CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 11 . . . .January 19, 2007
Incredible Women Inventors, (The Women's Hall of Fame Series).
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2006.
112 pp., pbk., $10.95.
Women inventors-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 years and up.
Review by Marilynne V. Black.
It's one thing to have an idea for an invention, but quite another to follow through and make your idea a reality. All of the women in this book grew up in very different surroundings and circumstances. Some came from large families, were surrounded by loving and supportive people, and had the education and money to help them along. Some had to struggle through hardships without many of the opportunities others were given, yet they all shared a sense of determination and a faith in themselves and their ideas that drove them to success.
They had to have that drive and faith. Inventing is hard work. There are many steps to inventing besides having an idea. Most of the time, you have to make many different designs, called prototypes, and test them out to find out what works and what doesn't - and why. Once the design is perfected, the inventor has to patent her idea to make sure no one else can use the same idea to make another product. Next the inventor has to find a way to make all the products she has to sell. In the beginning, before enough people know about the invention to make it a success, the inventor usually has to have another job as well. This can mean working all day at one job and then coming home to work all night on the invention. Usually, word of a good invention will travel quickly. At a certain point, an inventor will have to put together a plan for manufacturing, marketing, and selling her product to a wider audience. She has to go from being an inventor to being a businesswoman.
As part of "The Women's Hall of Fame" series that includes Extraordinary Women Explorers, Fabulous Female Physicians, and Great Women Leaders, this paperback documents another aspect of the role women have played in a wide variety of fields. In it, 10 little-known women, from different walks of life and different times, have overcome the hardships and life challenges to invent a variety of products or processes. For instance Hedy Lamarr, best known as a movie star, led a privileged childhood, yet invented "a remote-controlled radio system that would allow signals to be transmitted without being detected, deciphered, or jammed." Also included is Madame C. J. Walker, a black woman born in 1867, who invented hair products specifically for other black people and erected a building complex, and developed a network of sales representatives. Others are Lise Meitner, born in 1878, an Austrian physicist who collaborated in the discovery and explanation of the nuclear fission; Bette Nesmith Graham who invented Liquid Paper; and Patricia Bath co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and inventor of the Laserphaco Probe used in cataract surgery.
The biographies ranges in length from 8 to 12 pages, and include family childhood influences as well as education and accomplishments. Details about the inventors are sufficient for those students wanting to do a report yet interesting enough for casual reading. Several photographs and sidebars, sometimes amusing, that highlight one facet of the biography, accompany each. For instance, the chapter on Lillian Moller Gilbreth, an efficiency and management expert and inspiration for Cheaper by the Dozen, states, "Though Lillian designed efficient kitchens to help women make better use of their time, she didn't spend much time in her own kitchen. Lillian had grown up with servants and was not a good cook. She also had a very inefficient and old-fashioned kitchen. As her children said, ' Lillie and kitchens were natural enemies. She hated them and they retaliated. Stoves burned her, ice picks stabbed her, graters skinned her and paring knives cut her.'"
Braun does not shy away from controversy. She makes references to racial discrimination suffered by several women as well as the gender bias that resulted in many of the woman not receiving credit for their accomplishments.
There is no index; the table of contents is sufficient. However, it would have been helpful to have the accomplishment or invention mentioned after each name. It often takes a few pages of reading before that is referred to. Further reading is encouraged by the inclusion of the author's citation of at least two sources, often including web sites, for each biography.
Although the publication information sheet that accompanied the book states that the ages recommended are 9 to 13, the book is more appropriate to older children who will be required to do reports on famous people. In addition, the lack of coloured illustrations and the relative density of text also make the book more suitable to these more mature students.
Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005.
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