Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Caroline's Comets: A True Story

Caroline's Comets: A True Story

Emily Arnold McCully
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Holiday House, 2017   ISBN: 978-0823436644

Caroline Herschel was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1750. Caroline’s father and brothers were all royal musicians, and had she been given the opportunity Caroline might have become a musician too. However, Caroline’s mother felt that her daughter should learn practical domestic skills, and so Caroline learned to knit and served as the family scullery maid.

When Caroline was ten she got typhus, and then she got smallpox. As a result of having these two dangerous illnesses Caroline was small and her face was scarred. Her father worried that no man would want to marry his daughter and her future prospects looked rather grim. Then Caroline’s favorite brother, who was a successful musician living in England, invited his sister to go and live with him. He would train Caroline to become a singer in his chorus group and she would be able to provide for herself.

Twenty-two-year old Caroline moved to Bath in England, and she set about learning English and developing her singing abilities. It wasn’t long before she was a popular soprano, and she was able to earn money of her own for the first time in her life.

William was greatly interested in learning about astronomy, and since Caroline was also fascinated by the subject, they talk about it a great deal. William decided that he would build a telescope so that he could see the moon, and better understand the celestial bodies that he saw in the night sky. Wanting to build “a better telescope than any that had ever existed,” William needed help, and the person he turned to for that help was his sister.

Making the telescope turned out to be a complex, time-consuming, and at times frustrating business, but in the end all their work paid off and they built a device that magnified things six thousand times. The brother and sister discovered that the Milky Way was made up of millions of stars, and William even found a new planet, which was named Uranus. Not surprisingly, William became something of a celebrity, and studying the heavens became his full time occupation. By his side was Caroline, who steadfastly did all the things her brother asked of her. Then William went on a trip, and during his absence Caroline began to make her own discoveries in the heavens.

This wonderfully written story introduces children to Caroline Herschel, who became “the first professional woman scientist.” The narrative is punctuated by quotes from Caroline’s own writings, and we therefore get a sense of what an amazing person she was.

At the back of the book readers will find further information about Caroline’s life and a timeline of the story of telescopes.