Monday, April 04, 2022

MMGM- The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner, The Uniform Life of Holly-Me

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Moss, Marissa. The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner
April 5th 2022 by Abrams Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1878 in Austria, Meitner faced a lot of obstacles in her quest to obtain an education. Always of a scientific bent, she had a supportive family that allowed her to study, and when she was 19, the laws changed and allowed women to go to universities. They had to pass rigorous tests, and she and her sister studied for them without the benefit of formal high school education. She got a doctorate in physics and was lucky enough to find Otto Hahn to work with. He treated her as an equal, and fought for her to be allowed to work, even though most places were not quick to include women in their departments. When she finally got to a place where her expertise and knowledge was valued despite the fact that she was a woman, Hitler was coming to power. Since Meitner was Jewish, she eventually lost her position. Not believing that she was in real danger, despite the fact that many other Jewish scientists were leaving, she stayed much longer than was safe. It took the combined efforts of many fellow scientists to get her to safety. She continued to work, and made a crucial interpretation of Hahn's experiments that solved the mystery of splitting the atom. She was horrified that her work was used for the atomic bomb. She eventually came to the US to teach. Her work was not given the accolades it deserved when she was alive, but at least she is now given credit. 
Strengths: This was a very complete, well written biography of an impressive scientist who overcame a lot os societal disadvantages. The graphic novel style illustrations at the beginning of the chapters will draw in some readers, and are quite fun. There were a lot of details about the different subjects she studied and experiments she did, and the harrowing job of getting her out of the country is well explained. I also appreciated the author's note about how people today might think she was foolish, but how Moss' own family letters from people in similar situations also didn't seem as alarmed as they should have been. Great combination of science and history in an engaging read.
Weaknesses: Moss' Amelia Notebook (1995) books were popular before graphic novels really took off in my library, and I kept thinking of those at the beginning of every chapter. I wish those hadn't fallen apart!
What I really think: This is a great book for research, but I'm not sure how many of my students will pick it up for pleasure reading. Had Moss done the entire book in the graphic novel format of the introductory panels, they might get through that! I'll purchase a copy to update the 2000 biography I have, since this was particularly well done. 

Matula, Christina. The Not-So-Uniforn-Life of Holly-Mei
April 5th 2022 by Inkyard Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When her mother gets a fantastic new job as the Chief Operating Officer of an international company, Holly-Mei's family, including her sister Millie and British-born father, move to Hong Kong for two years. While her grandmother stays behind, her father has a brother living in the new city, and her cousins go to the same elite private school she will attend, Tai Tam Prep. It's a tough move, and the heat of Hong Kong is a change from Toronto, but Holly-Mei had recently had a big fight with her friends back home because of her habit of blurting things out, and she is glad for a new start. Life in Hong Kong is different; they have a housekeeper who cooks their meals, her mother is suddenly obsessed with meeting "the right people", and the privileged students at the school include mean girl Gemma, with whom Holly-Mei doesn't get along. When she has to work on a school project with Gemma, things get complicated, especially when Holly-Mei submits a project proposal without checking with her group. There's a lot to learn about going to school with the children of the wealthy and influential, and Holly-Mei has to navigate upgrading her sporty look, getting along with classmates, and settling in to life in a new environment. 
Strengths: It is always great to see stories set in other countries, and Holly-Mei's time in Tai Tam Prep is a glimpse into a very rarified lifestyle that my middle class Midwestern readers will find fascinating. Having taught at a much less fancy private school (and read Crazy Rich Asians), the level of privilege seems about right, but it's hard to get my brain around having a housekeeper! There's enough friend drama and some family drama to hit the sweet spot of middle grade, and I appreciated that while Holly-Mei missed her grandmother and wasn't completely thrilled with moving, she tried to make the best of it. Like Linda Gerber's coverage of Japan, Matula's experience living abroad adds a lot of detail. 
Weaknesses: There could have been just a tiny bit more information about this history of Hong Kong for young readers who might not be familiar with the background. 
What I really think: This felt a bit like Lisi Harrison's The Clique, but set in Hong Kong! I loved the cast of characters, the details about going to school, and the over-the-top school production. Definitely purchasing. 


  1. The Not-So-Uniform-Life of Holly Mei has just started to come across my radar. I like that it gives insight into Hong Kong. It's definitely one I want to check out.

  2. Both of these sound good. I know a lot of kids who will like the The Not-So-Uniform-Life of Holly-Mei. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It is mind-boggling to read that Meitner's family "allowed her to study." Good thing they did! These books both sounds terrific. Thanks for your reviews.