Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three Picture Book Biographies of Great Scientists and Mathematicians

Written and illustrated by Don Brown
Ages 6 and up
(Published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company)

This book introduced my girls to Albert Einstein, taking him from his birth to the years of his greatest accomplishments in theoretical physics, highlighting his early characteristics, personality and interests. My older two girls liked the book, even though they didn't understand the science it contained.
They were especially intrigued when the book mentions Einstein's early fascination with the compass, since they recently acquired compasses and we have been working on the concept of magnetic north and how to use a compass.

The author also includes a note at the end of the book containing more details of Einstein's life (including an intriguing suggestion of a book to read regarding what happened to Einstein's brain after he died), and lists other biographies to pursue more knowledge of Einstein.

Written by Joseph D'Agnese
Illustrated by John O'Brien
Ages 6 and up
(Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company)

The author says in his note at the end of the book that "Little is known about the life of the mathematician called Leonardo Fibonacci. This story is based on the few things we do know--and a bit of make-believe."

The book tells the story of young Leonardo Fibonacci who spends alot of time skylarking out of boredom and thinking about the numbers he sees in nature, much to the vexation of his teacher, who calls him a blockhead. His fellow students and the people of the town take up the refrain, so Leonardo spends much of his time feeling like he doesn't fit in. But one of the men who works for his father sees his potential and helps him explore his interest in numbers. As he travels the world with his merchant father, he learns about the Hindu-Arabic numerals. The ease of using them makes Leonardo excited to share them with the rest of the world, which is still using the clumsy Roman numerals. He wrote a book about the Hindu-Arabic numerals in which he included a riddle that became the famed Fibonacci Sequence. He realized that everywhere he looked in nature, he kept seeing the same numbers appearing: the numbers in his Fibonacci Sequence.

The book is well-written, and because it is told in first person narrative, it is very relate-able. I think D'Agnese does an excellent job of showing children that the natural world is full of numbers. D'Agnese also does an excellent job of presenting the Fibonacci Sequence in way that is easy to understand, although it may be a bit mind boggling to younger readers.
(I just hope I won't be hearing my girls call each other "Blockhead".)

Written and Illustrated by Peter Sis
Caldecott Honor Book
Ages 5 and up
(Published in 1996 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

"A book depicting the life of a famous scientist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, physicist: Galileo Galilei."

One of the things I really like about this fascinating book is that it has a little something for a wide spectrum of young (and old) readers. There is the main story line that is very readable and interesting for both younger and older children, and there are extra facts, fascinating trivia, and quotes from Galileo himself in cursive script, that will appeal to older readers of the book.

I only read the main story line on the first reading aloud of the book, so as not to interrupt the flow of the story. Then we went back and read some of the cursive parts. (Most of the information in the cursive parts was too detailed and the language and concepts too difficult to be of interest to my little girls, so I just skipped those parts. However, if Olivia or Karina happen to read it themselves, we'll deal with the questions that may arise.)

I liked the pictures that are so reminiscent of art in Galileo's day, but they were confusing to my girls. I think the pictures would be appreciated more by older children.


  1. What a wonderful group of biography reviews. Non-fic books don't get mentioned nearly enough online. I'm hoping to start reading more biographies with my daughter this year. She loves non-fic books about animals and brings them home all the time from school but she's never brought home a biography.

    Last fall we studied the Fibonacci Sequence by looking at flowers, particularly a sunflower. I saw this book mentioned on Amazon but thought it was too advanced for my daughter at the time. Perhaps we'll have to revisit the topic and book this fall.

  2. Thanks, Brimful! You get on a roll with a subject, you know? Especially when their interest snowballs. So this month has somehow just inadvertently become a month of focussing on non-fiction.
    My girls' attention and interest noticably ratcheted up a notch or two when I told them that these stories were about real people.

  3. Fantastic, Mouseprints! My girls really, really like to read biographies, so I think every one of these would probably be a hit here. I love it! Thanks so much for playing this week!

  4. I'm happy I finally had something to contribute, Amy. I love your Read Aloud Thursday. So many great book ideas.

  5. I love your selections! We've read "Starry Messenger" before and enjoyed it. I am going to look for your other two recommendations in our library system. Thanks :)

  6. Thanks, Susan! I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. And thanks for your comment.

  7. These look great! We have Starry Messenger out of the library right now but haven't read it yet. I'll have to check the others out though for my science and math loving boy.

  8. Alice, I hope he likes them. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  9. Thanks for the kind review of my work. I will post on my Facebook page.

    --Joe D'Agnese
    author, Blockhead

  10. Mr. D'Agnese, I'm thrilled that you saw it. And thrilled that you left a kind comment here.
    My older two girls commented when we finished that it was such a good book. It's the first of your books we've read, and we're looking forward to reading your American History Comic Books next.
    (And my girls haven't started calling each other "Blockhead"! ;))

  11. Mouseprints:

    I'm glad they liked it. If you contact me by email via my site, linked here, I can send them a small thank you via snail mail.


  12. That's so kind of you. They will be so excited to see something with their names on it. Karina is the self-designated mail girl. After bringing it in, she sits down on the stairs and looks through it. I know she's always secretly hoping for mail. (I sometimes send them letters by mail, just so they can get some once in a while, other than on birthdays.)
    You'll make their day!