She Persisted in Science: Brilliant Women Who Made a Difference

Image of She Persisted in Science: Brilliant Women Who Made a Difference
Release Date: 
March 1, 2022
Philomel Books
Reviewed by: 

“cursory and sloppy . . . ill-conceived”

The world certainly needs more picture books about women scientists ,but this compilation is so cursory and sloppy as to feel like simply a list of names. There are no dates, few historical markers, nothing to make any of these women distinctive so they blend into a mush. The book opens with Florence Nightingale who “dreamed of being a nurse. Even though her family didn’t agree, she persisted in becoming one.”

The phrase, “she persisted” is repeated in each story, to deadening rather than affirming effect. The single page description given to each woman provides so little information as to be useless. Here’s what we learn about Florence Nightingale:

“When the British government asked Florence to improve hospital care for soldiers, the staff did not want to listen to a woman.”

What war, which soldiers, when is this happening? And how did a woman like Florence get a commission directly from the British government? Why were they willing to give her responsibility when the staff wasn’t?

Granted, there’s not much room for details like these when each woman gets only a single page. The entire enterprise is questionable at that level. The argument could be made that these pages are simply introductions and readers can follow up on the interest Chelsea Clinton, the author, rouses with her list. But some of these women will be difficult to learn more about, for example, the next woman featured, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, “the United States’ first Black woman doctor.”

Crumpler, at least, is given a time period, “after the Civil War.” But not much more detail than that. In any case, there is no bibliography at the end of the book to guide readers further.

Alexandra Boiger’s art is light and energetic, providing period details lacking in the text, but the illustrations can’t rescue this ill-conceived text. The concept feels like virtue signaling, showing an interest in women scientists, but not so much as to do the necessary research to bring their lives some immediacy and distinctiveness. All of the women featured blend together as emblems of persistence. Sadly, they are actually so much more, unique individuals facing unique challenges. Readers interested in women scientists should seek out instead the many well-written picture book biographies devoted to one subject, such as Laurie Wallmark’s Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine or Helaine Becker’s Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13.