Currently viewing the category: "Biography/Autobiography/Memoir"

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered MOST of the Universe
Author: Sandra Nickel
Illustrator: Aimée Sicuro
Publishing March 2nd, 2021 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Summary: An inspired biographical picture book about a female astronomer who makes huge discoveries about the mysteries of the night sky and changed the way we look at the universe.

Vera Rubin was one of the astronomers who discovered and named dark matter, the thing that keeps the universe hanging together. Throughout her career she was never taken seriously as a scientist because she was one of the only female astronomers at that time, but she didn’t let that stop her. She made groundbreaking and incredibly significant discoveries that scientists have only recently been able to really appreciate—and she changed the way that we look at the universe. A stunning portrait of a little-known trailblazer, The Stuff Between the Stars tells Vera’s story and inspires the youngest readers who are just starting to look up at the stars.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at To learn more, visit

Twitter:  @senickel
Facebook: @sandranickelbooks
Instagram: @sandranickelbooks

Aimée Sicuro is an illustrator, picture book maker, and surface pattern designer who received a BFA in Illustration from Columbus College of Art and Design. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and young sons. Visit her website to learn more.

Twitter: @aimeesicuro
Instagram: @aimeesicuro


“This engaging biography will appeal to budding scientists, particularly those with a penchant for sky searching.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A truly beautiful story of perseverance and passion.” – Booklist

Review: I love learning about amazing women. At the same time, I think it is so sad that these same women aren’t already being taught in schools. Whenever dark matter is discussed, why isn’t Vera Rubin’s story delved into?! It should be. She was someone that should be admired and learned from. Her grit to overcome the blatant sexism in her field is just so tough to even wrap your brain around. These female pioneers deserve all of the name yelling from the hill tops we can give them. 

For that reason, I am so thankful for this book. I did not know about Vera Rubin. Nickel’s story did a wonderful job of intertwining Rubin’s personal story, professional story, and pure passion into a narrative that taught me about her and about space. I also loved the illustrations and the design of the book. Sicuro’s use of darkness and light & spacing were so thoughtful, and I loved the mix between the realistic and the scientific in illustrations. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Add in Stuff Between Stars to your Amazing Women in Science text set then use the text set in a lit circle to discover and explore the amazing women scientists picture book biographies that are out there for kids! (Although there still aren’t enough, but it is vastly improving!)

I also think that this book really pushes the idea of passion projects. Everyone dismissed Vera and didn’t nurture her love of science and astronomy. Yes, she overcame, thankfully, but just imagine if just one teacher had told her to just learn everything she could and truly nurtured that love?! Let’s aim to be that educator more!

Post will soon be updated with the curriculum guide for this book!

Discussion Questions:

  • How did others’ criticisms affect Vera? 
  • In the 3rd spread below, how did the author use color to bring across the author’s point? 
  • What challenges did Vera overcome to still become an infamous astronomer? 
  • Why do you think Vera’s work is less known than other astronomers? 
  • Why did Vera have to be so blunt about wanting the job at the Carnegie Institute? What would have probably happened if she was not? 

Watch for: In Celebration of Women’s History Month, Publishers Weekly will be featuring Sandra Nickel and Laurie Wallmark. We talk about science, curiosity, and the importance of picture books about women in STEM. Look for our ‘In Conversation’ on March 8.

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Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: The Leaf Detective by Heather LangMarjory Saves the Everglades by Sandra Neil WallaceHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Shark Lady by Jess KeatingGrace Hopper by Laurie WallmarkAda’s Ideas by Fiona RobinsonWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee StoneMe…Jane by Patrick McDonnell  

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**Thank you to Abrams Books for Young Readers for providing a copy for giveaway!**


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The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest
Author: Heather Lang
Illustrator: Jana Christy
Published February 9th, 2021 by Calkins Creek

Summary: Meg Lowman was determined to investigate the marvelous, undiscovered world of the rainforest treetops. Meg’s perseverance and creativity allowed her to achieve this goal, but when this fantastic ecosystem started to disappear, Meg needed to act quickly.

Meg Lowman was always fascinated by the natural world above her head. The colors, the branches, and, most of all, the leaves and mysterious organisms living there. As a scientist, Meg set out to climb up and investigate the rain forest tree canopies– and to be the first scientist to do so. But she encountered challenge after challenge. Male teachers would not let her into their classrooms, the high canopy was difficult to get to, and worst of all, people were logging and clearing the forests. Meg never gave up or gave in. She studied, invented, and persevered, not only creating a future for herself as a scientist, but making sure that the rainforests had a future as well. Working closely with Meg Lowman, author Heather Lang and artist Jana Christy beautifully capture Meg’s world in the treetops.

About the Creators: 

Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her award-winning picture book biographies include Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine.

Jana Christy currently lives in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. She is the illustrator of various titles, including I’m the Big One Now!: Poems about Growing Up. Visit

Review: Heather Lang does an amazing job of the layering in this book ensuring to include many different aspects of Margaret (Meg) Lowman’s life including her passion for the environment, challenges of being a woman in the sciences in 1970s and the barriers that came with the institutional sexism, and someone wanting to be innovative yet being shut down left and right.

The narrative of the story is written in beautiful verses mixed with direct quotes from Lowman and extra side bar notes that includes facts and information that help drive the biography. And finally the illustrations, filled with vibrant blues and greens, bring the story and setting to life for the reader.

The back matter includes an author note sharing about Lang’s interest in Lowman and about meeting and interviewing her, and it includes photos of Lowman and Lang! This shows the reader Lang’s research methods and how the quote throughout the book are primary sources.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

Publisher-provided Educator Guide:

Flagged Passages: 

View two spreads from the book by visiting the publisher’s page:

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Marjory Saves the Everglades by Sandra Neil Wallace, The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle, Over and Under series by Kate Messner, Swimming with Sharks by Heather Lang, Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino, The Tree Lady by Joseph H. Hopkins

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**Thank you to Boyds Mills & Kane for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy
Author: Kenneth C. Davis
Published October 6th, 2020 by Henry Holt and Co.

About the Book: From the bestselling author of the Don’t Know Much About books comes a dramatic account of the origins of democracy, the history of authoritarianism, and the reigns of five of history’s deadliest dictators.

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders—strongmen—capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein—Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become. Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril.


Q1. What led you to choose this topic and this audience (teens) for your new book?

A1.   I have been writing about history for some thirty years and was always fairly optimistic about the future of America. In spite of the flaws I have catalogued in my books, I always believed in the United States as the “last, best hope on earth”—Lincoln’s words—and that its democratic system still moved towards more progress.

But something has changed. And for some time now, I have been concerned that democracy, at home and abroad, was under assault. That is not only sad but dangerous. I felt I had to tell the story of these dictators and how quickly democracy can vanish. It is meant as a warning, a cautionary tale for our time.

On the question of writing for teens, let me first say that I think my books aimed at younger readers are not that different from my earlier work aimed at older adults. In fact, many older readers don’t know these are “Young Adult” books. I try and write for everyone in an accessible style that welcomes the reader, older or younger.

I started writing for younger readers several years ago because I have spoken to so many of them in classrooms over time and came away impressed by their curiosity, engagement, and interest in history. But I wanted to deliver a message to those young people that democracy can’t be taken for granted and that they have a real stake in protecting our rights and freedoms.

Q2.   What is the key takeaway you hope that young people get from reading it?

A2.   There are several key issues at work in this book and, I would say, all of my work. First is that history is not a collection of facts—dates, battles, speeches, laws – but real stories about real people doing real things. When we read about history that way, it becomes far more compelling and connected to our own lives.

Next is that we read and learn from these accounts to understand who we are and how we got here. Part of that idea is the story of how enormous sacrifices have been made in the name of rights and progress—from abolition to suffrage, civil rights, and fair labor laws. That often comes from the bottom up, not the top down, which means people without a vote still had a voice.

It is also a book that asks hard questions about what people are willing to do in following a leader. And that brings me to my earlier point: Democracy is not a spectator sport. We must protect it if we think it is worth keeping.

Q3.   What was the hardest part about writing the book?

A3.   I actually write about that in the closing words of the book. This was, in many ways, an extremely difficult project. I have written about many hard and awful events and periods in the past, including the stories of racial slavery I told in my earlier book, In the Shadow of Liberty.

But describing the levels of cruelty, inhumanity, and indecency are unavoidable in writing the history of the Strongmen –the murderous dictators whose stories I tell. We can’t sugarcoat that history. Or ignore it. That made this project a true test of my fundamental belief in the general goodness of humanity. I had to write about the vast numbers of people who were complicit in the genocidal crimes of a Strongman like Hitler or Stalin.

Q4.   If a teacher asked for recommendations for teaching your book, what would you suggest?

A4.   My writing career has mostly been about asking questions and presenting facts and evidence in real stories. I think that teachers –especially those in Social studies—can follow that general premise with their students. Ask questions and allow students to find answers through accurate, documented evidence.

This approach of getting students to do real research, assess evidence, check sources, and make considered judgments based on facts is the essence of thinking for themselves. It is what today’s education must be about, especially in this era as facts and truth are under such assault.

In a more practical way, this book should fit into a number of curriculum areas – 20th century history; the Holocaust; civics and government; ethics, religion, and basic philosophy; economics; sociology and the behavior of crowds. I have always been a proponent of crossing disciplines.

Q5.   What other resources do you feel would complement STRONGMAN in a curriculum?

A5.   I would start with reputable journalism, including newspapers and websites that accurately document their reporting. We must establish the clear connection between history and the headlines. That will also help develop those “media literacy” skills that all of us –not just students—need to negotiate the world we live in.

Certainly, there are also a great many other books that could be placed beside Strongman –biographies, war narratives, Holocaust and other memoirs from each of these eras. I’ve included many of them in the Bibliography of Strongman.

I think you can include some historical fiction –cautiously reminding students that novels are not always accurate depictions of events. There are also a wealth of documentary films and series, often starting with what is offered from PBS.

Finally, I did not set out to write three books as a “set” – but I think that my earlier books can be read alongside Strongman. I think that In the Shadow of Liberty provides more context for how the history of slavery developed alongside American democracy. More Deadly Than War provides background for the role World War I played in shaping the world that produced the dictators I profiled in Strongman. And that is how we must read history – as a long, complex, series of connected narratives, not a list of events that are unrelated.

About the Author: Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times–bestselling author of America’s Hidden History and Don’t Know Much About® History, which gave rise to the Don’t Know Much About® series of books for adults and children. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed In the Shadow of Liberty, which was an ALA Notable Book and a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, as well as More Deadly Than War, which was named a Washington Post Best Children’s Book of the Month. A frequent guest on national television and radio and a Ted-Ed Educator, Davis lives in New York City.

Ken also offers free classroom visits to teachers through his website, which might be of interest to include:

Thank you, Kenneth, for sharing the truth of history with our students!

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