Friday, March 31, 2023

Women scientists for space and sea

 March is Women’s History Month and today I’m reviewing books that highlight the contributions of women in rocket science and marine biology.

Theme: women’s history, space, ocean

Blast Off!: How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space 
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Sally W. Comport 
48 pages; ages 7-10
‎Calkins Creek, 2022   

Mary Sherman grew up on a farm in North Dakota with four older brothers and sisters. 

When she finally goes to school, she has a lot to learn. She didn’t even know the alphabet! But before long, Mary is reading stacks of books and exploring science. In high school, she fell in love with chemistry. She eventually worked in a lab studying rocket fuels, and figuring how much mixture would make a rocket fly.

But when it came time to send a satellite into space, would Mary’s fuel work? After trial and error and recalculations and retesting, it did! That’s what I like about this book: it shows the near successes, the misses, the dedicated scientists going back to the lab to work out more tests. I also like the back matter: some important dates, more about Mary, and about the rockets she sent up, up, up into the atmosphere.

The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums and Revolutionized Marine Biology 
by Danna Staaf
136 pages; ages 10-18
Carolrhoda Books, 2022

Jeanne Villepreux was born in a small village in France in 1794. While France was torn with uprisings and revolution, Jeanne grew up in relative peace in the French countryside. She learned to read as well as care for the sheep, cattle, and other farm livestock. At the age of seventeen, she set off to Paris to make her way in the world. On foot. Walking 280 miles – which took more than two weeks!

Once in Paris, she found work as an assistant to a milliner, who made hats for the Paris elite. She put her sewing skills to work and began stitching dresses and had a good business making fine dresses for the wealthy Parisians. When she married, she moved to a new land – Sicily – and remade her life again. Without children, she had time and freedom to study nature. Soon she had caterpillars, turtles, and more living in her home. She wondered: could she bring sea creatures into her house, too?

Jeanne invented aquariums for holding sea animals, and began to study some of the small octopuses called argonauts that lived in the local waters. Although the term “scientist” had not yet come into use, that’s what Jeanne was: a scientist. She observed, asked questions, kept notes, conducted experiments, and shared what she learned.

What I like about this book: This is a story about Jeanne, and also about the tiny octopuses she observed. It’s also about how science happens, and invention – for Jeanne was an inventor: she created observation tanks for doing her work. Back matter includes “how to be a naturalist” as well as timeline and source notes.

Beyond the Books:

Check out this book trailer for Blast Off here.   

The US wanted to get a satellite into space because of the "space race" - check out this video about the space race  

You have "rocket fuel" in your kitchen cupboard! Here's how to make a baking soda rocket

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by the publishers.


  1. Thanks for sharing about these two amazing women that I didn't know about. And I wish my daughter was a kid again so we could try the baking soda rocket.

    1. I think we can "pretend" to be kids and go play with baking soda "rockets" anytime we want to!

  2. Baking soda rocket sounds terribly dangerous! :) Two incredible women, and I particularly like the lady in France, given the historical period (plus revolution, reign of terror, Napoleon, etc), really interesting books. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Another great selection of books about fantastic women. I also hadn't heard of either and the intended audience will be fascinated by their stories. Thanks for sharing and Happy MMGM!

  4. I've seen Blast Off! (Great book!!), but hadn't seen The Lady and the Octopus. I find myself intrigued by that dark cover. Thanks for the rec!

  5. I’m especially intrigued by The Lady and the Octopus! Thanks for your review.