Marie Curie

Authored by Isabel Thomas
Illustrated by Anke Weckmann
Published by Laurence King

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This is a short illustrated biography of Marie Curie, whose world-changing discovery of the elements polonium and radium had such a significant impact on chemistry, physics and medicine.

The book celebrates her achievement as a woman, but first and foremost as a scientist. On the very first page, we read her own memorable words:

‘A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which delight him like a fairytale.’

This sets the tone for the rest of the book. It proceeds to tell the story of her career. It includes quotes from her journals which give little glimpses of her domestic life and which convey the excitement she felt at taking each small step forward towards answering the questions she constantly posed herself.

Her story is told as a linear narrative, incorporating explanations of her scientific processes and the effect of her work on the world. Still, it’s the illustrations which secure your attention. Explanatory diagrams, charts and drawings of test tubes and conical flasks will appeal to young readers because they are clearly and simply drawn and are such as children might enjoy producing themselves in science reports. The artist’s palette is restricted to three colours: ice-cream pink, sunshine yellow, and black, which she cleverly uses to show moods and feelings and to mark the triumphs and disasters of Marie’s life. While I like the colours, I couldn’t help sensing a little irony in the possibility that the ‘folksy’ style of the non-scientific drawings might be off-putting to boy readers, as indeed might the synthetic pink and yellow book cover dotted with what look curiously like lipsticks.

However, the notion of science and the scientist come out very strongly in the book.  It concludes with a summary of the kind of ‘growth mindset’ needed to be a great scientist, or in fact, any sort of serious scientist: curiosity, creativity, perseverance – and grit. I like too that it ends on a professional note with a glossary of the scientific terminology used in the text. Mostly I hope that it might inspire readers, especially girls, with a real sense of the possibility for themselves of a life which could be spent in the pursuit of scientific excellence.