Home > Categories > Books > Kids - Middle > Ernest Rutherford: Just an ordinary boy review
An ordinary country boy from Nelson, New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford would one day make major discoveries about how old Earth was, and answer centuries-old questions such as "What are atoms made of?" and "How do they work?"
He longed to continue his studies but his family could not afford to send him on to higher education. He tried to gain scholarships, persisting until he was successful. Eventually he completed high school and graduated from university.
Ernest Rutherford is one of the world's greatest scientists. This story for young readers is a wonderful introduction to his journey, and the importance of never giving up on your dreams.
The illustrations by Alistair Hughes capture the essence of the era in which Rutherford lived and worked.
Ernest Rutherford is well known throughout the world, not just in New Zealand, for his discoveries in the field of nuclear physics and related areas. I was delighted to discover that younger people are the target audience for this new book; it is an accessible introduction to the man and his work, and the illustrations help to fill in the gaps. It is clear from some of the equipment shown in the graphics that he was working at a time when many modern laboratory aids had not yet been invented. This makes even more incredible the discoveries that he was able to make through experimentation.
As a former teacher, I appreciated the end notes. "Ernest Rutherford's memory lives on" gave a potted history of his life; "Ernest Rutherford's experiments" listed his main discoveries and described them in language that a younger child can understand; "Ernest Rutherford's timeline" set out chronologically the key dates in his life; and the Glossary unpacked several terms commonly used in physics which would be unfamiliar to young readers. I found these articles useful to read in conjunction with the main text as they filled in some of the detail.
I did like the way that the young Ernest, barred from further education because of the family's socio-economic position, was determined to get a scholarship to high school. Despite failing the first time round, he tried again and was successful. He then had to go through the same process to get into university. Again, he was unsuccessful the first time round, but gained a scholarship after a retry. Maria Gill has emphasized the value of continuing to try if you do not gain what you wanted the first time round. This is an important message for young people who may think they will never reach their goals; by the end of his life, he had won the Nobel Prize and been knighted by the King of England as well as being the recipient of numerous other awards. At the same time, he is referred to in the story as "Ern" (the name he was known by within his family) and he came back to New Zealand to marry his fiancee Mary: despite his fame throughout the world, he remained close to his origins.
I asked a friend's 11-year-old to read the book and give me her impressions. She gave it the thumbs up except for one thing. The bulk of the story is told in the present tense, and she said it did not really seem like a story. For her it lacked the flow of a regular tale. I did not think that was important, but she had quite strong views on the subject. However, she loved the illustrations and said they really made the book come alive for her. And she had learned something about a scientist she had never heard of before, and thought that was "amazing". (Her words!)
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