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Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life

Hedy Lamarr's Double LifeOne of my favorite STEM-themed pic­ture book biogra­phies is Hedy Lamarr’s Dou­ble Life: Hol­ly­wood Leg­end and Bril­liant Inven­tor by Lau­rie Wall­mark and Katy Wu.

Here’s a brief description:

To her ador­ing pub­lic, Hedy Lamarr was a glam­orous movie star, wide­ly con­sid­ered the most beau­ti­ful woman in the world. But in pri­vate, she was a bril­liant inventor.

Dur­ing World War II, Hedy col­lab­o­rat­ed with anoth­er inven­tor to devel­op an inno­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy called fre­quen­cy hop­ping. It was designed to pre­vent the Nazis from jam­ming tor­pe­do radio sig­nals to make the weapons to go off course. Fre­quen­cy hop­ping is still used today to keep our cell phone mes­sages pri­vate and pro­tect our com­put­ers from hackers.

When Hedy was final­ly rec­og­nized for her incred­i­ble accom­plish­ments in 1997, the 87-year-old had just three words to say: “It’s about time.”

Why do I love this book so much? Because it does a phe­nom­e­nal job of explain­ing some pret­ty tech­ni­cal physics con­cepts in a way that any upper ele­men­tary stu­dent can under­stand. The text, art, and design work togeth­er to show and describe how Hedy’s bril­liant idea — fre­quen­cy hop­ping — works and why it’s so important.

The text makes use of mean­ing­ful, kid-friend­ly com­par­isons and includes plen­ty of details to bring Lamarr to life as a char­ac­ter. It also includes some superb text scaf­fold­ing — a tech­nique in which the author slow­ly builds an expla­na­tion with a series of con­nect­ed sen­tences that act like build­ing blocks to guide stu­dents in grad­u­al­ly devel­op­ing an under­stand­ing of the concept.

Hedy Lamarr's Double Life
illus­tra­tion &#169 Katy Wu, from Hedy Lamar­r’s Dou­ble Life: Hol­ly­wood Leg­end
and Bril­liant Inven­to­ry
, writ­ten by Lau­rie Wall­mark, pub­lished by Ster­ling Chil­dren’s Books, 2019

The illus­tra­tions seam­less­ly inte­grate dia­grams that show how chang­ing fre­quen­cies can thwart an enemy’s efforts to tam­per with torpedoes.

The design incor­po­rates quo­ta­tions from Lamarr that high­light her pas­sion for sci­ence and invent­ing, and make the pre­sen­ta­tion more personal.

I can’t help but gush about a few of the non­fic­tion craft moves author Lau­rie Wall­mark deft­ly employs to make the tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion in this book easy to understand.

First, Wall­mark doesn’t use unnec­es­sary tech­ni­cal terms. For exam­ple, she writes, “Hedy made a fla­vor-cube that changed plain water into soda,” instead of “Hedy found a way to car­bon­ate water.” The sci­ence of car­bon­a­tion has noth­ing to do with Hedy’s sto­ry, so there was no rea­son to include that high-lev­el vocab­u­lary word.

Sec­ond,  when Wall­mark does use a tech­ni­cal word, she pro­vides a def­i­n­i­tion imme­di­ate­ly instead of only in a glos­sary or in a side­bar. For exam­ple, she writes, “The speed of the [piano] wire’s move­ment, or its fre­quen­cy, pro­duced the cor­rect note for that key.” With­out dis­rupt­ing the flow of the sto­ry, Wall­mark gives read­ers the info they need to under­stand what the term “fre­quen­cy” means.

Third, Wall­mark uses com­par­isons to help read­ers under­stand tech­ni­cal con­cepts. For exam­ple, to explain how mis­sile guid­ance sys­tems work, she com­pares them to walkie-talkies. And in case some kids don’t know what a walkie-talkie is, she pro­vides a quick in-text def­i­n­i­tion — a two-way radio.

I encour­age you to get a copy of this won­der­ful book. Not only can you share the incred­i­ble true sto­ry with kids as a read-aloud, you can also use it as a men­tor text in writer’s workshop.

4 Responses to Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life

  1. Avatar
    Elizabeth Shreeve March 31, 2021 at 9:42 am #

    Great post — real­ly explains why the book appears seam­less as a result of skill­ful craft. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Jen F. Bryant April 1, 2021 at 8:37 am #

    I love this book, too. Great post!

  3. Avatar
    Lex Seifert April 1, 2021 at 12:34 pm #

    Will be putting this book on ALL ele­men­tary non­fic­tion lists that I curate. Hop­ing that many teach­ers and librar­i­ans will share this book with read­ers. Thanks for the review!

  4. Avatar
    Jilanne Hoffmann April 1, 2021 at 6:19 pm #

    Love this book! Actu­al­ly, I love all of Lau­rie’s books! Great post!

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