Future Reflections                                                                                                           Fall 2004

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The Kid Who Named Pluto
and the Stories of Other Extraordinary Young People in Science

by Marc McCutcheon
Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein

As author Marc McCutcheon explains in his introduction, this is a book about “boys and girls who had great ideas and worked hard to make something happen with them.” McCutcheon gathers brief biographies of nine people who made major discoveries or inventions while they were under eighteen years old. They include Robert Goddard, who at fifteen designed his first rocket; Mary Anning, who discovered some of the first known dinosaur skeletons while she was in her teens; sixteen-year-old Sarah Flannery, a mathematical genius who devised a remarkable encryptment program; and nine-year-old Emily Rosa, who debunked a medical myth with an experiment she designed as a science fair project. Each story is lively and readable, focusing on the subject’s youth and summarizing his or her later accomplishments.

The final chapter in the book, “The Blind Boy Who Developed a New Way to See,” tells the story of Louis Braille. McCutcheon begins with the accident in which Louis was blinded at the age of three. He explains that blind people had few opportunities at that time and place (early nineteenth-century France), and that Louis’s parents encouraged him to be curious and independent. Braille’s story provides some basic information about blindness. The author explains, for example, that young Louis used a cane to find obstacles when he walked in the village by himself, and that he listened for echoes to determine how close he was to a wall. For a few years Louis Braille attended the local school in his village, but his studies were severely limited because he had no means to read and write. At ten he was sent to a school for blind boys in Paris. There, at the age of twelve, he began to work on a tactile reading system based on a cell of six raised dots.

 Braille’s story is told in clear, unsentimental prose, the same tone the author employs in the other biographies. It is refreshing to see Braille placed within the context of Robert Goddard, Sarah Flannery, and the others we meet in this book. All of them showed genius and astonishing creativity at an early age. The stories in this volume are all inspiring,

Louis Braille’s among them. “Beyond their intelligence and imagination,” McCutcheon reminds us, “these kids had two things in common above all others: they believed in themselves and they worked hard.”

Editor’s Note: This hardcover book (ISBN: 0-8118-3770-X) is beautifully illustrated by Jon Cannell. The list price for the print copy is $15.95. For more information about the book and other books published by Chronicle Books, go to their Web site at <www.chroniclekids.com>. Also, the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped selected the book for its collection so it will soon be available in audio format for loan throughout the Regional Library for the Blind system. The NLS book collection number is RC 58645.

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