Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Welcome, Linda Marshall!

Science rocks! And so does this new STEAM biography from Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso highlighting two extraordinary women in STEM– Marie Curie and her sister, Bronia. Linda is also the author other biographies, so she isn’t new to introducing readers to fascinating women who have made an impact in our world. Welcome, Linda! Tell us about the inspiration for this latest biography, SISTERS IN SCIENCE.
Hi, Nancy! Thank you for inviting me to Naturally Speaking. Much appreciated…and a lot of fun! To begin, the inspiration for SISTERS IN SCIENCE came while I was visiting cousins in Paris. A friend of theirs (Natacha Henri, historian and author of several books, including a non-fiction book – in French – about Marie and her sister) was discussing her work on Marie Curie. In France, many people know that Marie and her sister, Bronia, made a pact to help each other get an education. The pact was that Bronia would attend university while Marie worked to support her. Then, when Bronia completed her studies, Marie would attend university and Bronia would support Marie. I was fascinated when I heard about this and, as you’ll see in the book’s credits, the inspiration for this book was Natacha (as well as a beautiful evening in Paris).
This biography features two different women. Besides being sisters, how did these two compare? Both sisters – actually, the whole family – had numerous difficult times. There were deaths in the family, including those of their sister and mother. Their father – an outspoken defender of Poland while Poland was being controlled by Russia – lost his job because he shared his political opinions. Having lost his job, his family then was in desperate need of money. Ultimately, they started a school in their home and took in students as boarders. Through these misfortunes, Bronia and Marie soothed and encouraged each other. Bronia carried on, calm and determined. But Marie was more of a dreamer, more emotional, more likely to lose her way or change course midstream, and more likely to fall in love…and have her hopes dashed. One major sorrow for Marie was when she fell in love with a young man from a family where she had gotten a job as governess. She was in love, but the family would not tolerate their son marrying the governess. Marie was devastated and almost gave up her dreams…And then, as we know, she went to Paris and studied…where, of course, she met Pierre… Marie Curie faced challenges on the way to becoming a famous scientist. Bronia did not become as famous. Did you face any challenges writing this picture book? Sure, there were challenges. Lots! After all, how do you write a book – for children – in which the main characters deal with death and depression and disappointment? How do you do THAT and still give kids hope? How do you explain complicated scientific concepts – atoms and radioactivity – in a way that’s understandable? In a way that makes kids want to learn more and more? So, yes, there were challenges. But that’s all part of the puzzle of writing a picture book biography. And, for me, the challenges are fun!
This is a great story for Women’s History Month and every other day, Linda. Please tell teachers how they can use it in the classroom. Great question! SISTERS IN SCIENCE is about challenges, sisterhood, science, chemistry, cancer and disease, radioactivity, X-rays, and much more. It’s about making a promise (the pact that the sisters made) and keeping it. It’s about being true to your word. It’s about striving for what you believe in, no matter what. About picking up someone who’s down (as Marie was) and reminding them that they have dreams to fulfill and purpose in life. And, if that doesn’t work, this is a book about giving that person a kick in the butt (and MAKING them get moving) so they’ll get out of their despair and do what needs to be done. This is a book that shows we all need mentors, big sisters, teachers, someone who can help us, someone who can see what we’re capable of, someone who can guide us. Marie was so lucky to have Bronia. And Bronia, in turn, was lucky to have Marie. Sometimes, though, we have to be our own big sisters. We have to tell ourselves that it’s time to move on. And then we have to listen to our own inner big sister voice.
These STEM ladies led extraordinary lives. You have a knack for digging these important stories out of the past. Who will you feature next, Linda Marshall? Can you give us a hint? Next up is someone who’s contemporary and not a scientist. It’s Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine! BRAVE VOLODYMYR: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Fight for Ukraine with beautiful illustrations by Ukrainian artist Grasya Oliyko releases on October 3, 2023 (Quill Tree/HarperCollins). I’m so excited for this book! It explains the war in Ukraine and, hopefully, gives kids and their parents insight into its relevance for the rest of the world. I was quite fortunate to have input and assistance in writing this book from Toby Gati, Special Assistant to former President Bill Clinton for Russia, Ukraine, and the Eurasian states. In this, as in all my non-fiction books, I always seek an expert. One of my goals is to provide my young readers with Ph.D.-quality research in an understandable, kid-friendly, and accessible package.
For more about Linda Marshall: Award-winning author of about two dozen picture books, Linda Elovitz Marshall attended Barnard College/Columbia University where she studied cultural anthropology. After raising four children and a small flock of sheep, pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, freelance writing for magazines, and owning a bookstore, Linda began writing for children. In addition to SISTERS IN SCIENCE: Marie Curie, Bronia DÅ‚uska, and the Atomic Power of Sisterhood (Knopf), Linda’s STEM/STEAM books include SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit (Little Bee),THE POLIO PIONEER: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine (Knopf BFYR), and the forthcoming BRAVE VOLODYMYR: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Fight for Ukraine with illustrations by Ukrainian artist Grasya Oliyko (HarperCollins). Linda loves researching, hiking, swimming, and travel. She and her husband divide their time between a cabin in New York State’s Adirondack mountains and New York City’s Upper West Side.

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