She Caught the Light: Williamina Stevens Fleming: Astronomer

HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2021. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062849304.
Gr 1-3–This picture book biography chronicles the career of Williamina Stevens Fleming (1857–1911), who was a white Scottish scientist. Her groundbreaking work, which classified the spectra of stars recorded on the telescope of the Harvard College Observatory, was a major contribution to the science of astronomy. The text emphasizes Fleming’s early signs of curiosity, her frequent questioning, and her ultimate fascination with the stars. Readers follow her growth and development from her marriage, the disappearance of her husband, and her work as a maid. Her job as a maid for Professor Pickering and his wife Elizabeth led to her career in astronomy. Pickering, who was the director of the Harvard College Observatory for studying stars, and his wife recognized Fleming’s intelligence and gave her a chance to replace one of the professor’s male assistants, who was making mistakes in his mathematical calculations. As one of several women hired by the observatory as “human computers,” Fleming classified the spectra of stars as recorded by the observatory’s telescope. She also discovered a “stellar nursery,” a place where stars are born, within the Orion constellation. When Fleming was appointed curator of astronomical photographs in 1898, she became the first woman to receive an official title at Harvard. Includes an author’s note, a time line, and a bibliography.
VERDICT A compelling story and a fine addition to STEM studies.

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