Scientific American Books for Young Readers

Review of the Science Superstars Series

FORD, BARBARA. Howard Carter: Searching for King Tut. (Illus. by Jane Hamlin; from the Science Superstars Series.) NY: Scienific American Books for Young Readers, 1995. 63pp. $14.95; &4.95 (paper). 94-36730. ISBN 0-7167-6587-X; 0-7167-6588-8 (paper). Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

BUTTS, ELLEN R., and JOYCE SCHWARTZ. Mary Chinn: The Best Medicine. (Illus. by Janet Hamlin; from the Science Superstars Series.) NY: Scienific American Books for Young Readers, 1995. 48pp. $14.95; &4.95 (paper). 94-35395. ISBN 0-7167-6589-6; 0-7167-6590-X (paper). Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

EA **       Howard Carter and May Chinn are two of the first books in Scientific American's Science Superstar Series, a set of biographies designed for juvenile readers ages 7 to 12. They are skillfully written in a direct, engaging style, and portray their subjects with sympathy as real people who must overcome numerous obstacles, self doubt and personal weaknesses in order to achieve greatness. The approach and level of writing is likely to be most appealing to children ages 10 to 12. The illustrations are numerous and psychologically engaging, inviting young imaginations to elaborate the story line and empathize with its main character. In the context of teaching, these books and the series which they represent provide useful material with which to present the human dimension of science in a way which will encourage children to think seriously about the possibility of becoming scientists.

While the crafting of both these biographies is excellent, the series editor needs to better define its educational focus. In May Chinn both the scientist and her science is clearly portrayed. The importance of the science is made clear. The difficulty of balancing scientific research, community service and a personal life is well depicted. Here we have a role model who is an appreciated part of a vital community. Moreover, this role has actually been attained by thousands who are both medical doctors and research scientists. In contrast, even the most friendly portrayal of Howard Carter depicts a stubborn and abrasive man who overcomes adversity by the sheer force of his personality. His whole life culminates in a single, but bitter success, one which almost no one is likely to repeat simply because King Tut's treasure will never be duplicated. The science in archaeology is not well portrayed, only the politics of treasure hunting. And though Tutankhamen is depicted as a person and not just a mummy, the significance of his tomb is never revealed. The subtitle to this book, Searching for King Tut, says it all. While treasure always fascinates kids, the emphasis on this particular archaeological treasure takes the focus away from what it is really like to be an archaeologist and a scientist. There are dozens of archeologists who would make better subjects for biographies in this regard, though none would have the name recognition of King Tut.

Charles M. Nelson
Department of Hisotry
University of Nairobi

©1996 American Association for the Advancement of Science