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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Caroline's Comets: A True Story. Written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"The journey, by coach, ferry and packet boat, took twelve days. In Bath, Caroline settled into her new life, struggling with the English language and customs. William coached her, and before long, Caroline became a popular soprano and, for the first time, earned her own money. As William also needed a housekeeper, she became that too."

Caroline Herschel was a woman of many accomplishments and talents. Not only was she a fine musician, she was an astronomer well known as the Hunter of Comets, and, if you asked her brother, a helpful maid. Caroline was not as pleased with that last description.

I admire Emily Arnold McCully's work. In this book, she introduces her audience to a celebrated astronomer held captive to the mores of the times. Women were not expected to have interests outside the home. Caroline, bearing the scars of smallpox, was not even considered marriageable. What rot!

When her favorite brother William, a noted musician, asked her to move to England to join a chorus he was conducting, she agreed. She began to make a small living for herself. Her interest in astronomy grew as they spent time together.

"By way of relaxation, we talked of astronomy
and the bright constellations with which I
had made acquaintance during the fine nights
we spent on the Postwagon traveling
through Holland."

Together they went on to do work celebrated in the scientific community. Caroline made many discoveries of her own, to great acclaim and became the first professional woman scientist when King George agreed to pay her.

"In 1783, Caroline discovered fourteen previously unknown
nebulae and star clusters and two new galaxies.
All this time, Caroline also did needlework and sewing, kept
William's accounts and cleaned all the equipment."

In her signature watercolor and ink artwork, Ms. McCully gives readers a clear look at this historical period, and adds context for the story shared. She also brings awareness to some of the obstacles women faced despite being very capable, smart and talented. Unmarried women during the 18th century were offered little hope for success in life. Caroline definitely defied the parameters set by society. An author's note, bibliography, glossary, and timeline are added in back matter.

Astronomers and interested scientists will know her story. I did not, and I am delighted that this fine book introduced us.

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