Laura Alary

Laura Alary

Writing stories that make us bigger on the inside

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Review of The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: Canadian Review of Materials

March 28, 2023 , , , , , ,

As women’s history month draws to a close, I want to share one last review of The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything.

This one was written by Dr. Gregory Bryan, children’s literature professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. It published in the Canadian Review of Materials in May 2022, but I only discovered it yesterday.

One comment is particularly satisfying:

“Alary’s rich vocabulary reflects respect for young readers and their ability to work with precise but challenging words. Mitchell’s reaction to restrictions placed on women are to think of them as ‘absurd,’ ‘ridiculous,’ and ‘preposterous.’ Alary tells readers the scientific instruments she learned to use while still young include a sextant, metronome, and chronometer. Young readers and listeners will learn about Mitchell, but they will also have a vocabulary-expanding experience while they do so.”

I always try to communicate clearly and in a way that children will understand. But I also want to stretch readers a bit.

Last week I did a classroom visit and read The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything to a group of grade three and four students. Maria Mitchell famously disliked fine needlework and I included that fact in the book. When I came to the phrase (derived from her own writing), “all those tiny stitches…chained her mind to a needle” a student blurted out, “What does THAT mean?” I paused, thought for a moment, then asked him if he knew the expression, “let your mind wander.” He nodded. “What happens,” I asked him, “if you have to keep your mind really focused on a single task—like making tiny stitches with a needle and thread?” I could see him pondering this, then comprehension dawned. “You can’t think about whatever you want!” he exclaimed. “Your thoughts aren’t free!”

Confronted by a metaphor that was a bit beyond him—a bit puzzling—he reasoned from the familiar to the unfamiliar and had the satisfaction of figuring out something new.

That’s how we grow. I think Maria would have approved.


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