Stripes

The Star-Spun Web Blog Tour. Girls in STEM: Female Protagonists Busting Stereotypes

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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

  1. Tiffany Aching (from books by Terry Pratchett – she first appears in The Wee Free Men)

  2. Coraline Jones (from Coraline by Neil Gaiman)

  3. Meg Murry (from A Wrinkle in Time, book 1 of the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L'Engle

  4. Izzy Gizmo (from the picture book ‘Izzy Gizmo’ by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie)

  5. Ada and Rosie (from the picture books Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts)

  6. Rose Raventhorpe (from the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series by Janine Beacham)

  7. Mup (from Begone the Raggedy Witches, book 1 in The Wild Magic Trilogy by Celine Kiernan)

  8. Hazel and Daisy (from the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens)

  9. Mouse from The Huntress series by Sarah Driver

  10. 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.

The Star-Spun Web

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Here at NSTBA HQ, we are thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Sinéad O’Hart’s wonderful new book, ‘The Star-Spun Web’. Our slot is the 7th February- it’s book birthday-, but before that, we wanted to share our review of this brilliant story.

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Orphan, Tess de Sousa, lives at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings. No ordinary child, Tess is passionate about science, conducting her own experiments in the basement and has a pet tarantula, Violet. Happy in the home with her friends, thriving on the affection shown by Miss Ackerbee, Tess is shocked when a stranger, claiming to be a distant relative, comes to adopt her. Hoping to find some clues to her mysterious past, Tess embarks on new life at Roedeer Lodge, but soon realises that her ‘relative’, Mr Cleat is not all he seems. He obviously knows more about her- and the strange device left with her as a baby- than he originally claimed. As Tess discovers what the Starspinner can do, she realises that she is at the centre of a terrible plot- one which she must stop no matter what.

‘The Star-Spun Web’ is one of those books which you have to read in one go! A real page turner, it is a captivating story, full of magic and mystery.

Tess is a wonderful character. Her scientific ability, curious mind and determination make her very appealing and engaging. The relationship between her and Violet is ingenious and adds touches of humour and emotion. Tess’s loyalty to her pet and to her friends at Miss Ackerbee’s and her new found friend at Roedeer Lodge also add to her appeal. Other characters are as well developed; Wilf and the other girls at the home, Millie, Thomas- each is full of personality.

The plot is ingenious, combining parallel worlds, evil adults, dark intentions, fantasy, family, loneliness, friendship and loyalty. It also offers a touch of Irish history which is explored further in the author’s note at the end. Imaginative and satisfying, this is a must read whose ending hopefully leaves the door open for more adventures to follow!

The Star-Spun Web Sinéad O’Hart

Stripes ISBN: 978-1788950220

Published 7th February 2019.

You can read our review of ‘The Eye of the North’ here.

Frost

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Being William’s ‘baby sister’ means Cassie is often left behind by the other children. However, this is how she comes to see the foxes which are living near her block of flats. Her favourite is a small one with really red fur and a tail ‘tipped in white’, who she names Frost. As an understanding develops between them, Frost leads Cassie into a completely different world…

As a child, I was fascinated by the idea of the Frost Fairs. The thought that London was cold enough for the Thames to freeze over and for people to set up stalls and have fires on the ice seemed magical. I can't remember when or how I found out about them, but this doesn’t seem to be part of English history that many people are familiar with. You can read more about these fairs on the Historic UK website here.

This delightful little book takes Cassie back in time to a very different London to that which she is familiar with and allows the reader to explore the Thames Frost Fair. It includes lots of historical details which are explained quite naturally with the context of the story.

The story also considers urban foxes and the differing views people hold about them. Cassie’s joy at watching them and finding out about them is set against the worries of the flat’s tenants who complain about the bins being ransacked and fear the foxes might hurt someone. There is lots of potential for discussions about this and how nature and people should be able to live harmoniously.

‘Frost’ is also a story about people coming to understand and help one another. As Cassie comes to know Mrs Morris, her bad tempered, complaining neighbour, she realises how mistaken she has been and each benefits from their developing friendship.

A lovely story, perfect for newly independent readers or as a story to share, ‘Frost’ is well written and very enjoyable with lovely illustrations throughout. I hope Frost and Cassie are destined to have more adventures together.

Frost Holly Webb, cover illustration by Britta Teckentrup.

Stripes Publishing ISBN: 978- 1847159533