Men, Microscopes, and Living Things Essay - Critical Context

Katherine B. Shippen

Critical Context

Katherine B. Shippen was a noted writer of numerous books for children and young adults for much of her professional career, as well as curator of social studies for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Her emphasis was on both history, epitomized by Passage to America (1952), the winner of the Boys’ Clubs of America Junior Book Award, and on science. Men, Microscopes, and Living Things was one of several books dealing with scientific history. It was followed by such titles as Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone (1955) and Men of Medicine (1957). While the specific subjects covered in each of her books varied, Shippen continued to emphasize the role of individual discovery in the larger context of scientific understanding.

In its time, Men, Microscopes, and Living Things was an important contribution to the body of science books for the young reader, and it was named a Newbery Honor Book. Rather than a compilation of the famous, the book placed an emphasis on those who laid the foundation of modern science. At an appropriate level, it provided a context for the names, dates, and facts that characterized much of the teaching of science. It addressed the question of the scientist—not so much what he did (and, in this era, it was primarily “he”), but rather why he thought this way. The book avoided controversy; for example, there is only an allusion to Darwin’s theory on the origins of humankind. It was, after all, written during the 1950’s. Yet, the book remains an excellent source as an overview on the origins of the scientific principles with which students are familiar today.