Santiago Saw Things Differently: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Artist, Doctor, Father of Neuroscience

MIT Kids Pr. Nov. 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536224535.
Gr 1-3–In the mountains of Spain, in his grandfather’s shop, Santiago Ramón y Cajal as a boy didn’t see dust motes flying into the breeze, but elements that “sparkled and soared in a kaleidoscope of motion.” Determining that their son and his insistence on drawing everything at every moment did not have art in his future, his parents directed him to a study of medicine. For readers expecting this stubborn, talented person to break free of this directive, a plot twist: the boy went on to study the fibers and paths of the brain and became the founder of neuroscience. Through his drawings, he found the patterns and structures that made it possible for others to heal brains. He won the Nobel Prize for this work, sharing the stage with another who openly disparaged and remained skeptical of his work. Ramón y Cajal not only saw things differently, but he allowed others to see, too, and changed the course of medicine. The illustrations are almost naïve at first, in the straight lines and round heads of children’s cartoon characters. In a muted palette of slate blues and goldenrod, with bursts of salmon and mint green, the artwork gives way to a more realistic, natural look that conveys a sense of history. And then, with the overlay of Ramón y Cajal’s own work, the contrast is splendid. The drawings of cells, neural paths, and fibers are perfect to pore over. Author’s note and references consulted are included in the back matter.
VERDICT Whether for the art shelves or the science collection, this biography cannot go deep, but it covers the surface events of Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s journey in a way that is breathtaking, unbelievable, and inspiring.

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