grit and determination. Composed of separate biographies with similar formats and accompanying historical photographs, this hefty publication recounts the achievements of heroines like Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman doctor, and Grace Murray Hopper, an early computer programmer and naval officer, as well as the upbringings that both challenged and motivated them. With household names like Erin Brockovich and lesser-known greats like Chien-Shiung Wu, this can-do tribute covers a lot of ground, aiming to ignite curiosity and inspire young girls (and boys) to “help the world and make it a better place.”

Mathews writes conversationally, favoring informal language and even touching on her personal experiences to entice readers and keep them engaged. This style lends an air of familiarity to a weighty subject and invites readers to imagine the day-to-day lives of these women, but at the cost of a more authoritative tone. Uncited quotes, like Sally Ride’s husband saying “Have a ball up there!” before she went into space, are indistinguishable from the chatty conversations that Mathews invents between the historical figures and other people in their lives, a likely source of confusion for younger readers and parents navigating the distinctions between fact and fiction.

Though the addition of historical images, including photographs, creates a welcome opportunity for kids to see the women and some of what they’re famous for, like a hair product of Madame CJ Walker’s, the hand-drawn illustrations from the author do little to enhance the reading experience. This is ultimately a celebration of women’s accomplishments in science and the environment—areas that are historically lacking in female leadership—and an encouragement for kids of all genders to make a difference through their inquisitiveness and perseverance.

Takeaway: Young readers who enjoy a more casual approach to history will appreciate this tribute to women trailblazers.

Great for fans of: Marlene Wagman-Geller’s Behind Every Great Man, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: B
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A