Caroline’s Comets: A True Story.

“As a 10-year-old child in 1760, Caroline Herschel became ill, first with typhus, which stunted her growth, and then with smallpox, which scarred her face. Twelve years later, she left home to become housekeeper for her older brother William in England, where he taught music and studied the stars. Becoming his “assistant-astronomer,” she helped him build a world-class telescope and recorded his observations and discoveries, which most notably included the planet Uranus. On her own, she discovered 14 nebulae and star clusters, two new galaxies, and in 1786, her first of eight comets. Receiving a salary from the king, she became well-known in her own right. McCully calls her “the first professional woman scientist.” Most picture-book biographies record the significant events and achievements in their subjects’ lives, but this one goes a bit further. The concise text includes well-chosen details and quotes that help create a multifaceted personality on the page, while letting young readers know how limited the options were for an eighteenth-century woman and how close Herschel came to living her life in obscurity, knitting socks and scrubbing pans. The appealing illustrations-pen-and-ink drawings with watercolor washes-bring the historical settings to life. An engaging introduction to a notable woman in astronomy.”

Carolyn Phelan, Booklist

“Look up at the stars… The long and eventful life of Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), a musician, astronomer, discoverer of comets, and involuntary servant in the English principality of Hanover (in modern-day Germany), is described here in straightforward, factual narrative, studded with interesting detail and relevant autobiographical snippets. Relegated to the position of her family’s maid because of her sex and thought to have poor marriage prospects because of smallpox scars, Caroline had already accepted her lot when her brother whisked her off to England to embark on a unique opportunity-a singing career. His interest in astronomy soon became hers, and she became his assistant at his request. The two went on to great work, both together and separately, and though Caroline did not necessarily choose her assignments (her brother did), she eventually discovered nebulae, star clusters, galaxies, and-famously-eight comets. While tracing Herschel’s life and development as a scientist, the text takes care to make mention of the limitations imposed on Herschel by her family and society while realistically portraying the frustrations and accomplishments of the first woman to be paid as a scientific researcher. McCully’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations are true to form; appealing and evocative, closely tied to the text, with just the right amount of relevant detail. Notes, bibliography, glossary, and timeline are included in the backmatter. An inspiring tale of scientific discovery despite obstacles, with a feminist point of view.


 “McCully’s profile of remarkable nineteenth-century astronomer Caroline Herschel reveals the scientist’s complicated yet productive life as her brother William’s co-researcher and housekeeper. After childhood illnesses (typhus and smallpox) for which she received inferior treatment (“there was no one who cared much about me” is a direct quote from Herschel’s journals), Caroline moves from her birthplace in Germany to England, where she becomes an unpaid assistant to William when he is named King’s Astronomer. McCully carefully details all of Caroline’s contributions to the creation of “their” telescopes, from grinding and polishing mirrors to spooning food into her brother’s mouth so he can keep working, as well as her astronomical discoveries. Caroline’s work was eventually recognized and awarded: she was the first woman to find a comet (the 1786 “Lady’s Comet”) as well as the first to receive a salary for her scientific work (in 1787, she began being paid by King George III), and she was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Passages taken from Herschel’s diaries document her “prickly personality,” as do the delicate, spiky pen-and-ink illustrations that capture her serious expressions and dedication to her work. Appended with an author’s note, a bibliography, a glossary (of both scientific terms and nineteenth century vocabulary), and a timeline.”

-The Horn Book