Think inventor and the image of a solitary figure in the middle of several odds, ends and bits with new but sometimes odd ways of doing things come to mind. Crazy hair, lab coats, thick glasses, crazy mustaches, forever forgetful and a patient wife by the side. Remember Dick Van Dyke in Chitti Chitti Bang Bang?
In the end, the ingenious inventor would come up wth some fantastic inventions and make life easier and wonderful. The true scientific spirit of man would be carried through generations, with strident steps being taken forward thanks to man’s mind. Err…women. Women, inventors? Really? Can women apply their mind to come up with crazy, zany inventions that turbocharge the way we live? Yes, yes and yes.
Girls Think of Everything written by Catherine Thimmesh and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is a fantastic book that chronicles the many inventions by women through time. In the introduction to the book, the author notes that women have been inventing from the birth of civilization.
According to oral tradition, as well as observations and studies conducted by anthropologists women were responsible for some of the most fundamental and enduring innovations of all time. Because of their responsibilities within their families and communities, it appears that women were the first to invent tools and utensils -including the mortar (a heavy bowl) and pestle ( a clublike hammer) to prepare food, such as flour, and botanical medicines. They spun cotton together with flax, therby inventing cloth. And they created the first shelters by designing and constructing huts and wigwams. It is said that women were the first to discover dyes to colour cloth and tanning methods to make leather goods.
Why on earth then does the cultural stereotype of girls cannot excel in math and science exist? Why is that the key works of women scientists and inventors are routinely looked over and not given credit? This stereotype has worked dangerously with girls and boys on par at the elementary school but with more girls dropping out of science, maths and technology streams as they grow older. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women breaks this myth in the best possible way; By providing examples of women who have invented and made the world an easier, more fun place to live in.
It is a book that informs girls that they have the ability to come up with creations, just as their predecessors. Any invention requires logical thinking, clear identification of a problem and a solution that satisfies that need or solves the problem. Math, science and the keen art of observation are the tools that will help invent. The skill of invention is gender blind and no one can state otherwise.
The inventors of paper bags, baby carriers, computer compilers, Scotchgard, chocolate chip cookies, whiteners and space bumpers all happen to be women and their stories are captured in factual, clear prose by Thimmesh.
Melissa Sweet’s artwork further highlights the thought process behind these marvellous inventions. This can be seen in the story of Mary Anderson and how she invented the windshield wiper. In the 1900’s driving a car in New York when there was sleet and snow was a real pain. Car manufacturers had split the windshield to move to the sides when it got covered with snow. Sure enough, the driver did just that, only to be greeted with a cold blast of air. Surely, Mary thought there must be a better way.
Why can’t there be a lever on the inside that would move an arm on the outside to swipe off the snow? To her, it seemed perfectly simple.
Mary made several drawings, that she continued to refine. Then she made a model which had a lever on the inside that would move arms made of wooden strips and rubber. These arms would help clear the snow. By adding a counter-weight Mary ensured that an even clean occurred. Though few understood the significance f Mary’s invention today we cannot imagine the car without a wiper.
Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar one of the strongest and lightest fabrics in the world is also chronicled in the book. Thimmesh captures Kwolek’s journey in making the wonder fibre in detail. Kwolek had to cajole and encourage several members, especially a spinner to try weaving Kevlar. As a true scientist, she was sceptical even when she got back the fibre’s physical testing results. Kwolek also encountered problems in understanding the characteristics of the fabric.
Many times we almost gave up because it is such a contrary fibre. And of course before you can commercialize something, the whole process and product have to be relaible.
These and other interesting accounts of the various women inventors make Girls Think Of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women an extremely interesting and powerful book that needs to be on the reading list of all children.
The book ends with stories of girl and women scientists who continue to find innovative ways to solve everyday problems.
Overall, an engaging and informative book that gives a comprehensive view into the history of the works of women inventors.