As we close out Women's History Month, I want to give a shout-out to a great new book for readers ages 12 up by Winifred Conkling about some women scientists who have largely been forgotten -- but shouldn't have been. Titled Radioactive! How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World," Conkling's book shines a spotlight on the major accomplishments of these two women in the field of nuclear science.
Recently, as part of our partnership with Politics & Prose Bookstore, Winifred came to my library to talk about her book. She noted that Meitner, who was memorialized in element 109, was a co-discoverer of nuclear fission, while Curie was a co-discoverer of artificial radiation and winner of the 1935 Nobel Prize in chemistry. (She also was the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie.) In a starred review of "Radioactive!," Booklist praised it it as "a thorough and engaging study of two female scientists worth their weight in radium." School Library Journal, meanwhile, called "Radioactive" "luminous and fascinating."
During the program, Winifred talked about the research that went into the book. She noted that she's no scientific expert, so had to learn the basics about nuclear science so she could understand the accomplishments of Lise Meitner and Irene Curie. Winifred added that lack of expertise wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as it meant that she came to the subject with a fresh outlook, but she did have experts vet what she wrote. If you haven't had a chance to read Radioactive, I highly recommend it. Besides being well-written narrative non-fiction, the book is important in helping young readers -- especially girls -- learn more about the largely overlooked achievements of some amazing women scientists. But it's also a great book for adults: I felt like it really highlighted for me the way sexism has both held back women scientists and also obscured their accomplishments.
Winifred has written two other books for young readers, and both of them focus on the lives and achievements of girls and women. In Sylvia & Aki, Winifred tells the well-researched but fictionalized story of how institutionalized racism connected two real girls in the United States during World War 2. When Aki Munemitsu's family was forced to move to a Japanese internment camp, Sylvia Mendez' family moved into the Munemitsu home, and Sylvia's father became the plaintiff in a landmark case challenging California's segregated schools law.
Winifred's other book, Passenger on the Pearl, is a fictionalized account of a slave named Emily Edmonson, who was part of the largest slave escape in U.S. history in 1848. Although she was recaptured, Edmonson later won her freedom, went to Oberlin College, and became a teacher in the first school in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the education of African-American girls.
Women's History Month 2016 may be over, but if you're looking for a good read that's full of inspiration, I would recommend one -- or all -- of Winifred's books. And I'm already looking forward to her next one!
End Notes: Thanks to Kerri Poore of Politics & Prose for helping to make this event happen. Thanks also to Jacquelynn Burke, senior publicist at Algonquin Books for setting things up with Winifred and sending both photos and a review copy of Radioactive! And a special "merci"to my friend Mandy Bolgiano who told me that her cousin wrote great books -- she was right!