In the opening of this spirited picture-book biography, young Marie Tharp declares her love of maps. It’s a passion that comes honestly: Her father makes soil maps for farmers, and she follows him as he draws, often holding his pads and pencils. As a result of his work, Tharp’s family travels a great deal, and her love only intensifies.
After graduating from college, Tharp is met with the limitations placed on female scientists during the 1940s. But she persists, growing curious about the terrain of the ocean floor and working with a colleague to map it using sound waves. Her research leads to the confirmation of plate tectonics.
Robert Burleigh’s writing is intimate, almost chummy. Just before he tells readers about Tharp’s discovery of the deep rift running along the mid-Atlantic ocean floor, which offered proof of continental drift, Burleigh writes simply: “But there was even more. Listen.” It’s as if he’s present with readers, drawing us in with his own wonder for her work. He knows that Tharp changed the way people looked at the Earth, no small feat indeed. And his reverence for her accomplishments makes the story even more compelling.
Raúl Colón’s illustrations accentuate Tharp’s curiosity; in many of the opening spreads, we see her from behind, always staring out—at her father at work, at a map on the wall in school and at the ocean, wondering why science wasn’t yet free of discrimination against women. After Burleigh’s charge for readers to stop and “listen,” readers find a beautiful wordless spread, showing a vessel at sea with a glimpse of what the ocean floor looks like beneath it.
It’s an inviting story of gender equality and one of science’s brightest minds.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.