Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer

Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer

Robert Burleigh
Illustrator:  Raul Colon 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2013   ISBN: 978-1416958192

When Henrietta was a young girl, she spent many hours staring up into the night sky, looking at the stars and getting familiar with their patterns. She was fascinated by “the wonderful bigness of all she saw,” and longed to find out more about space.

   When she was a young woman, she attended astronomy class and was one of the few women who did so. After graduation, Henrietta was able to get a job working in an observatory. Though the observatory had a wonderful big telescope, Henrietta rarely got to use it. Instead, she worked with a group of women measuring and calculating, doing the job that calculators and computers do today. Henrietta and the other women were told to “work, not think,” but Henrietta wasn’t going to accept such an existence. She had an enquiring mind and intended to use it, which she did, studying astronomy in her space time.

   Day after day Henrietta looked at photographs of stars, measuring and counting, and then she began to notice that there was a pattern. Some of the stars seemed to get dimmer and then brighter. Some blinked slower than others. Henrietta studied the pattern and she mapped it out. The chart that she created helped astronomers to figure out how far away the stars were. Thanks to her work, they also came to realize that our Milky Way was a lot bigger than they thought and that it was only one of many galaxies. Her discovery would have a profound effect on our understanding of our universe.

   This wonderfully written book tells the story of a woman who lived at a time when women had very few opportunities to work as scientists. Indeed, most of the time they were prevented from doing research. Henrietta never gave up, and in the end her determination and hard work paid off.

   Throughout the book Robert Burleigh’s lyrical prose is paired with Paul Colon’s wonderful artwork to give readers a memorable picture book biography.  

   Further information about Henrietta, other women astrologers, and more can be found at the back of the book.