We are delighted to be hosting today’s post for ‘The Star-Spun Web’ blog tour. We’re even more excited because today is its book birthday!
It’s brilliant to have a central female protagonist with a clear love of science and analytical thinking in ‘The Star-Spun Web’. Did you find enough characters in your childhood reading that broke out of those traditional ‘girly’ roles? Is modern children’s writing doing enough to show characters of diverse tastes and interests?
The main one I remember was probably Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, a character I absolutely loved (and still do). Most of the girls in the books I read were ‘typical’ girls – not encouraged to do anything out of the norm – which frustrated me no end. I really had had enough of reading about girls who were given ‘caring’ or ‘caretaking’ roles in stories merely because they were girls, and I desperately wanted to read about girls being the hero, doing reckless things or being brave or making mistakes without being punished for it. I love to read about girls who like to make things, do things, get their hands dirty, girls who like to think and plan and invent. Things have changed for the better in recent years, thankfully! My little girl and I love to read, and some of her favourite picture books include the brilliant Izzy Gizmo, Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist. I love reading those books with her because they’re brilliant, but also because the girl characters are ones I would have adored as a child. I also would have loved a girl like Tiffany Aching as a kid, who does things completely her own way. We need more girls like her, and I'm so glad books like these exist now.
10 fictional girls doing things differently
Tiffany Aching (from books by Terry Pratchett – she first appears in The Wee Free Men)
Coraline Jones (from Coraline by Neil Gaiman)
Meg Murry (from A Wrinkle in Time, book 1 of the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L'Engle
Izzy Gizmo (from the picture book ‘Izzy Gizmo’ by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)
Ada and Rosie (from the picture books Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts)
Rose Raventhorpe (from the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series by Janine Beacham)
Mup (from Begone the Raggedy Witches, book 1 in The Wild Magic Trilogy by Celine Kiernan)
Hazel and Daisy (from the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens)
Mouse from The Huntress series by Sarah Driver
Drest from The Mad Wolf’s Daughter series by Diane Magras
Women in Science: 10 women who changed the world
Some of Sinéad’s favourites:
1. Jane Goodall: primatologist and anthropologist
Considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her over 55-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees. She has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.
2. Joan Procter: zoologist and herpetologist
Joan Beauchamp Procter was the first female Curator of Reptiles at London Zoo. She made significant innovative contributions to veterinary practice and zoo displays, and also wrote scientific and popular zoological articles, including early accounts of the behaviour of captive Komodo dragons.
3. Katherine Johnson: Physicist, mathematician
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson is an African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped the space agency pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks.
4. Sally Ride: astronaut, physicist, and engineer
Sally Ride joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have travelled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After leaving NASA, she worked as a Professor of Physics at the University of California.
5. Mae Jemison: engineer, physician and NASA astronaut
Mae Carol Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space on September 12, 1992. After medical school and a brief general practice, Jemison served in the Peace Corps, then was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps. In 1993 she founded a company researching the application of technology to daily life. She is a dancer and holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters, and the humanities.
6. Rosalind Franklin: chemist and x-ray crystallographer
Rosalind Elsie Franklin made contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.
7. Mary Anning: Fossil collector and palaeontologist
Mary Anning became known around the world for important finds she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.
8. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: astrophysicist
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. She was credited with "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century". In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She gave the whole of the £2.3m prize money to help women, ethnic minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.
9. Rachel Carson: marine biologist, author, and conservationist
Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. She turned her attention to conservation, especially some problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring, which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people.
10. Chien-Shiung Wu: experimental physicist
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American who made significant contributions in the field of nuclear physics. Her expertise in experimental physics evoked comparisons to Marie Curie. Her nicknames include "the First Lady of Physics", "the Chinese Madame Curie", and the "Queen of Nuclear Research".
Thank you very much to Sinéad for this fascinating piece. Plenty of food for thought here! ‘The Star-Spun Web’ is a fabulous book and we wish you every success with it.
Thank you too to the lovely people at Stripes for fitting us into the blog tour.