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Author Jeannine Atkins Encourages Children And Women 'Finding Wonders' In Science

Alachua County librarian Lisely Laboy introduced author Jeannie Atkins and her book “Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.”
Alachua County librarian Lisely Laboy introduced author Jeannie Atkins and her book “Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.”

The Big Reads series concluded Saturday with its last virtual event featuring author Jeannine Atkins and paleontologist Jeanette Pirlo.

This series, the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, is a nine-month program with 12 events to lift the voice of women in science and build a community promoting reading. The Florida Museum of Natural History and Alachua County Library District organized it locally.

According to Nikhil Srinivasan, marketing specialist of Florida Museum, the events have brought together renowned women scientists, communicators, authors and people in the community through a variety of events and targeted at people of all ages.

“It’s been a great but busy time putting them together,” Srinivasan said.

Atkins, an author of 11 books for young readers, talked about her book “Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science," targeting grades five and up at the last event. There were an estimated 30 signups, and many of them were parents and children, according to Catherine Carey, the museum’s public programs coordinator.

As its name suggests, this book is written in poetry to celebrate the lives of three girls, Maria Merian, Mary Anning and Maria Mitchell, in three different time periods who grew up to become scientists.

Atkins talked about why and how she wrote this book after Lisely Laboy, a youth services librarian at ACLD, introduced the background and characters of the book.

“They are all people that I truly love,” Atkins said. “I have to like not only their science but personalities.”

Speaking of the literary form of this book, Atkins explained why she favored poetry instead of a more traditional style.

“Poetry allows me to imagine my way into it,” Atkins said. “And this helped these women seem more alive.”

When Atkins finished her sharing, Pirlo, a paleontologist and doctoral candidate in the University of Florida's Department of Biology, gave a presentation about "Paleontology in Florida." She introduced her research on Proboscidean evolution, the ancient elephants and shared several photos of fossils she studied.

“I see the benefit of working with distinct animals so that we can understand what’s happening in the present with us now,” Pirlo said.

She also shared a story of how a 5-year-old girl discovered fossils. The girl is a granddaughter of a landowner in Florida, and she insisted on looking for dinosaurs' fossils. Though there were no possibilities of finding dinosaurs’ fossils because Florida was underwater during the time of dinosaurs, her family didn’t want to diminish her passion.

Then this girl found a handful of bones of an elephant toe, turtle shell pieces, alligator pieces and fish bits.

“This is one of my favorite stories,” Pirlo said. “I think it makes paleontologists really accessible to everyone.”

After the presentation, the speakers and the hosts shared their experiences and opinions on the path women pursue science.

“Sometimes, you have to fail to achieve success,” Pirlo said.

The speakers agreed, contributing their opinions and experiences about how women's situations can sometimes lead to greater chances of failure or embarrassment. They encouraged each other, girls and women who are interested in science.

“Nobody does science alone,” Atkins said.

According to library district spokesperson Rachel Cook, there will be a recording of the events, and the books from the series are available at the library.

“It’s not too late to get involved,” Cook said.

Hanzhi is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.